According to legend (often disproved by scholars), Marie Antoinette uttered the famous words, “Let them eat cake!,”  a show of disregard and callousness towards the peasants of her day.

A Literary Feast -- A Doll's House

Original manuscript cover of A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen (courtesy of Wikipedia)

In reference to Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House, I intend for the phrase to be used to symbolize liberation rather than suppression. This is a bit of a cheat post. Instead of finding the food to fit the literature, I am using the literature to fit the food. (Not to mention the fact that it’s not a meal plan; Chompers won’t even see these, let alone eat them. I know, I know– mean mama who doesn’t feed him sugar.) Reason being, I have been itching to write about a fun girls’ night out I had a couple of weeks ago– making authentic French macarons! In talking about this with some of my old colleagues from college, they reminded me of the many mentions of macaroons in A Doll’s House. Time for a reread, I think!

As much as I enjoy seeing live theatre, reading plays is also a very enjoyable pastime. I took an entire class about 19th century plays and playwrights in my senior year of college. (Side note: I was always a few minutes late to that class, because it was an evening class that started the same time Gilmore girls finished. I watched it at a friend’s house– we’d leave during the last commercial break, set the VCR to record the ending, and make a mad dash back to campus.) I’m sure that is when I read A Doll’s House for the first time, but I don’t remember having such a strong reaction to it then as I did this time around. Maybe it was because I was younger, unmarried, childless, swamped with other assignments.. who knows. Reading it now, at the antithesis of all of those adjectives, I found my blood boiling! This play is infuriating! I want to rename it “The Birdcage,” wring Torvald’s scrawny little bird neck, and put HIM in the cage. Talk about a sermon. Ibsen was truly one of the great social moralizers of his day. Of course, he is using every literary device to hammer home his point: setting, hyperbole, symbolism, names and nicknames. I can only hope that not every Victorian home had such an unequal yoke and chauvinistic husband; however, the fact that this play was written shows that gender role prejudice was the norm. Forget about the “glass ceiling.” These women don’t even own keys to their mailboxes. The protagonist, Nora, outwardly appears to be the model Victorian housewife. In the very first scene, however, we see a foreshadowing of the web of deceit that underlies her relationship with her husband.

Enter the macarons. (Another side note: in the play, they are spelled “macaroons.” These days, there is a big distinction between the almond flour macarons, and the coconut macaroons. I did a bit of digging to see which one Ibsen was referring to. Although the coconut macaroons are quite popular in Norway these days, especially around Christmastime, it seems evident that the almond cookies would have been more prevalent in 1879. To be sure, they wouldn’t have been the same sandwiched, colored versions that we see now, but the basic ingredients of sugar, egg whites, and ground almonds would have been the same. Hence, in my narrative, I’ll keep the traditional French spelling of “macaron.”) Nora is seen happily eating macarons from a package that she stealthily keeps in her pocket and denies the existence of when questioned by her husband. She appears quite at ease with this deception, as well as with her husband’s teasing about her being a spendthrift. This doesn’t seem very abnormal. What wife hasn’t thrown away a receipt or hid chocolate in the freezer? Sometimes it’s just easier. 🙂 This light scene quickly becomes unsettling, as Torvald continues the ranting about his wife’s spending habits, and no head for business, and heaping on childish nicknames like “skylark” and “squirrel” and “songbird.” We quickly see the true picture: Torvald is king of his house. Nora is his pretty plaything, the crowning jewel of his kingdom. She is to be put in her place, as all glitter and no substance, a stereotype that he continually reinforces with every interaction. On the surface, he seems sweet and doting; on the surface, she seems gay (in the Victorian definition of the word) and pliable. But the presence of the macarons show a crack in the facade that later opens to reveal the true colors of all involved.

