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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Macaron Chronicles VII: And the saga continues

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Macaron Chocolate Amer

It’s funny how my macaron obsession has taken a life of its own. Little did I know that when I started my Macaron Chronicles, I would still be adding to this saga three years later.

Let me refresh your memory. Remember my flat-assed macarons – my first attempt making these little confections?

Then after a trip to San Francisco where I loved the taste of Miette’s macarons, I baked my first successful batch.

My real obsession took hold when I did different tests with Macaron Chronicles II. (This post, by the way, remains to be the most popular on this blog.)

Even when I had my bad days when the macaron Gods mocked me – like when I tried the Italian Meringue the first time and ended up with wrinkled marshmallows – I did not waver in my quest.

After I had met pastry God, Pierre Hermé, I continued to strive to understand his way of making macarons – Italian Meringue – with Macaron Chronicle V.

It wasn’t until I attended his class in Paris that I began to see the complex structure of the Italian meringue, almond and confectioner’s sugar – pretty much the same way Neo saw the Matrix and so this rematch ,which turned out really good.

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Chocolate macaron with Bitter Chocolate Ganache

I immediately hailed the success of this macaron recipe by tweeting that the shell tasted like a “crunchy chocolate souffle”. YUM!

I couldn’t count how many shells I had eaten even before filling the macarons. They were that good and infinitely addictive.

Without much further ado, I now present you, Pierre Hermé’s Macaron au chocolat Amer from his book: Macaron.
 

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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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Paris – it’s a love-hate relationship…

…mostly love, actually :)

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A view of the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero

So we ate…a lot, but we walked a lot too. In fact, I’ve never walked so much in my life. I shall spare you most of my sightseeing pictures as I’m sure that there are more than enough travel blogs that cover this, but I think it is my duty to tell you about my adventures in Paris in relation to food.

I didn’t prepare too much. In fact I did not make an itinerary or reservations at any popular restaurants at all. Since sightseeing, getting together with "Hungry" Hubby’s aunt and his friend are priorities, we needed to play it by ear. From past experience, after spending the entire day walking everywhere, the last thing you want to do is to dress up and sit down to a 10-course meal.  What I did do was to make sure that I knew how to buy macarons and tarts in a pastry shop and my good friend Helen helped me brush up on my French (I took French language lessons from her over a year ago). She also recommended the restaurant where I had one of the best meals of my life…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

My first day in Paris was marred by an embarrassing incident at the Paris metro. Taking Helen’s advice to take the RER B and skip the 50 € cab fare from Charles de Gaulle to the 6th Arrondisment, I think she did not realize  we had 3 huge suitcases, which was fine for the RER but the Paris metro was a different matter. I went ahead through the composter (the machine that accepts your ticket and the portals or turnstile let you through) but I was not quick enough and  was horrified that the jaws of the machine clamped down on my suitcase! HH, who was struggling with the 2 bigger suitcases saw my predicament and heaved from the other side to pry my suitcase free but not after an earnest struggle and a lot of stares from les Parisiennes.

We did get to our hotel without further incidents but became embarrassingly aware of our awkward burden as we passed more experienced, well-traveled Parisians pulling their dainty suitcases behind them. Our concierge conversed well in  English, and to our pleasure we were upgraded to a junior suite for the whole of our 12-day stay. Yipee!

When we got to our room, it was gorgeously appointed with luxurious silk drapes but our awe was short-lived once our American-sized suitcases filled the room and every inch of available space diminished. It had a gorgeous bathroom and an Elchim blow dryer – wow no cheesy Sunbeam blow dryer here. Bathtub was also lovely but not very friendly to take showers in. Ahh…the Parisians… they want nothing "pas jolie". Extra hooks to hang towels and toiletry bags would have been useful, but I guess they were "pas jolie" too.

Anyway, you are all here for the food, right?

I think the biggest misconception I had about Paris was regarding its coffee. The only French-press I saw was an antique and was not in use.  When we were in San Francisco at La Boulange, they served our coffee in a bowl and HH exclaimed that his Uncle in Paris prepared it that way every morning. So imagine my disappointment when I was served coffee in an espresso-sized cup – their café . I attempted their watered down version called café allongé but my face below says it all.

