To my mind, the Macaron (or French Macaroon if you want to be all English about it) is a bit like a Jaffa Cake in that opinions differ as to whether it’s a biscuit or not. You’ll be in no doubt this bestiary comes down firmly on the biscuit side of the argument from the existence of this entry, but on reflection it might be more strictly categorised as bakers’ confectionary (biscuit class). Previously I’d seen it as my calling to consume rather than concoct these lovely little creatures, but then around Easter I received the following kit from my sister grâce à the Honeywell Biscuit Company:
Truth be told I’ve had a bit of a thing for Macarons ever since a visit to one of Pierre Hermé‘s stores in Paris on a day that just turned out to be le jour du Macaron (a proof of providence if ever there was one). The high almond content made me hopeful this biscuit might be medieval in origin and legend has it that its first appearance was in the monasteries of medieval Venice, but the most exciting chapter in its history came when Catherine de Medici took the recipe to France, where it was eventually refined into the delicate sandwich form and produced in every colour and flavour the heart could desire.
Nowadays the Macarons’ perfect roundness, evenness and sheer melt-in-the-mouth gorgeousness make them a pleasure of the highest order and what a feast of colour they provide for the eyes! I’m particularly in awe of those master bakers who excel at making them as they’re difficult to get right. I might not have plucked up the courage to try the kit at all were it not for a friend dropping some of her experiments round. Ellie has been perfecting the art of macaron-making during lockdown:
My kit from the Biscuit Company included a couple of icing tubes to pipe chick faces onto the Macarons after assembling them, but I decided not to make things too complicated for myself on my first try. I got off to a good start with the filling (butter icing and homemade lemon curd) but a rookie error in placing one tray of Macarons on the wrong side of the baking sheet which cost me in presentation later. Dropping the tray on the floor was the best bit – apparently it helps with eliminating air pockets – but the macarons still emerged from the oven a little cracked. What they lacked in texture they made up for in taste, however. The ‘shell’ was just a few millimetres thick, the ‘white’ beautifully light and tender, and the ‘yoke’ even softer and richer with that lemony burst at its heart.
The Macaron is a biscuit of great taste and beauty, but it’s also incredibly delicate – a delicacy in every sense of the word. Thinking about its fragility, I’m moved to reflect on the way the unwelcome intrusion of the pandemic into our everyday lives has ushered in a season in which we’ve become acutely aware of our own vulnerabilities and not just to the virus. For some it might be the ability to earn a living, preserve a peaceful home or stave off loneliness with face-to-face contact; the challenge of having too much time on your hands or paradoxically not enough. For many the membrane between our work and home lives has become a lot thinner now colleagues Zoom us from their kitchens and public figures speak to us from their at-home studies, often with family members drifting in and out. It can be hilarious but also homely and humbling to have this glimpse into each other’s domestic lives. A daily reminder that we’re all human with or without our public faces on.
These thoughts could easily lead into a meditation on the instability of life as depicted in the great wisdom literature of the bible, but many of us have already been wrestling with these lessons over the last few weeks and months. Instead I’m drawn to the comforting words about Jesus in the gospel of Matthew, quoting from the prophet Isaiah:
He will not crush a bruised reed or put out a flickering candle…
Tenderness towards the bruised and struggling has always been part of God’s mission and character. One positive outcome of the present time would be if as a society we learnt to be more compassionate and protective of the vulnerable, fragile places in ourselves and others.
These days before Ascension Day are rogation days in the Church’s old calendar and you can read about them in the Clerk of Oxford’s blog here. It’s a time to bless the land, which seems peculiarly apt this year when in the quiet of lockdown nature has been such a blessing to those who are able to get outside to appreciate it.
May always feels such a medieval month and here’s another interesting piece by Michael Warren on medieval birds and birdsong. If you’re into medieval literature, you might like to pair it up with a reading of Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls.
For anyone living alone or feeling alone right now, you might enjoy this beautiful recording of Sheppard’s Libera Nos (Deliver Us) by The Sixteen, which must be one of the loveliest things to come out of lockdown. Lots of love.
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