Monday, April 13, 2009

Macaron Madness

I've never been a fan of fancy baking. The thought of attempting anything involving poaching fruits, puff pastry, or yeast makes me break out in hives. For a long time, I justified my avoidance of such projects by deeming myself some sort of populist baker. Only cookies, brownies, and other such sweets of the masses! But of course, some part of me was just afraid.

So when I received an invitation to prepare dessert for a fancy pre-Easter shindig, I was a bit nervous when deciding exactly what to make. The party hosts are, in my mind, culinary hard-hitters; after a meal of gratins, leek salad, puff pastry appetizer tarts, and the most delicious beef tenderloin I would ever eat, chocolate chip cookies just wouldn't do. It was only logical, then, that I venture into the netherworld of fussy, fancy baking.

Luckily, I didn't have to strike forth into the beyond unarmed; I had my love of the Rocky movies to protect me. For some reason, I find strength in deeming each of the major challenges in my life as my new Ivan Drago -- dreaded enemy of the Italian Stallion and free market economies, as depicted in Rocky IV. And so, I embarked upon my own dessert training montage, filled with powdered sugar, ground almonds, and meringues that failed in ways heretofore unknown to mankind. But two weeks, 9 batches of macaron shells, and one test cake later, I found myself face-to-face with my dessert destiny. Here's what I managed to produce:

Plain macaron shells with dulce de leche buttercream
Purple macaron shells with
white chocolate vanilla ganache and a bit of raspberry jam
Pink macaron shells with strawberry buttercream
Coffee macaron shells filled with bittersweet espresso ganache
Green pistachio macaron shells filled with vanilla honey buttercream
lemon curd cake with fresh strawberries
One lemon curd cake with fresh raspberries

Don't begin to be impressed -- each had their own flaws. But I believe this trial by fire did leave me a better person, if not a flawless pastry chef. After all, when I started out, I was petrified of failure. And now that he and I have become better acquainted (much better acquainted), I'm not afraid anymore. So if you've ever been frightened by an equally potentially disastrous situation in the past, make sure to face it head-on -- no matter how counterinuitive it may seem. Because if I can change, you can change. We can all change.

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