Sunday, 4 March 2018

Everyone says that Macarons are the hardest.

They are harder than muffins, or sweet breads, or layered cakes with a hidden rainbow centre. Those just look impressive and are actually very simple once you know what you’re dealing with, which we were not.

Which Macarons are not.

They are harder than Baked Alaska, where the whole thing goes up in flames and emerges complete; harder than wedding cake when you’re no longer in love; harder than souffle and brulee and having to tell my friends they were right.

Because you left, and Macarons are the hardest.

I vowed that I would learn to bake them. 


The search for advice is a minefield of contradictions.

Every recipe is different; every page footnoted with different tips for success, and all of it cited non-negotiable

Age the egg whites, before you try to coax them in to behaving the way you want. Make sure they’re mature enough. Give them as much of a chance as you can.

Ensure the bowl is perfectly clean; no history to taint the results. 

Go easy on the liquid. Not too much food colouring, not too many tears.

I read recipe after recipe, and realise that some things, like learning how-not-to-love-you; like baking macarons, cannot be done in theory.

They are going to take some practice.

So I start.


Whip the eggs until they form stiff peaks; until your arms hurt; until they turn in to something else entirely, buoyed by the frenzy and growing in resilience to match the anger of the whisk.

(Maybe whisk less angrily. Every recipe agrees that steaming in hard, all emotion and no logic, will ruin the batter straight off. It’s hard to come back from that).

(Possible, in theory, but hard).

Stop when they’re tough; when they’re solid; when the surface has the kind of gloss that from afar would make people envious, and if they don’t, remember that looks aren’t everything. You never can tell.

(Let the anger turn in to hope, at this point. You’re going to need that more).

(Easier said than done, right?)

Add the almonds, add the flour, add enough sugar to tip the taste from powdery to sweet. Start with Chocolate, because it’s easy, and because everyone knows that chocolate is a remedy for heartbreak.

Add the Cocoa. 

Don’t text first. 




I am not neat; consistency does not come easy. I pipe the circles and they’re big and small and refuse to stay within the lines I drew, light pencil on baking parchment, a guideline rather than an assertion. 

I’m scared of pressing too hard, fearful it’ll be easier to see, then, when the mixture deviates from the plan. If I don’t make it clear, I can hardly be surprised when the macarons miss my cues. I can kid myself there was more I could have done; that maybe it wasn’t always going to end like this. 

They expand until they are all touching, a tangle of still-too-raw; of not-quite-strong-enough to stay in their own lane.

It’s a mess.

I remember it’s fine to like control and buy a mould.


Take two. Glossy egg whites, perfectly clean bowl. Mix gently but with intent, pipe with precision and trust.

Take a photo now, when you still think they could be perfect. 

Count these small wins. You’re going to need them, by the end. Remember that what comes later does not change this. Snap. No filter.

Let yourself smile.

Lift the mould, and drop it from a height. It takes the air out of you, to fall like that. 

(Smoothes their edges. Teaches them how to rise). 

Let the circles dry until they stick when you touch them. 



I turn the heat up too high, impatient as I always am to go from cold to comfortable quickly.

The door of the oven steams up and I lose sight completely of the thing I am trying to grow in there.    

I text that I miss you and pretend not to wait for a reply.

It doesn't come. 


Every recipe seems to give a different incubation time; a different opinion about the point when the abstract turns in to something concrete; something definitive. It’s a matter of seconds; of knowing the difference between the too-soon minute and the one that’s gone-too-far.

I take them out too early. Tap the shell to check they’re solid and am surprised when my finger breaks through; feels the hollow space below. 

Impossible to get right so quickly, is what I tell myself. Give it longer. More substance.

It’s easy to look at the broken aftermath and be able to articulate so obviously what you would have done differently.

(So do it differently).


Cocoa powder and sugar and ground almonds in to perfectly beaten egg whites. Raw batter on the back of the spoon, on your fingers, on your tongue. 

You get to try again.

It’ll work this time.

(It does).


On a Thursday night in November, we eat Chocolate macarons for dinner and I wish you could see this.


But Chocolate was feeling better after a vaguely crappy day; or something you do to keep your hands busy when your brain can’t be stilled. Chocolate helped the heartbreak, and now I’m feeling brave; like the soul-parts I forgot are creeping back in around the edges.

I make the classic mistake of inventing a recipe using things already in my cupboard; buoyed by success and sure everything I need is already there, somewhere.

“You were fine” my best friend points out when the earl grey filling tastes more like tar than tea. 

“Why didn’t you quit while you were ahead?”

Because Chocolate was easy, and I am not.

This is not.

Build on the foundations, and realise it’s time to grow.

Stop doing things just because they’re easy.

Decide which flavour you actually want, and find a recipe.

Buy Pistachios.

Try again.


Grate the nuts. Try not to grate your fingers. 

(Sweat and tears are somewhat inevitable, and two out of three ain’t bad).

When your hands hurt, take a break.

Scroll instagram.

Wonder why any algorithm thinks I want to see you smiling on a pier, 27 minutes ago, grey skies. Allow a brief moment of pride for the way my heart hardly drops at all when I realise who took it. 

Turn up the speed on the whisk.

(It’s encouragement, not anger).

Know exactly when to stop. 



This time I am brave enough to do what every recipe suggests; to turn the bowl upside down. Trust that it won’t fall.

It doesn’t.

(Then the next time it does, but I catch it before it goes too far, which is just as impressive).


I spend weeks refining, and learning, and adapting. 

Weeks of grazed knuckles and hollow shells and licking the spoon clean because even when they look defeated, they taste like heaven.

Weeks of pinpointing exactly when to open the door, to let the steam out before going back in. That's the secret to success, it seems. Taking off the pressure, every once in a while.

You send over Facebook that you “hope I’m doing well”, which is probably true but doesn’t make it feel any less contrived. You don’t get to hope anything for me, anymore. I don’t reply.

(Until 3 hours later, when, of course, I do).

(To tell you that actually, I am).


I sprinkle the nuts in to the mixture.

I’m betting on this batch. 

There is expectation in every squeeze of the piping bag.

The weight of it is too much for their delicate shells. They crack.

But hey, that’s how the light gets in.


On a Saturday morning, a week or two away, and warm with tea and the bravado caffeine brings, I try again.

This time I barely look at the recipe. If I take a wrong turn this time, it’s all on me. 

Perfectly matured egg whites on perfectly clean metal, whisked with a combination of experience and blind hope. 

I flip the bowl with a deliberately unsteady hand, daring it to tremble. 


Turn it back slowly. Breathe out.

Mix in the parts that shift it from raw eggs in a silver bowl to something worth celebrating.

Sugar, almonds, vanilla.

Grate the nuts smaller. Know exactly when to move my hands.

Sing loudly, in a way that only living alone allows.

Pistachios in, with a light hand and an “I believe in you”.

I make them green, like your eyes weren’t. 

And in a kitchen you have never known me in, on your 32nd birthday, I conquer the hardest flavour.
Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

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