Macaron Stage at Atelier Pierre Hermé

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A view of the pastry kitchen

Hope you all had a great Christmas! It took me several tries to finally finish this post, what with holiday orders, shopping and celebrations. So here it is , my experience as a stagiere at Atelier Pierre Hermé. Should I tell you all how nervous I was? I had a dream a couple of nights before my class that I burned the caramel and got booted out of the program. I really should not be afraid of caramel because I make this all the time at Petites Bouchées. Caramel fleur de sel is my best selling macaron but sometimes old fears remain in our subconscious always waiting to bite us in the ass.
To compound my anxiety for the class, I did not seem to be over my jet lag as I had hardly slept the previous night, and if my boot camp class at the CIA was any yardstick, this hardly bodes well in my favor.
Anyway, when I got to the classroom, there were a few students already there. I counted 12 seats. When everyone arrived, our instructor immediately launched into the philosophy of Pierre Hermé about his products. I started to zone out because I’ve already heard this before. After this short introduction, we headed out to the kitchen where we weren’t allowed to bring our personal belongings like handbags, which is why I did not take pictures of our first day.
Our instructor, Olivier (I know, I forgot his last name), proceeded to delve into the discussion of ganaches and different fillings. He would first explain in French and then he would translate in English. For some reason, the English version was always shorter. Maybe it does take more words to say things in French.

 He divided us into 4 groups. I was assigned to the English-speaking group “so we could understand each other,” Chef Olivier says (duh, makes sense). He began to assign the fillings to each group. Our group, group #2 gets compote orange passion, caramel buerre sel (oh shit, "I am going to burn in hell" was my initial reaction), banana – avocado ganache (yum!), ganache chocolate lait passion (hey, I make this already). He then explained each of the recipes. For example, custards should not be overwhipped because the foam will prevent it from cooking properly, whip after custard had gelled. When working with yuzu juice, you need to respect the temperature, add the butter at 40 C/ 104 F or your ganache will be grainy. When making the olive oil ganache (this was one of my favorites), it is important to know at what temperature cocoa butter melts and solidifies -> 31 C/ 88 F, warm the oil to 35 C/ 95 F so as not to seize the cacao butter. He also discussed storage of the fillings. Some were stored at 4 C/ 39 F and some were stored at 12 C/ 54 F (hmmn…might need to sequester one of hubby’s wine coolers).

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Wall of ingredients, alphabetically arranged

Chef said we needed to finish our fillings before lunch. I was getting hungry and I glanced at the clock it was 10:30 am, don’t we get a little break – what? all the fillings? what, no break? Everybody started to get busy (or look busy), I guess no break. My team was an interesting bunch, not using their real names, Stephan was from Slovenia and Diego was from Spain. We started with the passion-fruit ganache which I was very familiar with and then the avocat-banane ganache, which I was not. This was also my first encounter with a semi-dried banana. The fruit does not resemble a wrinkled piece of dehydrated fruit however all the moisture has been sucked out of it. It was kinda rubbery feeling and wasn’t oxidized at all. Chef was very adamant about adding the cream slowly. "like mayonnaise!" he would repeat over and over like a mantra. I was nervous at first about melting expensive chocolate in a microwave that I was not familiar with, but it looked like their microwave had very low wattage since after 2 minutes, the white chocolate hardly melted. Chef came by and told us to start the caramel. I ignored him hoping one of my team mates would be up to playing with sugar. No one budged. Hmmn, looks like I’m not the only one NOT looking forward to this. Chef came by again…so I sighed and went looking for a saucepan to make the caramel. Turned out, Chef was going to do it because he was going to take the caramel pass the normal caramel high point. He used a white bond paper to test the color of the caramel and it was a real dark amber before he deglazed it with the demi-sel butter (yes, half-salted where the heck can I find this in the U.S.?), then the cream. He then left us to cook the whole lot back up to 110 C/ 230 F. Whew that wasn’t too hard. After all the fillings were made, we headed back to the classroom for the technical part of the class. It was 12:30 and I was really starving. These French are hard core.

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