Ugly macarons are still delicious

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Updated on Feb 5th. Scroll to bottom to read about baking macarons without a resting period!

There are so many opinions out there on macarons, so many tips, warnings, shared stories. So what the heck, I’ll just add to it.

I love macarons. LOVE them. I had two for breakfast this morning. Lily asked me if I was “in a relationship with macarons” (that’s how she talks now). She sees the dreamy, closed-eyes look I have on my face when I eat them.

They’re not the most affordable dessert (at a whopping $3.30 each at Ladurée) so I made up my mind to learn how to make them. I want to serve them at my retreats and it’s just not very comforting to have a tiny tease of a dessert when you’ve treated yourself to a weekend away. You need a plateful of macarons to really feel happy.

I’ve read a whole bunch of recipes and blog posts. I’ve watched some videos. I’ve taken a quick lesson with the talented @emilychincakes. Everyone admits to macarons being finicky; everyone has little tricks that help make the perfect macaron.

See that space? That’s called a “hollow”. Still delicious.

See that space? That’s called a “hollow”. Still delicious.

That bottom half has no “feet”. Still delicious.

That bottom half has no “feet”. Still delicious.

I remember when I got into baking sourdough bread. The motto was “even ugly bread is delicious when toasted”. I’ve made macarons three times now (not including that time in France when Dustin had his “poofy hair”). I promise to update this post if I change my mind, but my conclusion is that ugly macarons are still delicious. That air pocket on the inside? meh. Doesn’t quite come off the parchment paper? meh. They’re ovals with a pointy top? meh. The “feet” are really small and didn’t even puff up on one side? meh. They’re overbaked and a little brown? Pack your knives and go! Just kidding. I overbaked almost every tray and somehow they’re still chewy and delicious.

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If you’re baking macarons to sell, then you are amazing and you better charge enough for all that time in the kitchen. If you’re baking macarons to eat for breakfast? Just get-er-done and know that at least two of them on at least one side will look good enough for a picture. They seem to always taste delicious anyway.

For the winter retreat, I’m hoping they come out beautiful. But if they don’t? I’ll tell everyone to make that really dreamy face with their eyes closed when they eat them. I’m positive they will taste perfect.

Macaron resources:

My tips for low-stress macarons:

  • I don’t age the egg whites.

  • I don’t bring my egg whites to room temperature

  • I used lemon juice because I couldn’t find my cream of tarter

  • I used parchment paper because I don’t own a silpat

  • An amazing buttercream fixes all mistakes

  • Make sure to rest your macarons after piping so they dry out a bit and form a shell. See below.

Update! I’ve tried baking a batch of macarons without a resting period. Conclusion: rest your macarons! Of the 12 that I baked immediately after piping, 5 of them cracked. That’s a 40% fail rate. Wait, not a fail. Just ugly. They were still delicious. So while 100% delicious, 40% ugly. The remaining trays were rested and baked with no cracks. Were they still funny shaped? Sure. But definitely photo worthy.

Bottom tray was baked without resting after piping. Top tray rested about 20 mins.

Bottom tray was baked without resting after piping. Top tray rested about 20 mins.

Full of cracks. Arguably ugly. Definitely delicious.

Full of cracks. Arguably ugly. Definitely delicious.

I'm the boss, so I cook what I want

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Last weekend’s retreat was wonderful.

They always are. (Maybe not retreat number 7… but I can laugh about that now.)

There were impressive projects being completed throughout the weekend: photobooks, bullet journals, fancy zippered pouches, tote bags, knitting projects, and episodes of Sherlock. I had my first spinner attend the retreat: a yarn spinner, not a DJ, although it didn’t stop us from making DJ scratching sounds every time she went to go spin. We’re hilarious like that.

While everyone else is working to #completeatretreat, I spend most of my time cooking meals. And I really love it. I just cook the food I like, and hope that the guests like it, too.

