27 October 2009

Another One Bites the Dust: A Daring Bakers' Disaster...uh, Challenge

I live directly above one of the best-known bakeries in the 17th. Often when I tell someone what street I live on, they’ll ask “oh do you live near ze famous boulangerie?” (Well, I’m not going to mention it by name so then the entire world will know exactly where I live!)

When my husband and I first visited it, one of the first things we noticed was the scent of fresh-baking bread that permeated what is now our apartment. The owner explained he had just baked a batch of brioche. On our subsequent visits, he told the same story and went so far as to show me his open cookbook in the kitchen. Though never the brioche. But my husband and I weren’t fooled. In the course of our dealings with him, we learned that he was going through a divorce and trying to get rid of the apartment fast. He’d had a few offers fall through. He wanted to unload the place (without revealing the true sales price to his soon-to-be ex-wife) and for whatever reason feared the constant scent of fresh-baked goods would be a deal-breaker.

To be honest, I’ve never been bothered by the barrage of odors that come wafting up through the vents from the bakery down below. Well, with the exception of a few weeks where they were trying out new and different curry recipes for one of their lunch items. Several of my friends have commented on it – saying they’d be unable to ignore the scents and would spend half their lives wolfing down whatever was on sale downstairs after smelling it. Personally, I actually like waking up to the smell of fresh baking bread, or croissant, or brioche, or...macarons.

Yes, macarons - the challenge recipe for this month’s Daring Bakers. Not only does the baker downstairs make fantastic macarons, but if he is closed, I have about 2 dozen other bakeries within a 5 block radius where I can get them. And if that wasn't enough, it’s only a short 7-minute walk over to the Champs Elysees where I can take my pick from either La Durée (arguably the best known macaron maker in the world ) or Pierre Hermé at the Drugstore (arguably the best macarons in the world). So frankly it never really crossed my mind to make them myself.

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe. When I learned of this month’s challenge, I was quite excited. To live in Paris and never bake macarons is a lot like living in the US and never baking cupcakes. I read up on macarons, researched various ways of making them and whenever I met a French person who told me they baked, I asked them how they made their macarons. By the time I got around to making my macarons, I was fairly confident I had the best advice on how to achieve the perfect macaron - a smooth, shiny, shell; the right rise or lift; the coveted feet on the bottom of the shell, etc. And you know what? I experienced an epic fail!

Yes, my first time baking macarons was an absolute disaster. But as Lis told me once Daring Bakers is just as much about learning from your mistakes as it is sharing your accomplishments so I’ll post here what I experienced. Maybe some of you macaron experts out there would be kind enough to tell me where I went wrong. :(

I could tell from the get go that I hadn’t ground my almond powder finely enough. As I carefully mixed my firm egg whites (which I had let sit out for 2 days before beating) into the dry mixture, the texture was grainy and rough. Undeterred, I piped the macaron shells on to my baking sheet and let them sit for about 40 minutes before popping them in the oven. As I watched, they started to puff up nicely and grow perfect little feet. As time went on, they kept growing and the feet became granulous puddles around the shiny shell. My macarons melded together and then flattened out as I took them from the oven. After I had let them cool and removed them from the baking sheet, I discovered the shiny shells were baked but hollow. The batter had in essence run out from underneath and baked around the shell. I have no idea why this happened. Could it be that they didn’t have enough solids to hold them together since the almond powder wasn’t fine enough? Or the fact that it was a rainy, humid evening here in Paris? I was discouraged.

It’s the school holiday now and I knew that I wouldn’t have a chance to make these again before the reveal date. I grudgingly sandwiched several together with 2 fillings I had lovingly mixed up - a chocolate ganache and a mint buttercream - and left them in the fridge overnight. The verdict: my macarons sure were ugly and didn’t look anything like they should. But my husband said they actually didn’t taste half bad and thought it was a pretty good turnout for my first try. I had to agree about the taste though they were a bit chewier than any macarons I've ever sampled. I can say for certain I won’t be serving these to company anytime soon. I have the baker downstairs for that.

**UPDATE** Okay, now that the reveal date is here, I've been reading some of the other DB's experiences with this recipe and it seems that many (many of whom are experienced macaron bakers) criticize this recipe -- too wet being the common complaint -- and mention that it definitely is not a good choice for a first-time macaron baker. In fact, seems many of my fellow DBs made multiple batches of this recipe attempting in vain to correct it and then gave it all up in favor of other, more successful recipes such as that by Syrup & Tang or fellow DB, Tartelette. Starting to feel slightly better about my outcome but still.....


  1. I can't imagine how I would survive, living on top of a bakery with all those heavenly scents. Sad to hear your first attempts at making macarons did not work out as well as hoped. I think they still look fairly decent and bet they tasted pretty darn good.

  2. Sorry about your lack of success with the DB recipe, and thanks for your comment on my blog! Your cupcakes are really lovely!

  3. You live in Paris!! I am jealous now... Macarons are something I first experienced in France in Paris ofcourse and they are no where to be found here (I think) but yours don't look so bad actually.. a little flat as mine where too, but I am guessing the recipe if partially to blame! Should have stuck to the one I loved!

  4. I'm sorry about what happened... They don't look that bad, though! Great job anyway!



  5. I think that living upstairs from a Parisian macaron baker would add quite a bit of insult to the injury of this recipe! Kudos to you for getting through it. Meanwhile, it looks like your tops are smooth and lovely, so you certainly got farther along than I did!

    Tartelette's recipe, here we come!

  6. Don't feel bad! Tartelette's recipe was much better for me, and I'm sure it'd work better for you too. And you know what? Your macarons don't look bad at all! Way to go!

  7. I made these a while back and they turned out like this too. I know I did something wrong along the way, but I still have yet to make a perfect macaroon!

  8. I failed with two batcheds before trying another one that ended up being .... brilliant! Since I have made two more batches and are planning more!

    Have not been to the 17th, we usually stay in the 3rd or 11th when we are there - we like to rent an apartment. I know exactly what you mean with a great bakery near by. Both places we like have a fantastic bakery right next to them, I always know when it is 5am due to the beautiful smells coming up the vents - love it!

  9. There used to be a bakery across the street and it smelled sooooooooooooooooo good!

    Happy blogoversary!

  10. I think you still did an amazing job for your first attempt :) - and I bet they still tasted amazing :)