Friday, August 19, 2011

Macarons a la Pierre Herme

If you ask me where the best macaron in Paris is, I will no doubt say Pierre Herme. Forget Laduree, forget Fauchon. This guy is a genius when it comes to macarons. The shells have the right kind of chewiness and the flavor combinations are creative yet well-balanced (not overly sweet). Another patisserie good enough to rival his in this aspect would be Sadaharu Aoki. But then, you would be looking at a more asian-inspired flavor profile.

Getting the feel of making macarons can be tricky. The first time I made them (in pastry school after a demonstration), they came out fine. Chewy and smooth. The second time I made them, they had little peaks on top. The third and fourth...they came out more like hard cookies and dacquoise respectively. By then, I was getting frustrated. I stayed off them for months and unfortunately I missed out on learning from the Paris pastry shop I interned with. Macarons were off-limits to stagiares (interns).

Tip #1: Get the Batter to the Right Consistency

Two weeks ago, I returned to my home country and early this week I began another internship with a local pastry shop. Surprisingly, they guided me to make macarons on the second day. It was then that I found the key. Although their method was completely different form the one taught in France, the first most important thing is to get the batter to the right consistency. One like magma. What that means is that the batter:

  • Should look like thick liquid and flow easily
  • Should become smooth several seconds after you cut through it (or make ribbon markings)
  • Should be shiny 

Contrary to the general purpose of using meringue, you basically want to beat the air out of them. The best way to do it is to add a generous whiskful of meringue into the almond-sugar batter and stir with a spatula like crazy until you don't see any white streaks and the batter looks more liquid. After that I added the rest of the meringue in 2-3 additions, stirring a lot at first and then slowing down towards the end until it is runny but not too much. You should then have trays of smooth and shiny unbaked macarons.

Tip #2: Control the Oven

Getting the batter right is only 50% of the whole process. You can throw all the effort down the drain if the cooking (i.e. oven) isn't controlled. In order for the macarons to have feet, they have to release steam during the cooking process. Ideally, they should be baked in an oven with the ventilation system open. However, most home ovens don't have ventilation and the only way to replicate this is to open the oven door during the cooking process. Otherwise, the macaron shells will crack.

The book suggested baking them at 180C for 12 minutes and opening the oven door twice, first at the 8th minute and second at the 10th. This is where you have to experiment with your own oven. For mine, I discovered that at 180C, 12 minutes was too long and opening the door twice wasn't enough. After 3.5 batches, the best batch (the one that didn't have any cracked shells and strong coloration) was the batch cooked for 10 minutes with the oven door opened 3 times and each time for 1 minute. I opened it for the whole of the 6th minute, 8th minute and 10th minute.

Yes, getting the hang of macarons is challenging and daunting at first. But once you've succeeded, the results can be rewarding. Not only will they be delicious, they're one of the quickest decadent desserts to make and one of the prettiest gifts for friends and family :)

Chocolate and Earl Grey Macarons
Adapted from Macaron by Pierre Herme
theoretically makes 48 macarons (96 shells)

For the shells:
200g almond powder
200g icing sugar
74g egg whites
2 tsp earl grey tea leaves
1 vanilla pod
8g cocoa powder

74g egg whites
50g water
150g caster sugar

For the ganache:
256ml whipping cream
16g earl grey tea leaves
266g milk chocolate, chopped
46g unsalted butter

For the shells:
  1. Grind the almond powder and icing sugar until very fine in a food processor (this is called a tant pour tant, TPT, in French)
  2. Place them in a large bowl and add the earl grey tea leaves, cocoa powder and vanilla.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients well with your hands, making sure to break the lumps.
  4. Pour the first 74g of the egg white into the TPT and beat with a spatula until the mixture becomes wet and homogenous.
  5. Scale the water and caster sugar into a small saucepan and the second 74g of egg whites in a medium bowl.
  6. Cook the sugar to 118C, but start beating the egg whites on medium speed when the sugar is at 113C. You basically want the whites to be at soft peaks when the sugar is ready.
  7. When the sugar reaches 118C, take it off the heat and pour it into the egg whites with the mixer still beating on low.
  8. Once poured, increase the speed of the mixer and beat on high for 2 minutes. 
  9. After that, lower the speed and beat until the meringue reaches 50C.
  10. Incorporate the meringue into the TPT in several additions, beating well at first and slowing down towards the end to get the batter to magma consistency (see tip #1).
  11. Pipe the shells on baking paper and leave them out to dry for 30 minutes or until the shells don't become dented when touched (As Jakarta is humid, it took me 40-45 minutes). 
  12. Preheat oven to 180C while the shells are drying.
  13. Bake for 9-12 minutes (see tip #2).
  14. Once bake, immediately take the baking paper out of the try and leave the shells to cool on a wire rack.
  15. Unmold only when they are cooled.
For the Ganache
  1. Scale the cream in a saucepan and place the chopped chocolate in a medium bowl.
  2. Once boiling, turn the heat off and add the tea leaves.
  3. Stir and leave it to infuse for 5 minutes.
  4. Strain the cream into another saucepan and bring it to boil again.
  5. Once boiling, immediately pour over the chopped chocolate.
  6. Whisk (in a concentric motion) to obtain a smooth ganache.
  7. Place the ganache in the fridge until cool and thick like cream.

