Cookies and Screams

Good morning all. Big Sur, south end, what can I say? We caught a beautiful morning the other day when driving north on highway 1 to see the elephant seals. And we were the only ones on the south path of the preserve. That was special all by itself so we decided we’d travel up the coast to Ragged Point for breakfast. And this is what awaited us. Wow.
See all the butterflies. The Monarchs. They made a beautiful picture with their orange color against the backdrop of the purple flowers and green leaves.

Here’s a picture of our good friend, Nancy, who had ventured over to visit for a few days. We had a grand time.
I really like the special effects caused by the sun. This pic was taken by me holding the iphone. Very cool.

So, Nancy and I love french macarons. We’ve made them together before. We also love France having visited several times. Our plan, then, was to bake some cookies when we returned home after breakfast.

What could go wrong? I had printed out several articles about the proper way of making this delightful meringue cookie and we settled on a caramel macaron. Yummy. But let me back up. One of the articles I had printed out contained very specific instructions on the making of this cookie. Nancy read the article and pointed out that it must have been written to scare the cook. Language like “this is a critical step” infused the tome. See sidebar for the article if so inclined. She got us laughing about how scary the article was. So with that in mind, we donned our aprons and got to work.

One other thing. I wanted to try the italian way of macaron making. It includes adding hot liquid to the egg whites for a superior meringue. Also, I had noticed that the woman that penned the article about macarons used dry egg whites to stabilize her meringue and that intrigued me as well. So. My aim was to try this method.

One of the things the generic instructions included was the idea that you must separate the eggs and let the whites rest at room temp for up to 72 hours. This is so some of it evaporates and causes the meringue in some way to be superior. The media has us completely afraid of food. I personally must wash my hands with soap and water 33 times when preparing and cooking chicken as an example. So the idea of leaving the egg whites out caused some concern…but not enough not to try it. So I had “room temperature aged egg whites” standing by. Nancy sifted the almond meal and the sugar together, I beat the egg whites and everything came together just fine. We piped the batter onto cookie sheets and let them rest for 30 minutes. But wait. Our scary instructions told us to let them rest but the recipe we were following did not. We opted for the rest. Then the recipe said to bake them at 200 for 5 minutes and then raise the temp to 375 and complete the baking for 8 minutes. The original scary recipes did not say anything about two bakings. We opted to follow the recipe. Fete accompli. However, the cookies were a flop. They looked okay but they were soggy.

Before we knew they were soggy, we made the caramel. Caramel is tricky. It’s very easy to undercook and a disaster if over cooked (with a putrid burnt taste). It has to be just right. So, I got right to it, screwing it up from the start. I flipped the directions and put in 1/4 sugar to 3/4 water. When it turned a fine shade of color, Nancy stirred in the cream and then the butter. Well, the recipe said it was supposed to look like paste. Ours had the consistency of water. OMG. We had to do it again. That’s when I discovered my mistake. It should have been 3/4 cup of sugar to 1/4 of water. AND the recipe stated 200 g of cream. So, I double checked what that really was. We had that wrong too. First of all, who ever writes a recipe using 200 g of liquid of any kind? That doesn’t make sense. I equate grams with dry ingredients. Well, google reported back to us that 200 g of liquid was about 1/2 the amount we had used before (using some arcane methodology). So….we were pretty much cursed from the beginning!! And I did our share of the cursing. Words like “dogged gone it and fiddlesticks” came floating out of the kitchen.

Well, the second batch of caramel was much better BUT it wasn’t a paste. Would work well over, say, ice cream.

There we were, two firecrackers of food in the kitchen with soggy meringues and not-thick-enough caramel. We howled with laughter. We were armed with the very detailed instructions, a half-baked recipe and fine ingredients and we ended up with a total flop. As I threw the instructions away, I glanced at the recipe one more time and noticed that it was not even authored by the author of the detailed instructions. OMG. Just about everything was wrong. The measurements, the baking technique…everything. And the recipe did not, I repeat, NOT use the italian method and it did not call on the addition of powdered egg whites. OMG. What were we thinking? More howls of laughter ensued.

So…for those of you that think experienced cooks don’t have flops…well, you’d be wrong. It happens.

Epilogue. We cleaned up the kitchen, left the house, went out to dinner and took in a movie. Ray will eat the meringue “nipples” as he dubbed them and we’ll use the caramel sauce for an ice cream dessert at thanksgiving. Or maybe I’ll throw it away. Either way, we had a great time and learned a lot…what not to do. And it starts with the recipe. If you don’t have a good recipe when you bake (it’s chemistry), you are going to have a flop. Also, it helps if you read the recipe correctly…but I prefer not to think about that.

Next time I will do the italian method and use one of the good recipes that add egg white powder. Main thing is…there will definitely be a next time and it will probably occur when we drive over to Ridgecrest to Nancy’s house because we are both obsessed!

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