I don’t think I always did that. I struggled in my early retreats to balance what I wanted to cook, and what I thought guests would want to eat. If I dared to try something different, I was haunted by the giant plate of leftovers and further divided about what to do next time.

But I’m in a new chapter now. I’m the boss. I’m going to embrace that.

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I served some familiar meals, like the charcuterie and cheese platter on Friday night, but I also made a pearl couscous lunch with roasted tomatoes and olives, with discs of eggplant and a lemony kale salad. And I served a roasted rack of pork with lots of earthy fennel flavours and a salty, crispy crust that fell apart when I sliced it but then I just scooped it up and sprinkled it on everyone’s plate. It’s so nice to just cook what I want, and trust that the guests will love it, too.

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Most retreats are filled with recipes and inspiration from Ina Garten. Although she is my forever-chef-crush, this past retreat was inspired mostly by Deb Perelman’s recipes. She has such a wonderful Instagram feed that links to recipes old and new — but always in the right season. I imagine she is actually making all these things in her small NYC apartment in real time.

Registration for my 2019 retreats is open. I decided to offer 4 retreats this year. Why not. If there isn’t enough interest, then I’ll just cancel one, or merge them together. You guys don’t mind if I mess around and try new things, right? It’s so nice being the boss.

Come for the surroundings. Come because your project pile is neglected and growing. Or come for the really delicious food. You get to see how much love I put into the meals, eat everything, and then not have to wash a single dish. It’s a pretty sweet deal.

There is an early bird discount right now for $50 savings if you register before the end of the year.

As added incentive, I’m doing a draw to win my extra copy of the amazing Handmade Getaway book. It’s a limited edition hardcover copy! The book is fabulous, filled with project ideas, guides, tips, and planning details to host your own amazing handmade getaway. All early-bird registrations will be automatically entered into the draw.

Hope to see you soon. xo.

Alexandria Peg Trousers

Thankful for my 5-year old who is willing to help me with pictures. How else do you take pictures of pants?!

Thankful for my 5-year old who is willing to help me with pictures. How else do you take pictures of pants?!

I leave for Australia in 5 days! Eek! I used this trip to set some ambitious sewing goals. These chambray rayon Alexandria Peg Trousers were first to be checked off the list and I've already worn them to work thrice. [Mom: that means three times. It's a real word.]

This is my second pair of Alexandria Peg trousers and they are made with Robert Kaufman chambray rayon. The chambray refers to the dual tone weave, and rayon is a semi synthetic material made from wood pulp. It's soft and breathable: perfect for the coming warmer months. As opposed to the cotton+steel rayon, Robert decided to give us a full 54" width fabric, handy for grown up sized clothes so I can make these pants with just over a metre of fabric. 

When I first saw Karyn's Instagram picture of these pants, I knew they were for me. Pockets, pleats, elastic waist. Sold. 

I have problems with patterns that involve my waist measurement. When I teach sewing lessons, I do a run through of reading a commercial pattern and talk about how to pick the right size. As an example, I have my own measurements circled and it's always something like "size 2 bust, size 10 waist, size 2 hip". I'm like Mr. Smee from Peter Pan. There are various pattern adjustments you can do for a wider waist, but I generally try to pick loose shirts, dresses, or skirts that avoid needing a strict waist measurement. With exception to pjs and sweatpants that I sewed in abundance in high school, I have avoided pant patterns. Until now. 

This is my first foray into Named Patterns, the brand with a beautiful box and good, sturdy pattern paper that is so easy to trace.

The most complicated part is adding the pleats with the curved pockets --  which isn't too bad if you are good at reading instructions. The rest of the pants sew up quickly: flashback to high school pj pants.

Come to think of it, These are essentially fancy pyjama pants. There is even a drawstring option if you aren't planning to fake it at the office. I opted for just the elastic. Rather than grading the pattern for a size 10 waist and a size 2 hip, I just made a size two and left the elastic longer. This leaves less gathering at the waistband, but I'm okay with that since I'm trying to get away with a slightly more formal look for work. I wear them with nude heels at the office. It totally works.