Of course, I was not happy enough with cakes and I had to take on another uber-challenging baking feat — the macaron.  Below you will see my work in progress.  I started with Stella Parks’ recipe and instructions http://bravetart.com/recipes/Macarons.  And I made the following macarons for my friend Nancy’s baby shower — they were supposed to be pink although the color faded in the oven.  They tasted wonderful and at that point I didn’t care that they had some cracks or didn’t have feet.
First 2 batches of Macarons

But, of course, I’m never happy with “good enough.” So I kept trying to get feet.  It was all I could think about.  I kept trying her recipe and hoping for feet by improving my macaronage.

Undermixed batch (see the nipples). I don’t remember which batch number we’re on here (lets call it batch#3)
Batch #4: Overmixed batch (flat as pancakes). Still tasted good by the way.  As you can see I couldn’t be bothered with making the filling pretty on my unpretty macarons so I just slapped on some Nutella.
At this point I thought my macaronage was getting better but since I was still having trouble getting my “feet” I thought I should try a different recipe that had more dry ingredients.  They were beautiful in the oven.  I was doing the dance of joy in front of the oven and my husband said “wait, don’t get too excited yet.”  He was right, darn it.  They were completely hollow.  I made 3 batches with that recipe — using room temp vs cold egg whites, drying the shells vs not drying the shells, lowering the temp.  But they were all hollow and “plastic”looking on top.
Different batter : batches 5-7
Screaming “Stella, forgive me!” I quickly went back to her batter since at least it tasted wonderful and I never had hollows.  I looked at Mardi Michels’ site at eatlivetravelwrite.com who adapted Stella’s recipe slightly by drying the macaron shells before baking.  I made 2 trays with the same batter.  The first was cracked with no feet.  I dried the second tray of shells until they were “dentable”– I could press on them with my finger and they were dry enough that I could make a little dent in them.  And I finally got my feet with delicious macarons!
Batch #8, tray #1: Undried macaron shells
Batch#8 Tray# 2: Dried macaron shells
Filled with homemade caramel sauce a la bravetart.com

I’m not going to post any “rules” about making macarons because I realize now that macarons are an entirely personal adventure that depends on your oven, your environment, the recipe that works for you, etc.  But I will tell you what I learned:

1) Proper macaronage is very important.  I learned a lot by repeatedly watching videos like Beth’s Foolproof French Macaron Recipe, this tutorial by a sweet 13 year old girl who knows her stuff, and Mardi Michels’ videos

2) Thin baking sheet vs heavy baking sheet did not make any difference for me.

3) Temperature did not make a huge difference for me.  I did find my oven had hot spots (in the middle) so I turned on my convection fant and kept the temp at 300F per Stella’s recipe.

4) Drying the shells before baking was huge for me. Look at the difference between trays 1 and 2 in batch #8 above.  The only difference between the two trays was the drying.

5) Cold liquid egg whites vs room temp egg whites didi not make a huge difference for me.  I have not tried real eggs yet.

6) My shells were a lot less bumpy-looking when I ground the almonds in my ninja first and then added the powdered sugar and ground them again and then sifted the whole lot.

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