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not a drinkable cup

No wonder, there is an abundance of Nespresso boutiques in Paris. Even Parisians can’t drink their own coffee! Through sheer tenacity, we finally did find a great cup of coffee at Malongo Cafe (and I do mean great).

Okay let’s start with the best Macarons and overall Pastry.

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Pierre Hermé on rue Bonaparté

Sorry Ladurée fans, but Pierre Hermé simply blows everyone out of the water. I visited Ladurée’s tea room and had one of the most ordinary chocolate eclairs of my life.

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Tea at Ladurée

I also visited Ladurée’s boutique and was met by a pouty salesperson who treated me like I was scum as though if I touched anything on display I would contaminate it. So, uhm I was wearing a hoodie and did not look like I was dressed for high tea but I visited Pierre Hermé in the same outfit and they were cordial, helpful and extremely professional.

I did not let this prevent me from trying Ladurée macarons on another day. Sorry, but I can’t understand the hype. They were not good. And that’s all I’m going to say about it.

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Laduree Macarons

In fact, I liked the macarons of Sadaharu Aoki and Gerard Mulot better than the Ladurée. Aoki’s matcha millefueille and Mulot’s canelé were also very good.

So why does Pierre Hermé rule (rock!)? Vivid taste, balance of flavor, luxurious ganaches. His white truffle macaron was sublime but I really loved his macaron Chuao – a macaron with single origin chuao chocolate infused with cassis (black currant), that also had pieces of the fruit in it.

At this point I realized that several of you are already up in arms for my remarks about Ladurée. The concept of how a macaron should taste is wide and varied and it’s all a matter of preference. I do not like shells that taste obviously crunchy. I like my macarons to have a shell that my teeth would not have a problem with. I like a macaron where I do not have to guess what its flavor is from the rest of the group. That said, the macarons made by the hands of Pierre Hermé and his assistant were still the best, so there is an obvious loss of vision in the end product when it gets pushed to production. The difference seems to be the outer layer. The egg-shell thin outer layer gives an audible snap that does not reduce to crumbles in your mouth. More about this in another post.

We took a selection of pastries back to a friend’s house for dinner.

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Clockwise from top: Vanille tart, hazelnut ?, Coffee tart, Chuao tart ->my favorite

Hubby cannot shut up about the coffee tart and wants me to reproduce it.

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Ispahan gateau – I had a smaller version of this back at the hotel
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More macarons at Pierre Hermé boutique

Best Duck Confit?

Chez Dumonet it is.

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Unbelievable Crisp Skin!
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Yes, that’s a thick slab of foie.

I’ve had good confit at a chain restaurant called Chez Clements too, in fact the taste of the meat was a bit better, but did not match the skin crispness of the Chez Dumonet one. I had a bad duck confit at another establishment, but I won’t say where since it is a historic restaurant. But I must say my own duck confit would give them serious competition, actually HH said in terms of flavor mine was still the best. :)

I wonder if Chez Dumonet deep-fried their confit leg?

So let’s insert something else I hate about Paris and would be a reason why I might not survive there. The wine, I just cannot take the wine. I know there are a lot of French wine lovers but I truly love Napa Valley wines. All I can say is, watch the movie "Bottle Shock".

So who had the best Hot Chocolate?

This is tough – the best le chocolate chaud. But I gotta hand it to La Maison du Chocolat. Its hot chocolate was thick and bitter yet glides smoothly  down the throat. A close contender was Angelina and Patisserie Vennoise – both these places get very packed so be prepared to wait.

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Angelina hot chocolate
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Watch out for the buses when you step out of this cafe

A chain called Le Deux Maggot also serves a decent hot chocolate. Stay away from the shops that have their hot chocolate in a swirling machine or you’ll get something akin to Swiss Miss.

My favorite place involves the kitchen shops. HH’s friend had us take bus #85 with him so we can see Paris from above ground. We got off at the Etienne Marcel stop.

