Macarons. The last frontier.
For such a tiny mouthful, these delicate meringue-based biscuits have been known to strike fear in the boots of home cookers, food bloggers, and MasterChef contestants.
I'd been so paranoid by the prospect of collapsed meringues, of footless travesties, of effort and soul crushed repeatedly by failure, that I'd never been game to attempt them. Until now.It's a mac-a-RON
I smile as soon I open the instruction booklet handed out to us at the Baroque Bistro Macaron Masterclass. It's a macaron
, not a macaroon. Take heed, offenders
Our class today is being led by Jean-Michel Raynaud
, chief patissier and Production and Business Development Manager at Baroque. Trained in Marseille under a master Patissier, Jean-Michel became a head pastry chef at age 20. Since then he has worked at the Michelin-starred Le Petit Nice (three stars) in France, and Sweet Art and Planet Cake in Australia. His impressive portfolio includes an MBA in Business Administration and many tv appearances
Each week Baroque makes 8,000 macarons. The kitchen is used to make pastry in the morning, but from 2pm until midnight production is devoted exclusively to macarons.
Trolleys of macarons
I always feel a sense of excitement whenever I step over the boundary between customer and behind-the-scenes. Our class of ten files past the display counter of sweets and into the commercial kitchen. Huge industrial-sized mixing equipment and machines line the walls. Here is a blast freezer, over there is a two-metre tall oven. Pushed into the corners are trolleys laden with tray upon tray of macaron shells.
There is no shortage of macaron recipes online, many of which detail initial tales of woe. What is common amongst all of them is their use of the French meringue method. Of the five types of meringue methods (French, Italian, Swiss, reduced sugar and ordinary), only the French and Italian methods are used to make macarons.
The French method uses beaten egg white with caster sugar folded in at the end. This, Jean-Michel explains, creates a highly fragile mixture that is notoriously unstable mixture. This is why so many macaron-makers face such difficulty.
The Italian meringue method is a little trickier to begin with, but results in a stronger, more stable and robust mixture. The difference is the incorporation of cooked sugar into the meringue.
Interestingly we learn that macaron shells are never flavoured, only coloured. The only flavouring comes from the filling, which often permeates the shell. Just like Baroque, it is recommended that shells are made in advance - they will keep for 2-3 weeks - and the filling made the next day to alleviate stress and make the process more manageable. Drying out the shell also means more flavour will be absorbed.
Mixing the Tant pour Tant with egg whites
The Italian method uses a Tant pour Tant, which Jean-Michel pronounces as tohn-pohr-tohnt. This translates to "that much for that much" and refers to the equal ratio of almond meal to icing sugar. This is combined with a precise measurement of egg whites and beaten by hand (not beater) until the mixture is well-incorporated and quite stiff. The almond mixture is covered with cling film (make sure the plastic wrap touches the surface so no skin forms) and set aside whilst the sugar is cooked.
We weigh water into a saucepan and then add the correct amount of caster sugar and any food colourings. The sugar must be taken to the soft boil stage, or about 118C. When the sugar reaches 115C, you must start beating your egg whites until they reach the soft peak stage. Both need to be ready at the same time. If the sugar is going too fast, add a little water to slow it down. It is imperative that the sugar is not boiled past 125C as it will cook your egg whites when it is added.
As soon as the sugar reaches 118C, we turn the KitchenAid on high and pour it into the soft peak egg whites. Pour the sugar down the side of the bowl, not directly onto the egg whites.
Adding the Italian meringue to the almond meal mixture
The meringue should be allowed to cool down to 50C before being incorporated gradually into the almond meal mixture. It is important to check the enough air has been taken out of the mixture. The mixture should be glossy, and a trail of mixture should sink back into itself within thirty seconds - this will ensure a smooth clean surface on your meringue shells.
Macaron piping technique
Our first batch is deliberately incorrect, allowing us to sense the stiffer texture of the mixture as we practice our macaron piping technique. Jean-Michel uses French baking paper saying that Australian baking paper is too dry and results in rectuangular meringues. The baking paper is placed over a macaron outline template and held down with magnets.
The best way to pipe a macaron is to
- only fill the piping bag to one-third
- keep the tip stationary at 1-2cm above the tray (use your other hand as a brace against the tray and keep it still)
- pipe directly over the tray, not at an angle from the side
- squeeze gently until the mixture has filled the circle
- stop piping and then quickly flick the piping tip to "cut off" the flow.
