Friday, December 3, 2010

Promenades Gourmandes Macaron Class, or, How I Finally Learned How to Make Macarons

When I was in Paris this autumn, I used my free time well. From shopping at Merci to walks along the Seine, multiple crepes from Le Comptoir, plus a self-guided macaron tour and a macaron cooking class. I do believe the macaraon is just about the prettiest cookie out there. But at $1-2 a pop, (or more. Especially at "temples to the macaron" like Pierre Herme, where I spent about $8 on three -- creme brulee, passion fruit and peach) it's no wonder people want to try to make their own. I've come clean about my past struggles with baking macarons. I was bound and determined to learn the technique once and for all. So I signed up for the macaron class at Promenades Gourmandes. The class, which I highly recommend, is taught in the kitchen of Parisian Paule Caillat by Chef Joël Morgeat. I knew the basics. After all, I had learned the hard way that you cannot really tinker with the amount of sugar in the recipe, to double up on the baking sheets, etc. but over the course of the three-hour class, I picked up a few more techniques and tips, such as: 1. You don't need to age your egg whites when making macarons (or at least, Chef Joël doesn't). 2. How to test the temperature of the sugar syrup portion of an Italian meringue recipe WITHOUT A THERMOMETER (involves dipping your fingers in water, into the boiling hot liquid sugar and back into water -- only for the daring). 3. Pipe the cookies with your pastry bag totally straight (perhaps this is Piping 101 but it was totally news to me!). 4. Let macarons rest and develop a thin skin before baking. 5. Bake only one tray of cookies at a time. And adjust the baking temperature and time to suit the quirks of your oven. 6. Temper the sweetness of the shells by using a less-sweet filling (like bittersweet chocolate ganache or a combination of white almond paste, butter and flavoring). I ended up taking about three dozen macarons home with me (ok, by the time I officially returned home to the U.S., it was about a dozen and a half. Macarons keep beautifully in the fridge for at least a week). Fast forward two months, and I finally dragged out the recipe and my macaron supplies. I had purchased finely ground white almond meal at G. Detou in Paris, found white almond paste at Whole Foods and picked up pastry bags, tips and food coloring at Chef Central. I have to say, the recipe I brought back from Paris was vague on some of the details, so I crossed referenced with this recipe and got to work. And it did work! I ended up with four trays of cookies. From left to right: 1. I left the first batch in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes. It was too hot and too long. The cookies were hard at first, but softened after a few days in the fridge. 2. I turned the oven down to 320 (per the Food Geek recipe) and baked for 12 minutes. The shells came out slightly flat and undercooked. 3. The third try was a charm - 320 degrees for 15 minutes. 4. I left the fourth batch in at the same temp and length of time, but you could see I was getting tired as my piping was kind of sloppy (macarons are not supposed to look like acorns). All in all, I am happy with my progress. After my failures two years ago, this was validation that you can do it, with the proper ingredients and attention to detail. And this was only a trial run for the macarons I plan to make later this month as gifts for my coworkers. Let the 2010 12 Days of Macarons begin! For more macaron adventures, read on.