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The historic cookware store, E. Dehillerin
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Can I say, hold on to that credit card?
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More Stuff

It can be real confusing when you get into this store. Most of the prices are listed in a book and you have to look it up with the item number stuck to the product. Someone actually followed me around and told me the prices of each, I felt a bit hurried but the salesperson was nice enough. I managed to get out of that store without having to take out a 2nd mortgage but I did leave with a very nice copper jam pot which HH later hauled all over Paris. :)

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Mostly haute pastry stuff here

Another kitchen store is Mora. It looked like it was manned by a couple hoity-toity pastry students. One of them yelled at HH for taking a silicone mat off an induction burner. Good thing HH’s friend was with us and he told off that dude in French which translated to " If you do not like working here, go home". Score one for the tourists. Yeh!

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Great ingredients here!

When we got to G. Detou, I had to mentally compute how much luggage room we still had. Shelled Iranian pistachios, plump vanilla beans, foie gras paté, canned duck confit, Valrhona chocolate packed to the ceiling what more can this girl ask for?

Why can’t we have a store like G. Detou in Richmond, Va? Shall I open one? :D.

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Butcher shop

My most favorite street in Paris is rue Montorgueil not too far from all the kitchen stores above. Now this is the kind of neighborhood I would love to live in. A neighborhood butcher shop, hubby refused to take a picture of the dead bunny on the display window (what happened to investigative reporting?)

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A fish shop

And home to the historic Stohrer Patisserie.

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A breakfast at Tiffany’s moment, instead of jewelry – food!

HH’s friend is a fan of Paul a boulangerie/patisserie that was further up the road.

Which reminds me, one thing I love about Paris is that everyone had great baguette. Even the shittiest tourist joint serves great bread! Unlike croissants which HH and I swore off after having them for a few days for breakfast, the smell and taste of bread is a constant welcome encounter.

One of the things I hate about Paris that could give any tourist heartburn is their constant strikes. When we were there, some museums were on strike. But the worst of all was the transportation strikes. Two days before our flight home, the taxis went on strike. I felt sorry for a guest at the hotel who had two kids (thankfully one was a teenager) who had to drag her suitcases around Paris looking for a cab to take her to the airport because the concierge couldn’t find her a taxi. Then on the day we left, the RER went on strike and that cost a bit of traffic too.

But you gotta love the Paris Metro (when they are not on strike). It can get confusing at first, but after a few tries that’s all you need to get around Paris. In fact, because of the taxi strike we decided to just take the metro to L’Ami Jean and it was easy-peasy…

…. and where I had one of the best meals of my life!

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That’s Chef Stéphane Jégo the genius of Basque cuisine

The interior was unassuming, I love the homey feel with ham hanging from the ceiling and football (rugby?) paraphernalia on the wall. Amusingly enough the cuisine is Basque not French. The menu was, despite my passable restaurant French, totally alien and all I understood was langue de veu (veal tongue) and lapin (bugs bunny). Our waiter spoke English (thank goodness) and he rattled down the menu in the language we understood.

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Pumpkin soup

I am not a fan of foamy dishes (visual yuck!) that seem to be popular nowadays with haute cuisine but this soup absolutely transported me to heaven with every creamy spoonful.

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Veal tongue

If there was a dish I wish I could savor forever, it was the braised veal tongue. I loved the texture but the flavor was just an assault on my gastronomical senses. It was hard to describe, heck I didn’t even know what was in it.

For dessert I had riz au lait. The waiter proclaimed it the best in the world. I took his word for it and it came in a big bowl enough to feed four people. It was pretty good but nothing as sublime as the hubby’s apple tart!

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Apple tart with granny smith ice cream

I was beginning to doubt that Paris could make an edible apple tart, I’ve had quite a few in several places and all of them were so tasteless I could only think of Helen’s remark about how most pastries in Paris are bland.

But this, this was perfect! I had a bite (okay 2) and this was second to the best apple tart of all time.

BTW, you get a better deal when you order entrée+plat+dessert. For our three course meal plus 2 glasses of wine, this fantastic dinner only cost 91 €, a bargain in Paris. The food here is haute comfort food!

