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Sweatpants & Sanity | Macarons & Depression Savers

By Charlotte Smith

My first time baking macarons, I was depressed as hell. They ended up a bit sad, but they had too much potential for me to stop, so I made a second batch a week later. I was broke, my mom was pissed at my being broke, and she was trying to be mad at me for making these cookies when she was starting a diet but couldn’t be too mad because I was actually out of bed and doing something.

Wait. I need to back up.

My first taste of a macaron was a mistake. I thought it was a wafer cookie by the brittle feel of the shell. Instead, a fluffy cloud of almond and vanilla dissolved in my mouth. My roommate was dating a French guy, so naturally, she went to southern France for Christmas that year. Her treat for our suite? Macarons. I was in HEAVEN. The rose macaron practically made me weep with joy. The almond was perfectly rich. The lemon tasted like sunshine. I was too shy to ask for another. They were like the meringues my mom would get at the store, but way, WAY better.

Spring semester of my fourth year at Vanderbilt. 2013. I was defeated mentally and physically, had gone through a breakup with a year-long “we’re just friends but mutually exclusive” relationship that I thought would become more (and was about to be followed by a way too intense month-long rollercoaster), and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d left my dorm. I needed food and to at least attempt to socialize, so I took my Vandy card to get some lychee bubble tea at the local Thai joint, followed by a trip to the student bookstore. I scurried towards the back of the second floor to attempt to hide from potential classmates when I saw a clearance shelf. Ah, good! Distraction. I was halfheartedly looking at titles, unable to get out of my own head, when an unassuming, small book stood out like a pastel sore thumb among the serious looking covers of maps and historic sketches. Macarons & More! I picked it up excitedly, flipping through recipes as I walked to the register. Now I could make them at home!

Fast-forward a couple of months. I dropped out of college. I emerged on the other side of that roller coaster, one-month relationship. I was home with my mom, waiting to get foot surgery at the end of the summer, not wanting to see any friends, and generally just a miserably depressed human. When I hit rock bottom, I make projects. Somehow, this time, it was macarons. So, I spent DAYS researching on the web, making notes on my book, and saving Pinterest recipes on how to do this right. I spent ungodly amounts on the highest quality ingredients I could afford. I even made a piping blueprint so the cookies would be the same thickness and diameter.

That first batch came out looking like beige poop emojis. I tried to make the best of it, spreading some icing on, and handing one to my guinea pig mom after convincing her for probably ten full minutes. She took a bite, expecting it to be bland but okay. Her eyes widened.

“Can…can I have another?” I brought another. She ate. “Can you make a couple for Grammy and take them to her?” I walked next door with a plate.

“Honey, I really don’t want them. But I’ll keep them in the kitchen for a snack later.” Grammy called about five hours later. “What are these things, and can I have another dozen?”

After a few more batches I got it right. Evidently, a lot of people think macarons are impossible to make. I was making them when it was impossible for me to put on more than sweatpants for just about anything. I was making them when it was impossible (in my mind) for me to be considered for any kind of solid job. I was making them when the world said: “You’re a failure.” Trust me when I say that while macarons are complicated, they are far from impossible. They just need a bit of patience, some understanding, and a bit of trial and error.

That formula, though? That formula I have completely memorized from start to finish even though it’s been over a year since I made them? It took a while to get. It had successes and failures. And I had to accept them both in stride, making note of what needed changing, and moving on. To this day, I crave macarons when I’m having a stressful or frustrating day, mostly because I crave the satisfaction I get from making them. It’s kind of a reminder that at the end of the day, if I fail at everything else in life, I can always make a damn good treat. And that is a very, very satisfying thought.

Almond Macarons from Macarons & More

Ingredients:

Yield: 15 macarons

Shells:

  • 2 egg whites
  • 5 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional but recommended)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 2T almond flour/meal (same difference, y’all)

Filling:

  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Instructions:

1. Separate your egg whites in the stand mixer. Reserve the yolks for something tasty. Make sure your bowl and whisk attachment are clean and dry, otherwise you’re gonna have a bad time. And go ahead and preheat your oven to 325F for convection baking and take out the butter so it has time to soften.

2. In a separate bowl, sift your powdered sugar.
3. Go ahead and get everything else out now if you haven’t. Maybe have a cup of tea to calm your nerves. And when you’re ready, start your meringue. First, beat on a medium-low speed until frothy (until it kinda looks like ginger ale.)

4. Go ahead and add your granulated sugar and, if you like, the almond extract. This was an amendment of mine that I recommend 100%, mainly because I am an almond addict. It might not be your shot of whiskey, but hey, no hard feelings. Mainly because that means I don’t have to share with you.

5. Start the sugar off at a lower speed so that doesn’t go flying all over your kitchen. Let it get happy in there, and when you think it’ll be good (I’d say one to two minutes), let the speed go up a bit at a time until you get to 8 or 10. You’ll hear that split splat slpoot noise, trust me.
6. Now, before I go further, you need your best friend. No, not your BFF Jill, your hard spatula. This does the trick. Nothing else. You want a thin spatula with just enough flexibility to bend with the side of the bowl. That’s IT. Found her? Good. Then you’ll stir the powdered sugar and almond flour to combine them.
7. Pour about a third on top of your meringue and stir it just enough to combine it.
8. Remember, air is SUPPOSED to leave this batter! It’s good for it to shrink! Add the rest and combine. It’ll get gradually harder to fold.
9. Stir the batter up the bowl while smoothing and smooshing it. It takes some time, but you’ll get there. It should get glossier-looking. When it runs off the spatula in a pretty ribbon, you’re perfect.
10. Now for the piping bag. I use disposable bags with a coupler and tip. It’s a billion times easier. I use Sunny Bakery brand tips and couplers in a 12 for piping the shells. I’ll either schmear on the icing or pipe it with a ridged tip depending on how I feel.
11. Fold over your bag somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 way. This will make sense in a minute if you aren’t used to this. DON’T FILL IT UP ALL THE WAY. YOU WILL BE COVERED IN STICKY GOOP AND HATE ME FOREVER. THANK YOU.
12. Tuck the tip into the palm of your hand so you don’t have batter falling everywhere and have a hot mess. Fill it to the top and twist. Get out your cookie sheet and template along with another sheet of parchment.

Macarons template.

13. The weight of the batter will make the Xs easier to see. Start squeezing in the middle, and once you don’t see the X, move to the next one. Bake at 325F for 10-12 minutes. Then they need to cool completely.

14. While they bake and cool, it’s time for icing. Your butter will be plenty soft by this point, so take your powdered sugar and butter and dump them in there. Set your mixer on a low setting so your kitchen doesn’t look like Miley Cyrus had a coke party in there.
15. When it looks less like pie crust and more like icing add your almond extract. Then scrape the sides of your bowl and whip away!
16. When I spread icing on, I spread it on both shells to make sure I don’t skimp. Sandwich your filling between the layers and viola! Almond macarons.
The best thing about macarons is that you can do so many different flavors, including these delicious coffee macarons with chocolate filling.

Photo by Simone Rodrigues

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Charlotte Smith is an esthetician licensed in Tennessee and Georgia. She’s married to a lumberjack version of Deadpool, is obsessed with huskies, is straight up in quarter-life crisis mode, and loves pretty much anything that could be considered creepy.

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