The play resolves with the awakening of Nora. I love the fact that it is not an unrealistic awakening. Nora admits that she knows little of the world, and will surely make mistakes. The point is, that she will make those mistakes, rather than let her life be dictated by others. It is feminism at its finest, yet I hesitate to use that term. More basic than that, it is a battle cry against the dehumanization of women in the Victorian age. Ibsen doesn’t give answers to the problem; nor does he necessarily imply that being a good wife, housekeeper, mother, and pleasure to her husband is a bad thing. We never see what becomes of Nora, or if a true partnership between husband and wife can exist in this time. He merely acts as a town crier, and tosses it to the masses for self-evaluation. In a way, it’s a refreshing read, as one can now reflect on the advancements we have seen in gender equality. If you’ve never delved into reading plays, try it! This is a good one to start with– it’s not very long, and there aren’t many characters to keep track of. You can read the full text here.

Now that my feministic side is sufficiently riled up, let’s turn to a very house-wifely activity: baking. As stated before, I rarely bake these days and even my Friday Night Dinner box cake was a flop. Am I really going to succeed at creating these delicate meringue cookies? Let’s hope we have a good teacher! My friend Caroline and I signed up for this popular class at Make it Sweet about three months ago, at the recommendation of a couple of co-workers. I’ve never been to a cooking class before, and was really anticipating this, albeit a little nervous about my baking skills. Do you know how expensive macarons are in the U.S.? They range anywhere from $2-$4 EACH. The ingredients are simple, so that must mean the process is labor-intensive. I needn’t have worried. In this basic macaron class, the teacher, Heidi, did all of the actual mixing and baking, while explaining in detail the scientific process of each step. I’m a science nerd– I appreciate being taught how things work, so this class was fascinating for me. We got to pipe the cookies onto the baking sheets, as well as fill them after they had cooled. Here are some of the basic tips for successful macarons:

A Literary Feast -- macarons

Macarons, piped and flattened

  • use a kitchen scale
  • use an oven thermometer
  • age your egg whites
  • bring everything to room temperature
  • flatten the heck out of them after they are piped onto the trays (that was the fun part)

We had a blast, and I highly recommend this class for a fun night out. To be honest, I was a little disappointed by the end result initially. They tasted good, but didn’t wow me. The teacher said, however, that they are at their best after 3-5 days. (Store them in an air-tight container in the fridge, but bring them up to room temp before eating.) We each went home with about 50 macarons (do the math– we got our class fee back, plus!), so I put them to the test, only eating a couple every day. She was so right! By day 5, they were exquisitely good. Now we are in deep in plans to get the supplies needed to recreate them at home. Aren’t they pretty?

A Literary Feast -- baked macarons

The happy bakers– they didn’t flop!

Do you want a recipe? I thought you might. See below and enjoy! Let me know if you try them, and how they turn out. I’ll post an update once I try these at home.

French cassoulet for Friday Night Dinner, and now French macarons. Ooh la, la! We be fancy here.

 

French Macarons (courtesy of Make it Sweet)

Ingredients:

420 grams sifted powdered sugar

250 grams almond meal/flour

200 grams aged fresh egg whites (separate approx 6 eggs and age in fridge for 3-5 days)

60 grams granulated sugar

gel or powdered food coloring

Directions:

  1. Combine powdered sugar and almond meal in food processor.
  2. Pulse to blend, then sift into bowl; discard any large pieces left in sifter.
  3. In clean stainless steel bowl, whisk egg whites till frothy, then gradually add sugar.
  4. Whip on medium high until stiff peaks form; will be very glossy and will not fall out of bowl.
  5. If adding color, do it at this point. Only use gel or powdered color.
  6. Gently fold egg whites into almond mixture; do this process in thirds.
  7. Let sit for 2-3 minutes, then beat it down to “molten lava.”
  8. Place mixture into piping bag with a 1A tip.
  9. Pipe 1 inch circles onto parchment sheet with a DOUBLE BAKING SHEET.
  10. Bounce pan several times to flatten rounds.
  11. Let set for 20 minutes before baking (let “skin” form)
  12. Bake at 275 degrees for approximately 20-22 minutes.
  13. Let cool completely before filling.
  14. Can be stored (filled) in the fridge for up to a week or frozen for up to one month.
  15. Let come to room temperature before serving.

Chocolate Ganache

Ingredients:

16 oz. Dark chocolate

16 oz. Heavy cream

Place chocolate in a large bowl. Bring heavy cream to simmer; pour over chocolate. Let sit for 1 minute. Stir together until combined. Allow to cool before piping into cooled macarons.