Other notable eats were at Le Comptoir du Relais, Chez Christine and other brasseries and bistros but this post is already so long, maybe HH can cover them at his Hungry Hubby website (if he starts updating it again…slacker!) including the time when we asked for ketchup for our moule frites. :) Also, lest I forget the touristy Fouquet’s, where I had the most expensive bottle of coca-cola ever, 8 €, you can be sure I savored every drop of that soda from the bar till the end of our late lunch.

We’re at the home stretch, how can I not mention ice cream at Berthillon?

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Tarte Tatin with Vanilla ice cream at Berthillon

The ice cream was incredible, the Tarte tatin was not and was an example of a bland dessert. Do not be fooled by the beautiful caramelization. Here’s a view of the elegant interior of this famous ice cream shop.

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Berthillon

Along this stretch of road on Ile st. Louis is an amazing foie gras shop!

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foie gras galore!

I so wanted to bring home a couple of jars but HH was feeling icky of stuffing it in our suitcases. The guy did say he had U.S. customs clearance forms and I should have listened to my stomach this time instead of my Mr. Pasteurized Hubby.

This is in no way an expert’s guide to Paris. On the contrary, HH and I were a couple of wide-eyed tourists as any tourist can be on their first time in Paris. We were lucky that HH’s aunt (did I mention she lived a couple of doors up from Mariage Freres near Hotel de Ville) and his friend showed us a couple of places we probably wouldn’t have gotten off the internet without specifically looking for it. We love the architecture, we love the food and the bread! We just loved the walking and the metro! The only time we used a taxi was when we left for the airport to come home – with four suitcases.

If you are planning a trip to Paris, I suggest you read David Lebovitz  book "The Sweet Life in Paris" and website for great recommendations on places and how not to piss off the Parisians. :D And luckily, David had a book signing while I was there.

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The photographer should have told me my book was facing the wrong side!

And I found this map indispensible, Streetwise Paris. I also had the book "Hungry for Paris" by Alexander Lobrano. I did not use it much but it was no fault of the book, simply my unfamiliarity of Paris. Now that I have an idea of how Paris is oriented and have done most of my sightseeing, the next trip will be planned around eating.

Until then,

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Au Revoir!

Some notable addresses:

Pierre Hermé – 72, rue Bonaparte

Ladurée – 16, rue Royale

Sadaharu Aoki – 35, rue de Vaugirard

Gerard Mulot – 76, rue de Siene

La Maison du Chocolat – 52, rue Francois 1er

Angelina – 226, rue de Rivoli

Chez Dumonet – 117 rue de Cherche-Midi

L’Ami Jean -  27, rue Malar

Berthillon – 29-31 rue Saint Louis

G. Detou – 58, rue Tiquetonne

Mora – 13, rue Montmartre

E. Dehillerin – 18, rue Coquilliére

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My prized copper jam pot that the hubby hauled for a day in Paris

* All the pictures were shot with the Panasonic Lumix, LX-3, a great camera to take on a trip! The picture of the Tarte Tatin and most of the outside pics were unretouched. Pictures are best viewed in the lightbox just click on the picture to open the lightbox.

J’etais ici

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Eiffel Tower, on a cold rainy night

It was like another world away, this place we refer to as the old world. My first time in Paris was surreal, I can’t believe I was there. Twelve days of eating, twelve days of trying to fit more into my belly, I was bursting at the seams, but I soldiered on, it was for research after all.
I have sampled as much macarons as I could and I’m glad I could now say which one is undoubtedly superior. Best hot chocolate? I have that for you too.
How about the best duck confit? You’d be surprised at what I think.
The French are great people, the myth that they are rude is simply just that, a myth. The most unfriendly of French are those I met at the restaurants around the touristy areas and I simply think they were just perpetuating the myth of their rudeness – part of the "tourist" package. More about that later.

