By Vivian Nguyen ’21
Baking is one of my favorite pastimes. It is an activity motivated and advanced by my sweet tooth. There are few things more gratifying than making a dish and sharing it with friends and family.
This past year, I made birthday cake ice cream, mint chip ice cream, olive oil lemon tart, almond chocolate cookies, vanilla sugar cookies, a strawberry swiss roll, coconut macaroons, a clown-faced pumpkin pie, apple jam puff pastries, a double chocolate cake, and Vietnamese coconut Pandan waffles. Often times, I find my memories of this year are landmarked or built around special recipes. Once I get more into the rhythm of baking and sustaining this passion, it becomes a joy! The past months are defined by their aromas now. Those lovely fall weekends are fossilized in the amber of warm kitchens and baking experimentation.
During Thanksgiving break, I decided to embark upon the fickle French macaron. In the Contemporary Moral Issues class taught by Timothy Crehan, juniors wrap up the semester by hosting a Justice Fair, where they create handicrafts, gifts, and baked goods to raise money for four charities. This year, we have selected the four charities of KIND, Mental Health America, California Wildfire Relief Fund, and Everytown Gun Safety. I thought baking earth-shaped macarons for the Wildfire Relief Fund would be especially fitting!
I decided to use the Italian meringue method rather than the French meringue method, which is most distinct because it involves heating the sugar before adding it to the meringue. It produces a finer crumb but a more stable mixture, and it doesn’t require the macarons to “rest” (form a skin) before placing them in the oven.
The recipe involves two main parts: whisking together the almond flour and powdered sugar, adding egg whites, setting aside, and then making the meringue mixture. They are then added together and mixed until the batter famously forms “thick ribbons” as it falls from the rubber spatula back over itself. Pretty simple method, but the pain of it lies in the measuring, mixing, and baking. A baking scale is a must, and ingredients must be measured down to the gram. Even the eggs! Several times I awkwardly ended up with half an egg leftover in order to achieve that 55-gram number on the scale. Eating a half-an-egg omelet is… a new experience. I can imagine even the most professional of bakers humbly cooking the leftovers of their experimentations for a less-than-restaurant-quality dinner. It’s charming!
Anyway, the mixing process was very exacting as well. Even a smidge of egg yolk or any other presence of fat disturbed the meringue process and prevented the whites from stiffly whipping up. Also, combining the meringue and the flour mixture had to be carefully watched! If the macaron batter was overfolded, the macarons would collapse in the oven. If it was under-folded, the mixture could have gritty bits or explode in the oven due to an excess of air.
The last main tip for perfect macarons I learned was low heat and longer baking times. I used a silicon baking mat, which transferred heat evenly across the macarons. The first batch I made ended up in sticky bottoms due to undercooking!
Overall, I was very proud that my macaron had “feet,” which is the trademark bottom layer of the shell that results from mixing the batter appropriately. After decorating the shells with colored white chocolate, I filled them with vanilla buttercream frosting and slipped them into the fridge overnight, which intensified the flavor. They currently rest in the freezer, where they can keep for up to a month. I look forward to making the second set of macarons (raspberry macaron clouds!) that will sell in a set for $5 for 3 at the Justice Fair on Wednesday, December 11th. I hope to see you there! The California Wildfire Relief Fund and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Macarons are definitely a dessert that has reminded me that baking is a science! All told, this was a Thanksgiving Break well spent.
Make your own! Here are recipes to follow:
Italian Meringue Macarons: https://www.homecookingadventure.com/recipes/raspberry-macarons-italian-meringue
Favorite Vanilla Buttercream: