Macarons and Failure

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As of last year I decided to make homemade macarons a Christmas tradition. If you don’t already know, macarons are French cookies composed of two crunchy-chewy almond flour cookies with a filling sandwiched in between.

They’re finicky cookies to make, despite being the French equivalent of an Oreo. Egg whites must be aged then whipped; almond flour and superfine sugar blended together and sifted; ingredients combined just so with a technique called macaronage; shelled piped, left to sit, and then baked for just the right amount of time; cookies allowed to sit in the freezer to ripen and achieve that signature texture.

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I learned how to make them at a workshop at The French Pastry School in Chicago a few years ago, but didn’t actually attempt making them on my own until about a year later with a coworker’s help. Then I made them again for the last two Christmases. So I’ve made them a total of four times, two with help. Not much experience.

Here’s what I’m struggling with today: the macarons I just made are far from perfect. I should have used gel food coloring instead of liquid. I should have remembered that egg whites evaporate as they age because I didn’t have enough. I should have baked one batch longer and one for less time. I should have traced circles on the parchment so that the cookies would be perfectly round. I should have let them set on a more even surface than my bed so the shapes didn’t get messed up. I could go on. I know all the mistakes I made.

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Burnt.

If you’re anything like me, this kind of thing eats you up inside. But I’ve begun to practice sitting back and watching my emotional state unfold when I do something less than perfectly. It’s frightening. I place so much of my worth in my ability to not make foreseeable mistakes.

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Underbaked AND misshapen. 

As family and friends can tell you, in the past this would have triggered a giant meltdown and I probably would have thrown the macarons away. Failure is absolutely something I am not comfortable with. But this time I’m trying something different.

I wrote out a list of notes for next year’s Christmas macarons so I can learn from what I did. This year, I’m going to serve the imperfect macarons and refuse the urge to apologize for them to people who probably don’t know better anyway. And instead of letting these feelings of inadequacy and frustration rule my day, I’m going to observe them and then ignore them.

Maybe this seems like a ridiculous amount of contemplation to give to cookies. Maybe so. But if you struggle with perfectionism yourself, you know how seemingly unimportant things can eat away at you in a major way.

Life, and especially Christmas time, presents so many opportunities to either listen to perfectionism and let it steal from me or choose to ignore it and enjoy the messiness of real life.

Also, reality check: this is what I posted on Instagram today. I picked the prettiest mac, blurred out the background, chose a flattering filter, and sat back and waited for approbation to flood in and quiet my failure feelings. Social media can be such a lie and a crutch!

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