Musings of a macaron-maker

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Rose.lychee.raspberry

I think I’ve made it no secret which creation of Pierre Hermé happens to be my favorite. I think his Ispahan fetish remains to be his most popular too. He originally developed the recipe at Ladurée with just raspberries and a rose cream. I believe he added the lychees when he already had his own pastry boutique. Ispahan is the name of a rose also known as Rose d’Isfahan. Isfahan is a province in Iran although I am not sure there is any correlation except in the name alone.

Macarons are growing in popularity in the United States. I’ve seen a definite uptick in interest here in Richmond, Va. These French confections as wedding favors appear to be a hot item nowadays and who doesn’t like delicious edible parting goodies. Though still getting confused 95% of the time with the less glamourous homonymous macaroon, I think it is slowly creeping into the consciousness of the masses, okay maybe, in the trend-conscious crowd.

Not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing. I somehow want to keep its “exclusivity” but how are we going to make money at Petites Bouchées if we don’t spread the macaron love, right?

Anyway, with its surging popularity there have been several articles of how macarons are becoming the next cupcake. There’s also been several social media quips about how making macarons are easy or how macarons aren’t all that or some elitist lambasting 95% of the blogsphere for giving macarons a bad name by making them too popular.

When I first made macarons successfully, I remember them tasting a tad too sweet. I started with Stéphane Glacier recipe and then I also looked at Gerard Mulot’s. I wanted mine to taste less of a meringue, so I lessened the confectioner’s sugar and added more almonds. Most people who has had my macarons (and are not familiar with what they are made of) couldn’t believe that they have no flour in them. But because my macarons have more almonds , they get bumpy sometimes which annoys me but taste to me is more important and so I learned to live with it.

Being in business selling macarons can be very stressful. If your customer is a big fan of this petite sweet you are constantly being compared to the greatest patisseries of Paris. I’ve had great feedback of how my macarons taste better than Ladurée’s or are comparable. But I’ve also had to deal with negative comments. It’s all part of the business, you can’t please everyone. Macarons are prone to being mishandled once they leave your hands. For example, leave them out in 90F weather in your car & your buttercream might morph into something else. But you never tell a customer they have not stored it right, just make sure that you give them proper information when they take their macarons home.

I’m the first to admit that my macarons can never be better or comparable to Pierre Hermé’s simply because the man is one-of-a-kind, effing brilliant. But even he has had problems with customer satisfaction. He said he was frustrated about customers complaining about the buttercream fillings because they eat them straight out of the refrigerator so he had slowly gotten away from buttercream and had been developing rich, luxurious ganaches that never crystallize too much when refrigerated. His macarons are built with a science of their own.
But the biggest reason why my macarons can never achieve the exalted stature of Herme’s is in the almonds. Valencia almonds to be exact. I have made them both with my regular blanched variety and with the Valencia almonds I brought back from France. Big difference. The shells are fuller and are so perfectly round with the latter. Valencia almonds can be ground very fine without being greasy. Phooey for me, right?

So instead of crying about it, it’s best to work with what you have and make your macaron your own. My standard chocolate macaron does not taste like a macaron at all because the shell never gets too crisp with cocoa powder. I have adjusted it so it’ll have the crisp shell but when I got a new batch of cocoa powder – same brand – it all changed again. How do I fight that? I don’t, I continue to make it and it may get a tip or get too thick but it still remains to be my second most popular flavor.

For me, it is better to get a tip from undermixing because you can flatten it with a wet finger but if you overmix it, there is no coming back from that and your batter will spread unevenly when piped and be very flat.

Macarons are finicky. Unless you work in a climate-controlled room and have control of all your ingredient sources, you can never predict how they’ll turn out. But the more you make them – the more you’ll understand them and you can make adjustments accordingly. Right now I am using the French Meringue method more than the Italian Meringue, but that may change eventually as I get busier and conservation becomes an issue.
 