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Technical Discussion room

I am also very excited to share here  the completion of my 2-day macaron stage at Pierre Herme’s pastry program. It was intense and tiring but I have learned a lot and it will take me days to decipher my notes. It had a technical track and “Hungry” Hubby thought it was a chemistry class as I had graphs of ph-balances of different ingredients and how these affect your product. Did you all know that Pierre Herme and Laduree use the exact same recipe for their macaron shells? It’s the procedure that is different. Hmmn..not sure if I was supposed to divulge that. Anyway, if you all would like to know which method – French, Italian or Swiss meringue is best for you then check back in a week or two. I will be blogging about the food of Paris first then do a recap of the class.

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Me, filling the mac shells :)

Not quite Pierre Herme’s, but close

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The Foie Gras Macaron

So I had high hopes for this – Pierre Herme’s foie gras macaron. I tasted it when I took his class last year and if there was heaven in a macaron, this was it! The combination of foie gras and milk chocolate was pure genius and the balance of flavor and texture is like nothing I’ve ever tasted.
I should have tackled the recipe immediately while the experience was still fresh in my head. But you know them Frenchies, verboseness in instructions is not a trait. You’d do well to read between the lines. Just check out the recipe below and you will know what I mean.

I love a challenge anyway specially when it comes to these bite-sized pastry favorite. The biggest problem facing me was how to cook the foie gras. All the instruction I got from the class was “to cook it until you smell it.” I was even told that the temperature to use was 350 F. I did get advise from twitter (I forgot from whom, but thanks!) to cook it at 250 F if I did not want to see my foie gras dissolve into a puddle of delectable, albeit useless, oil. My foie was already cut into slices which was probably not a good idea to start with and it did shrink quite a bit and lost more than half of its original weight. It was then that I recalled another tidbit from a year ago…use a water bath!
Well, too late.
After I strained the foie gras through a sieve, I was left with 95 g of foie from 350g – yes folks, I was left with less than a third of what I began with. Pathetic, really and I had to reduce the recipe ratios accordingly. I wondered why PH did not just give it a whir in the food processor but I eventually figured he wanted to sieve out the stringy veins and come out with a very smooth puree. With the great Pierre Herme, it is not about quantity but quality.
To make matters more challenging, PH uses gellan – a gelling agent that I have had no success in using. I always ended up with graininess and the results were no different this time either. It said to boil the mixture which didn’t make any sense because wouldn’t that dissolve my foie further? Well, I went with blind faith and no, the foie didn’t disappear and my gelee set in record time …but … was … GRAINY! :(

Times like these are when you want to cut your losses and forget about it. But I wanted to see how close (or how far) the taste was going to be so I soldiered on.

foiegelee
Place a dab of chocolate to attach gelee
milkganache
Cover with more ganache!

Macaron Shells
See here for Italian Meringue version and here for the French Meringue which was the one I used. I used red powdered food coloring and gold shimmer dust for the shells.

Check out the impromptu video I made here about making macarons via the French Meringue method.

macguts
A cross section of the Foie Gras Macaron

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Pierre Herme’s Vanilla Tart

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Pierre Herme’s Vanilla Tart

… A.k.a. the tart that almost wrecked my kitchen. I’m not mincing words here, if you do not like multi-step recipes, do not even think about making this. If you do not like reading recipes 3x before starting, do not even think about making this. But if you want a piece of vanilla heaven – especially if you love the taste of real vanilla beans –  then proceed, for this dessert is one you shall savor with every little bite.
This tart recipe is from the Pierre Herme class I attended last year. Don’t let me daunt you with my initial ramblings, but let me at least paint you a picture of the kitchen carnage that may follow should you choose to make this: a sticky mess of pots and pans including countertops, a calculator whose keys were frozen in time because some random syrup decided to drip on it, burnt spots on the stove from unknown sources – maybe syrup, maybe cream and then just a whole lot of “Oh shit! The cream!”
This recipe is lengthy in ingredients and has lots of stages (instructions are very brief) but most of them are as simple as boiling the ingredients together. The reason I made such a big mess in my kitchen was lack of foresight. First, I did not read the recipe carefully to plan the steps ahead of time and second, I did everything in one day. I fully planned on making the mascarpone layer the night before but failed miserably because I glossed over the brief instructions in the recipe. And whoever thought one could whip the crème anglaise to stiff peaks must be smoking something, or as Helen said, drinking. My only excuse was that it was late at night and I just came back from the movies and must have had some “Hangover” (hilarious flick, by the way) too.
 

