Thanks to all who have read and promoted my blog post Why I’m Vegan, which numerous people have qualified as “controversial” (to which my reply is this) and “inspiring” and “well-written” (to which my reply is this). Even if you don’t know what to say about the post, it pleases me just to know you’ve read it. So thank you!
The other day, my friend Ella and I were chatting about the fate of my blog now that I’ve become vegan (and now that I’ve posted such a vehemently passionate essay about it). If you read other posts on my blog, you can see that I was quite the aficionado (or I tried to be, at least) for Europe’s finest candies, pastries, cakes, and other delicacies while I was studying abroad in Paris. I was eating the best of the best (except on those not-so-rare occasions when Ella and I would eat mounds of bulk candy on our international adventures). And in France, the best of the best almost always includes animal products.
The quintessential French cookie is the macaron (pronounced mack-a-RON or mack-a-ROON, though the former is more similar to the French pronunciation). Macarons are meringue-based (AKA egg white-based) cookies made with almond flour. Two of these cookies are pressed together like a sandwich and held together with a smooth filling. Macarons can be made in many flavors, and they look like this:
Macarons are not the same thing as macaroons (meringue-based cookies which usually include coconut flakes), macaroni (small noodles, most often seen accompanied by their #1 BFF cheese) or racoons (nocturnal mammals that have recently been seen picking through Northwestern University campus trash cans during the daytime), though all of their names sound quite similar and so I don’t blame you for confusing them.
Macarons are extremely delicate—light and crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside—and they require the utmost finesse in baking. Ever since I’ve returned from France, I’ve wanted to try to tackle the world’s most temperamental cookie. But, here’s the thing, a macaron is a macaron because it’s made out of eggs. It’s impossible to make something inherently not vegan into something vegan … right?
Well … I’m not gonna answer that question just yet. But what I am gonna say is that this morning, I tried to make the impossible possible. Rachel, the vegan underdog, tried to make vegan macarons.
Feeling like Rocky at the bottom of the steps to Philadelphia’s Museum of Art, I made my way to Whole Foods in the hopes of knocking out the non-vegan competition. The bakery counter, my baking arch nemesis, mocked and laughed at me as it showed off rows of beautiful, pristine macarons in all sorts of colors—pink, yellow, green, purple, maroon. But I had my eyes on the cruelty-free prize, so I went straight for the bakery product aisle, where I picked up some vegan cane sugar*, a vanilla bean, almond flour (which is just ground-up almonds), and the secret weapon: Ener-G Egg Replacer, a powdered egg substitute made from potato and tapioca starches.
*Today’s Fun Fact: Regular ol’ sugar (including cane and powdered sugar) isn’t vegan. It’s processed through cow bones to get that shockingly white color. Cool, huh?
When I got home, I got right to it by mixing the powdered egg replacer with water and beginning to beat it with an electric hand mixer. If you know a thing or two about baking meringues, you know that beating egg whites is a tricky thing—you have to do it for just the right amount of time to get it right. So I was truckin’ along, beating my faux-egg whites … but they just wouldn’t thicken up. Thirty seconds go by, 60 seconds, 2 minutes, 5 minutes … nothing. So I add some sugar. Nothing. It’s goopy and runny and looks nothing like what all the YouTube videos tell me beaten egg whites should look like.
Now, a decent baker would probably say to herself, “Oh, jeez. I probably did this wrong. I’m gonna start over and try again.” But I am not a decent baker. I am Rachel, and I am hasty and lazy and an “eh, whatever” kind of gal.
So I threw in all the ingredients with the nasty, unbeaten “eggs,” and I mixed that sticky shit up, and I put that shit into a pastry bag (just kidding, it was a Ziplock bag because I’m too hasty and lazy to buy pastry bags), and I squeezed that shit onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. And it all looked like shit.
No, seriously, it looked like shit. Like literal shit. Like little dog turds on the sidewalk shit. Voilà:
My thought process was something along the lines of, “Hey, it’s vegan! So what if it looks like dog poo! It’s got character! That’s hilarious!”
And then I put it into the oven, and it came out looking like this:
And my thought process was something along the lines of, “Oh, shit.”
Because that shit does NOT look like macarons. At all. It looks like … shit.
And then I tasted it. It was pretty gummy, like flourless cookies … but not altogether disgusting. It was pretty tasty, actually. So without even letting the mess cool, I scooped three of the macaron-fails onto a plate and plopped a dollop of vegan cream cheese on the top. It was kind of like hot cookie bar, for all my Northwestern peeps out there. And it was pretty good.
I’ll probably try making vegan macarons again. They probably won’t taste anything like a real macaron, but I’ll pretend they do. It’s a lesson I’ve been learning the hard way since becoming vegan five months ago: sometimes you can’t hold on to the foods you love. Sometimes you have to leave them behind completely.
I mean, how do you make delicious vegan ice cream that tastes like it was made with dairy? You just can’t. Trust me, almond/coconut/rice milk ice cream is good, but it’s nothing like dairy milk ice cream. You can’t make plant-based food taste like animal-based food. It’s just not the same. That doesn’t mean that plant-based food can’t taste delicious. You just have to recognize that plant-based food tastes different. And that’s okay!
I’m okay with giving up ice cream and scrambled eggs and real cheese because it’s just food. And when it comes to macarons, there are plenty of other delicious things to occupy my sweet tooth—not having one of them isn’t going to be the most painful thing in the world.
Maybe one day I’ll make up a vegan dessert that tastes even better than macarons, and maybe then I’ll be like Rocky at the top of the steps, pumping my fists into the air in sweet victory. For now, though, I’m perfectly content being the vegan underdog who’s gazing up in awe from the very bottom.
Photography © Rachel Marchant, except the picture of macarons that actually look like a professional baked them rather than a complete idiot *raises hand*.