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My macaron posts are the most popular on this blog and I am working on a redesign to make it easier to navigate, which will include videos and different experiments. I’m also working on a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page on macarons. I have received dozens of emails with macaron questions and most of them are the same problems with a little variation mostly to deal with humidity in other countries. Though most of the answers are scattered across different posts, I think it’s time to put them all in a comprehensive format which I can add to as more queries come in. It’s hard for me to go through all those emails again, but if you would leave a question for me in the comment section, please do so and I would use this to build my FAQ page. Also what part of the video would you want me to focus on, 90% of me thinks it’s macaronage. Thanks!

Also check out MACTWEETS, a wonderful monthly event hosted by Deeba of Passionate about Baking and Jamie of Life’s a Feast, there’s a spicy roundup of lovely macaron creations from around the globe.

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A Pierre Hermé Giveaway…

Newmacflavors

I’m slowly getting back into the groove of the business again. I did not realize how hard it was to get back into the swing of things after a long break. I was afraid I would lose my macaron mojo as I have not made these cuties in three weeks – quite unheard of in the Test Kitchen.

The “Hungry” Hubby reminded me that I was supposed to be creating new flavors for the fall. It’s not that I was lazy…well there was the umm…Olympics. Also, a little reality hit me along the way. Even if I could stand in the kitchen for eight hours straight, I was quite out of breath walking a mile. Truth is, I needed to get into shape – so I put time into my health first before the business. This is still my priority – quite hard but I’ve been hitting the treadmill or the exercise video before I even begin to whisk any eggs. And you know what, it feels good!

Anyway, I’ve already determined which flavors I wanted to add to my macaron line-up right after I took Pierre Herme’s class in Chicago. All I had to do was to put the recipes to work – with a bit of tweaking.

My first experiment with passion fruit and milk chocolate ganache was not too successful. The ganache remained hard even after the macaron sat at room temperature. There was also a slight catch in the throat after you ate it. This was not my memory of PH’s version. His was melt in your mouth delicious. So, I poured over the recipe again and tried to remember what his technique was when making ganache. He partly melts his chocolate and does not dump the heated liquid on it (most recipes have you boil the liquid and pour it over the chocolate) – he slowly emulsifies the liquid into the partly melted chocolate. Prevents graininess he said and makes for a smoother ganache. The softened butter also needed to be incorporated at 104F. My second attempt this past weekend was a success! Melt in your mouth ganache with a smooth marriage of passion fruit and milk chocolate.

One of my favorite fillings from all my experiments was cream cheese buttercream. Yep you read it right: cream cheese and buttercream. And boy is it the lightest filling ever! I’m still looking to streamline the process because it is very involved to produce. You have to make an English cream and beat it into the softened butter. And then you make Italian Meringue and then mix it into your English cream-butter mixture. Then you beat your cream cheese and then incorporate your Italian Meringue-English cream butter cream. See what I mean…whew! But what you get is an extremely silky filling that could hold up pretty well in hot and humid conditions.

Lastly, I had to include the rose-litchi and raspberry creation known as the Ispahan fetish of Monsieur Herme. I think I’m going to make my own litchi puree because the ones I got online were a bit watery making for a runnier ganache.

Macgelee

I’ve also ventured into the world of gelee-filled macarons. For example, the cream cheese buttercream definitely needs the tartness lent by the passion fruit gelee to throw the flavor over the top. And although the rose litchi ganache could stand alone, its flavor gets elevated to a higher level when you include the raspberry gelee.

So let me present my new macaron flavors for the fall:

  • Milk Chocolate and Passion Fruit Macaron
  • Cream Cheese Buttercream Macaron with passion fruit gelee
  • Rose-Litchi Ganache Macaron with raspberry gelee

As a tribute to the Picasso of Pastry for giving me so much inspiration with Petites Bouchees, I am giving away two full sets of the Pierre Herme miniature collection (these do not come assembled.) All you have to do is to leave a comment between now and August 31st stating what is your favorite Pierre Herme recipe or creation .

My good friend Helen has assembled this beautifully, check it out here. And the best part is, they are calorie free