We eat a lot of macarons. Every few months or so, we go on a crazy spree and buy dozens of macarons - from NY and from all over the country. Truthfully, we've had some bad ones, but we've had a lot of great ones. We admire other bakeries for their beautiful shells, or vibrant colors, or tasty flavors. We eat a lot and I think it's really important to sit down and assess what's going on around you b/c that will only make you better.
So recently, I tried some macarons where the shell wasn't very sweet. I wondered if reducing the sugar in our macarons would bring out the flavors more. So I went into the kitchen, changed up the recipe and gave it a try. The resulting shell was pretty delicious. Because it wasn't as sweet, it had a much stronger almond flavor to it. I was pretty excited to fill them and compare and the results were very interesting...
It turns out that the sweetness helped bring out the flavors of our fillings more. Somehow, when we reduced the sugar, the flavors didn't seem as bright or as tasty. Even our lemon macaron, which is a super bright flavor, seemed reduced in the more almond-y shell. How bizarre is that? I had been wondering for a long time if our shells were too sweet, but I guess it's just right.
I think that's one of the most interesting aspects of working in pastry. You pretty much have to be a calculating person who's always wondering what happens if... What happens if you change the oven temperature? What happens if you add a little more butter? What happens if you accidentally forgot the sugar? My mind cycles through all of these scenarios all the time and there's always a weird scrap of paper lying around with an untitled recipe on it and odd notes like, "NEED MORE CRISPY. BUTTER??"
I consider myself part of the microwave generation - I grew up in an era where your microwave dinner can be cooked in a few minutes. Due to the store opening coming up, the impatient itch has been worse than ever and I will be in the kitchen all day because I cannot sleep until I have mastered whatever it is that I am after that day. I keep thinking about what to do next and I am so impatient about waiting for it to all happen. The worst is when I get so impatient that I ruin it at the last step. I do that a lot.
It's important to always be on your feet. I want to be able to stand behind our product. There's always that whole greener pastures thing and I wonder if where I'm at is good enough. I may have a great recipe, but it doesn't stop me from wondering if it could get better by tweaking it a little. That's what happened with our pistachio macaron. When we first unveiled our pistachio, I thought it was pretty good. But I changed it like 4 times in the middle of our busiest season (December!) until I finally found one that I was happy with. It's incredibly expensive to make compared with our previous version and uses 3 different pistachio products to get to the right flavor, but I'm much happier with it.
Now that we're expanding, it means I'm testing out new recipes - beyond macarons. I sit down some nights with four books open around me so I can compare recipes and figure out what exactly I'm looking for. It's a lot of fun to try something new, but also very frustrating when you know what you want, but don't know how to get there. Often, I find myself turning to some of my more technical baking books and google to figure out if anyone else has mastered the same problem I have. Sometimes I find myself baking 6 batches of brownies in all the various pans I have in my house only to find that there's one with the right flavor, but wrong texture and then have to test it again with varying amounts of batter to find out which thickness is the right one or which oven time is right. There are just so many variables and you have to keep trying in order to have something you're proud of. It's all worth it in the end for the moment you taste something for the first time and say to yourself, "This is it."
And that's when I type it up and put it in my recipe book. It usually is "It" until I start to worry again and decide to tweak it four times before realizing the first one was just right.