I'm Jackie Howard I love to cook. I bake all day and then go home to cook for whomever will eat. Can't find me? Look in the kitchen. It is a pure joy within me that must escape into a pie, Sunday brunch, or my very favorite, a giant meal for 15 at three in the morning.
After searching for a career, a plan, or whatever my guidance counselor in high school was talking about, I realized two years ago that I should be cooking for a living. So, one day I decided I would become a baker. I moved to Bloomington after Bloomingfoods offered me my first chance to bake and two weeks later began what can only be described as a whirlwind of flour, sugar, and cinnamon. The following year, I stalked David Fletcher for a job, and to my excitement, he fell into my trap. I am now the sous pastry chef at BLU Boy Chocolate Café and Cakery.
It didn't take long to realize, however, that I am not a classically trained pastry chef. I throw things together and see how it goes. Why not? Who needs measurements? It all seemed to work for me…until the French arrived. The damned French with their fancy words that meant nothing to me. As I learned those words one after another, I realized I could do this. It's not me, but I can do it. Nappe? Got it. Crème anglaise? No problem. Little did I know my first true pastry nemesis was a tiny cookie that barely exists in your hands. The macaron. That's right, with one “o”.
Gourmet magazine was in Paris recently with a lovely article about macarons. As I read their account of the Parisian pastry staple, I came across a sentence I could only scoff at, "While many believe the macaron to be difficult to make, it is really quite easy." LIARS! After having been through a pain-staking, bitter, demoralizing battle with my puny foe, I know all too well the frustration of the macaron. Certainly it sounds easy, as it is truly a simple recipe. It must, however, be done just right. My“throw it in and see what happens”approach to cooking was no match for the tiny perfection of the macaron.
The signature of the macaron is the little "feet." They are fickle and yet adorable. Time after time, I stood in front of the oven willing them to puff up. There was cursing as there usually is with me. One time, too lumpy. Next time, too runny. One extra twist of your wrist during mixing and all is lost. For months the battle raged on. What was different about the 15th batch that made the perfect feet that I wasn't doing in the following three? When a batch was beautiful I could overhear customers say, "Have you girls ever been to Paris?" Again with the French. I sought the advice of snooty chefs and their fancy words. I tried their suggestions. Some met with great success and other with definite failure. After so much time and effort in creating the perfect cookie, I found a method and formula that suited me... and the macaron. I stood in front of the oven, once again staring at the little domes, willing them to rise. Just do it! Then it began, the feet. The blessed feet on each and every macaron. Finally, I had mastered the cookie that seemed only magic could produce. Macarons are my bitches!