cremeanglaise
What you need for creme anglaise

Cooking Notes:
I was apprehensive about two recipes, the vanilla mascarpone cream and the vanilla glaze.
For the mascarpone cream, do not, I repeat do not overwhip the mascarpone otherwise, you will not be able to form the discs – mine was too liquid the first time. As you whip your chilled crème anglaise (again, not too chilled because the gelatin will start to set), start incorporating the mascarpone a tablespoon at a time and use immediately. Have pan of hot water ready with your circular molds in them. I did not have the right molds at hand and just used 3-inch tart rings (same ones I used for the shell) for this stage which was why the discs were not as defined as I wanted them. Smoothing the cream out is essential because your glaze will follow whatever shape your discs will be. This is a case of what you do now will come back to haunt you later. Work quickly before your mascarpone cream stiffens too much. It’s delightful to see the stocky cylinders form as you lift the mold.
 

Vanillaglaze
The glorious vanilla glaze is my favorite part of the recipe

The vanilla glaze is a patissier’s dream glaze. It is gorgeous and damn tasty! Who knew white chocolate could enrobe a dessert in such silky luxury. It uses an ingredient called NH pectin which is available at L’Epecerie . The neutral glaze recipe is one I just deduced from PH’s exotic glaze, leaving out some flavoring ingredients – after all it is supposed to be neutral. It was not hard to put together at all but used a lot of dishes because I had to make a white chocolate ganache, a neutral glaze, white colored paste etc. and this easily threw off my game (especially when a steak dinner fast approaching.) You can very well make the glaze beforehand and microwave in 30 second increments to restore fluidity. This is also the case with the neutral glaze because the NH pectin is reversible and you can just reheat before using.

tartcomponents
Components in assembling the tart

To coat your disc, insert a knife into the bottom center of the frozen mascarpone cream and dip into the glaze, let the excess drip off and lay on a wire rack to set. Use a spatula, dipped in warm water, to transfer the mascarpone layer to the tart.
A note about the recipe amounts. Most of the recipes ingredients are half of the original measurement. For the lady finger (biscuit cuillere), you could halve the recipe further as it made a half-sheet and 1/3 sheet. I think I underbaked mine but I’ve never made lady fingers before and was not sure what to expect. You must pay attention to how much of one recipe to use in another recipe. For example, in the mascarpone cream, you only use 375 g of the crème anglaise but the recipe for it makes more than that. I used pastry flour for flour type(55) and  sucrose is just sugar. Trimoline is also available at L’epicerie.
I did spend a fortune on vanilla beans but it was worth every penny. The only recipe that I used vanilla extract and paste was in the soaking syrup for the lady finger. I did not have Tahitian vanilla bean so I used 2 Madagascar bourbon and 1 Mexican for recipes that called for all three beans. The reason PH uses three different types of vanilla pods are because of their different properties. Madagascar bourbon has the best flavor, in my opinion, and has the distinctive taste of vanilla that I look for. The Mexican beans add a spicy undertone. Tahitian vanilla beans’ contribution are their floral fragrance but because of fewer beans, their flavor is more muted – they are also the most expensive. If you are having problems working with vanilla pods because of their irregular shape, a technique I learned from PH was to flatten the beans very well with the back of a paring knife and then use the tip of the knife to cut through the center. Because the pod is now flat, it’s easier to scrape the seeds out.
 

crosssectiontart
Vanilla glaze, mascarpone layer, lady finger, ganache, tart shell

The question is: will I make this again? YES!!! Besides being an elegant dessert, it is just as delectable on the inside – velvety glaze, creamy mascarpone, crunchy tart shell and lady fingers soaked in rum-vanilla…need I say more? Now, that I have made it once, I can see where I can break up the steps to preserve my sanity in the future.

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