Stepping Into the Fear of Failure: French Macarons

Yes, I LOVE to cook.

Yes, there are things I am scared of that I talk myself out of trying.

YES, One of them happens to be one of my FAVORITE delicacies in baking.

But, with more time in the kitchen now than I have had since initially moving to NYC in 2004, I seriously have NO excuse not to try.

This is not a recipe post (as it will take a bit to pare down the photos and really make sure I explain things properly.) If you want the recipe sooner, let me know! By all means I will get it up, but most likely it will be at the end of the week or early next. This project was based on the recipe from A Cookie Named Desire‘s blog (which uses the Bouchon Bakery base for the shells) and honestly, if I had read her whole blog post instead of scrolling to the recipe, I might have AGAIN talked myself out of it just due to the level of complexity I would have mentally imparted on it because of it’s origin. I am so glad I didn’t! Which is the intent of this post. I’m SO glad (and yes, proud) that I tackled my nervousness about the processes in this project and came out on the other side.

And the best part? Other than the boost in confidence and reinforcement of an important life lesson, that is?

The hubby thought they were every bit as amazing as the best macarons we have bought from re-known patisseries. THAT ALONE, made me realize something: I sell myself short A LOT. Probably because I lack the confidence to even try something I worry I will fail at on my first try. In the world of constant memes, I ran across this in my feed yesterday and again, it reinforced this newfound understanding: why do we give up when we could at least TRY? Or even try again, and again? Isn’t learning something new actually just the process of failing over and over and the pure JOY of succeeding once it happens?

If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit. – Banksy

Equating life lessons with kitchen recipes might not be the most novel, but I am amazed at how much taking on these baking and cooking projects has helped me MENTALLY through these last few months. They give me time alone, a space to truly put mindfulness into action and place my full self into something. Focusing on the size of my dice, or if I want to adjust a recipe I found to make it unique or incorporate a new flavor creating a different experience for it’s consumer… tackling THIS baking project taught me quite a few things.

  1. In the kitchen, unless it will cause you bodily harm, you probably don’t need to know EVERYTHING before starting. (I have friends with meat chandeliers… like, I think I would need to really understand THAT before using it over a fire pit, but cookies? Nah.)
  2. If you find, even before you start, that you don’t have everything you need, but have appropriate substitutions- PRESS ON. Talking yourself out of something is far too easy when you have a lame excuse to not continue.
  3. The goal CAN’T be perfection, but COMPLETION. Ugly can still be yummy, and practice is the only way to improve performance. Did you do it? AWESOME! Not exactly IG worthy? Meh. Think MJ dunked flawlessly on his first attempt? Think Jacques Pépin never deflated a soufflé?
  4. Learn to measure success by COMMITTING to try again. This one is big. Be happy with getting through it, but if you aren’t satisfied with the result and believe you can do better, commit to doing it again. SOON.
  5. OWNING the result needs to be part of the FUN. Laugh at yourself. Laugh at the ugly cookie. It’s AWFUL! Laugh at the deflated soufflé(s). I guarantee Chef Pépin did (maybe after cursing in French, but I guarantee he laughed at it/them.)
  6. Debrief yourself to truly see the good you did, and identify what you need more work on. (*clears throat* see below … LOL)

(note: as I proof this during editing, it occurs to me that a few of my former bosses reading this will say “I TOLD YOU SO”… and yes, they definitely did tell me. Most of these ‘life lessons’ will help you at work. And teaching these sort of lessons as a coach in my former profession was why I fell in love with the job to begin with. But, sometimes we forget and the reminders pop up in the most unlikely places!)

Macarons are notoriously difficult, and there are SOOOOOOO many variations and recipes out there. I originally chose to tackle the Bon Appétit recipe. A longtime subscriber and fan of their content (and recent awakening to being more inclusive), I dove in head first. THEN realized I didn’t have cream of tartar. *SIGH* Kind of important, right? Maybe it was not meant to be. I’d just wait on this project until I went to the store and I would re-arrange my content calendar accordingly, right?

NO.

Not today, quitter.