Putting the test batch of macarons into the oven
Whilst the macarons are baking, we learn how to make chocolate ganache as well as salted caramel.
Chocolate callets Unsalted New Zealand butter
Jean-Michel always recommends using unsalted butter as he says salted butter in Australia is much higher than those sold in Europe. The New Zealand butter they use is sold in flattened blocks which is ideal for making crossiants.
Jean-Michel at the glorious induction stove
(so fast and efficient!)
Pouring the boiled cream into the caramelCaramel
The caramel must be chilled in the fridge then gently warmed and beaten again by hand. This emulsifies the butter and creates a creaminess without any lingering aftertaste. The caramel will change from a dark brown to a sandy honey colour.Steak with fries and buerre maitre d'hotel $29
We break for lunch at 11.30am. It's hard to believe that two-and-a-half-hours have passed. We're generously allowed to order anything off the menu. Pig Flyin
has the steak with fries and buerre matire d'hotel
, the beef is perfectly juicy and well-rested, the fries are crisp and addictive.Croque Madame $14
Ham, gruyere cheese and soft egg
French-style toast served with a mini mixed leaf salad and chips
I choose the Croque Madame which is simply superb. The flavour of the ham shines through the oozing layer of molten gruyere cheese, and the pan-fried bread is crunchy without any residual oiliness.
A fried egg, sunny side up, has a soft-yet yolk that runs lazily across the sandwich when released.
Melted gruyere on hamMacarons for dessert
A plate of macarons is delivered to our table for dessert.
After lunch we get stuck into the real deal, making the batches of macarons that we will sandwich with ganache and take home. We work in teams of two, half of the group making chocolate ganache, the other making salted caramel.
Our shells are tinted in different colours and we take great delight in using silver dust, gold feuilletine and chocolate cookie crumbs to decorate the shells.
Our second lot of macarons ready for baking
The macarons should be baked at 160C (150C if fan-forced) for about 25-30 minutes. Jean-Michel recommends leaving the door open a crack to allow the steam to escape. If you do not allow the steam to escape, a skin will not form, the meringues will rise too much, and then it will collapse when cooled. If the oven door is open too wide, the skin will form too quickly and harden, and the meringue will not be able to force its way up into a "foot".
Putting our baked macaron shells into the blast freezer
It is recommended to slide your macaron shells free from the tray once cooked, and allow them to cool on a wire tray. We used a blast freezer (just like on MasterChef, someone exclaimed!) to expedite ours.
Pair up similar sized macaron shells and leave one half exposed ready for piping on the ganache. It's important to pipe enough filling in an even mound. When the shells are ready to be sandwiched, gently twist one shell clockwise, wiggling the ganache so the filling is spread evenly.
My first handmade macaron, sandwiched with salted caramel
And look, my first handmade macaron! Isn't she beautiful!
I found the class very detailed and hands-on, with plenty of time for questions or one-on-one instruction. It's suggested that students should be able to take home a box of twenty macarons but we had such a glut (and Jean-Michel generously donated more trays) so that most students took home 40.
The bistro is very inviting, with windows onto the street that allow passersby to look into the kitchen. Everything looked so beautiful, I'll leave you with a few more photos...
Grab Your Fork and Pig Flyin attended the Macaron Masterclass as guests of Baroque Bistro.
The pastry and baguette station by the window BaguettesShredding a whole Berkshire pork bellyIn the kitchenSalmon quicheThe Big Mac macaron (about the size of five normal macarons)Pompadour
Raspberry and passion fruit mousse
with pine nut nougatine and almond spongeFleur de Lys
Valrhona "Guanaja 70%" chocolate mousse with crunchy pralineLe Roi Soleil
Mango and mandarine mousse
with jasmine, pine nut nougatine and almond spongePassionfruit macarons
Valrhona "Jivara" milk chocolate and passionfruitExtra virgin olive oil macarons
The Baroque Macaron Masterclass costs $220 per person and will be held every Sunday until November 14, 2010. The class runs from 9am - 2.30pm (or thereabouts).
88 George Street, The Rocks, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9241 4811
Open 7 days 8am - midnight