So, I pressed on and came across Amanda’s blog and immediately connected to her Easter Macaron recipe. Florals and tea macarons are usually the first that I select when at the bakery. Earl Grey, Rose, Chamomile, Lavender?? I love ’em all… and since hubs and I have been drinking a ton of tea lately, I thought, how about a chamomile? Sounded yummy and subtle.

I committed and just went with it and…. with a quick skimming of the instructions – freaked out.

Wait- Egg whites, ok… getting to soft peaks timed perfectly with getting sugar water ALMOST to soft ball stage then… holy sh#t. This was going to be a big challenge.

But I pressed on. Gathered my ingredients and just started.

I could go by measure or weight. I told myself ‘you’re already out of your comfort zone, get in that freakishly murky deep end that doesn’t look like it has a bottom…. and go by weight’……and here we go.

The almond flour I had was pretty grainy…. it said to use extra fine, but… even after a BUNCH of time in the food processor, was it fine enough?? UGH. I DON’T KNOW…

Wait- I reserved egg whites by 3 count (from my original BA recipe…) will I have enough? My whole idea was to use cast off ingredients from the previous project… but by weight, was it enough? Would I waste some yolk today? NBD but I would be disappointed as I had planned to make this a reinforcement lesson in ‘using it all’. SIGH.

Friends, it was stressful. STRESSFUL. For someone trying to find her voice in the blog-verse, and figure out a content plan and also make something I could be proud of and post about? I was stressed. On a Friday, no less.

But I pressed on. The almond/sugar base was grainier than I thought it should be… but fine. UGH! I forgot to leave my whites out (EEEEK)… but found a quick hack to get them to room temp in 10 minutes. I started whipping the egg whites WAYYYYY too early as I was making the chamomile simple syrup to add to the whites for the meringue. They seemed broken, yet I pressed on.

Was I folding the meringue in correctly? Swipe through the – WHAT? Turning the bowl a quarter turn as I … *SIGH* I pressed on, doing my best David Rose quote in my head as I laughed at myself…(“I, I understand that, but how, how do you fold it in?”)

Now, to fill the piping bag… AAAAAAAAAAARGH. WTF. *apron smeared with dough*

OK… wait- I have to pipe them ALL at once? I can’t leave the dough sitting out between batches? I only have one template… um.. sh#t. I guess I’m winging it on raw parchment for the other batch…

Guys, when I say I felt like I was failing the entire time, I mean it.

My piping sucked. Like ‘lil doo doos.

Would my oven maintain 350 degrees? I mean, my knobs don’t have markings on them anymore. We go by… uh, feel? HERE WE GO, Y’ALL!

BUT, the second that first batch came out with proper feet and looked like the shells from the bakeries… I did a happy dance.

Look at those imperfect shells. They have FEET!

Did I fill them that same day? Of course not! LOL I have a 14 month old! They sat out in our barely heated 4 seasons room (about 40 degrees) until the following night. I made the buttercream while my daughter watched, distracting her with yogurt bites as I went along… then I filled them after she went to bed.

And that first taste of the shells? I had and odd number so I ate one to make sure they weren’t a complete fail.

OMG- it was dried out. WHAT?? 😦

Wait, but as it warmed up, it got back that crisp outer layer and chewy inside… whew!

Once filled, would they be ok? No one recommends not filling IMMEDIATELY. All recipes and feedback say to fill immediately THEN store in fridge or freeze… SIGH.

No one likes to fail. NO ONE. But, I did what I could with my schedule… I waited 36 hours before filling them.

Crystallized Raw Honey buttercream with vanilla bean

I was so proud of that first filled cookie. BEAMING. Was it perfect? Nope. Was it delicious? YUP. Did I immediately start brainstorming other flavor combinations? And a timeframe to make more? Yes, yes I did.

Just because it is hard doesn’t mean you have to have someone else do it for you. Friends, I think it tasted better than the most expensive macaron I’ve ever bought.

Empowerment from a cookie recipe? Yes, folks. I am so glad that I didn’t quit, that I leaned into the uncomfortable space and pushed on.

And so is my husband! Dessert for days! I got 40 cookies out of the batch!

Those 7 lessons fueled today’s post. They also have me recommitted to this blog.

They ALSO have me understanding that not every post has to be a recipe. Sometimes, the recipe leads to something sweeter (and longer lasting) than an amazing cookie.

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