To finish
  1. Using a piping bag, pipe a generous mound of ganache on a macaron shell
  2. Cover with the other shell and rotate it to even out the filling.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The art of cake-assembly

French is such a strange but beautiful language. Sometimes, they say things in a straightforward manner that I find it alarming, especially after being used to their subtle English expressions. Other times, I just wonder at how they have a word for everything. Particularly in french pastry.

The French differentiates a bread bakery (boulangerie - person: boulanger) from a cake pastry shop (pâtisserie - personpâtissier). They also set apart a chocolate shop (chocolaterie - person: chocolatier) and an ice cream parlor (glacerie - person: glacier). In pâtisserie, there is:

1. The making of the different types of cake bases: Biscuits - person: biscuitier
2. The assembly of the cakes: Petits Gateaux/Entremets - person: entremetier
3. The mending of the ovens: Four - person: fournier
4. The making of croissants, puff pastry and tart doughs: Tour - person: tournier

No one ever makes the entire product on a given day. Sure, you can be rotated between the stations, but on average each stay would at least be a few weeks long. During the internship, I've gone through chocolaterie/glacerie, tour, biscuits, petits gateaux and now, entremets. I guess the reason why they have so many stations is because each part of the cake requires a different set of skills. A person can be good at making croissants and rolling doughs (which needs A LOT of muscle strength) but not as detailed in assembling and decorating cakes. Or a person knowledgeable and skilled at making different cakes bases may not be as good as a judge in tempering, spreading and cutting chocolate decorations. The french pâtissiers want their product perfect (or close to it) and so weirdly enough, the assembly-line type of system works.

I'm scheduled to be in entremets for two weeks and after my first, it's hands down my favorite station of them all. In the morning, I decorate the large square or circular cakes and tarts. In the afternoon, I help prepare ganache and creams and assist my chef de partie (station leader) in assembling the cakes. There are so many components to assembling cakes and if you're not careful, so many things can go wrong. Excited with all the new things I've learnt and observed, I decided to practice them on an Opera at home. A green tea Opera.

So from my observations, here are a few tips:

  1. For the joconde, it's good to heat the eggs and sugar over a bain-marie until it's warm to the touch. This gives the eggs and the overall cake more volume. For even more volume, the egg whites are beaten to stiff peaks with the sugar added in 3 additions: in the beginning, when they form soft peaks and towards the end. A failed joconde is a joconde that's dense and hard. I was quite happy that the joconde this time came out fluffy (not like the last one I made at school, haha)
  2. For the buttercream, as it is half of the recipe from my old post, heat it over the bain-marie for 1.5 mins or so (it looks smooth like marshmallow cream quicker). Otherwise, you'll scramble them (which happened to my first batch :D ooops!).
  3. For the ganache, make sure that the cream is boiling well (with big bubbles). Otherwise, the ganache will split. Stop whisking also once it looks smooth.
  4. When using a metal spatula to smoothen the last layer of buttercream, it's easier to finish off with moving the spatula from the bottom part of the cake to the top (not from the sides, corners or top). Don't hesitate as this will create the bumps.
  5. To unmold the cake, if you don't have a blow-torch, you can use a hair dryer. Put the cake on a cylinder-shaped item, set the hairdryer to the highest heat and heat the bottom half of the mold. Slide the ring from the sides. If the mold ring is not coming off, don't force it. Reheat again.

Green Tea Opera
makes a 3-layer 12cm square cake

Green Tea Joconde
adapted from here
makes a 31x35cm cake

3 egg whites
15 g caster sugar
112 g almond meal
1 cup icing sugar
3 eggs
35 g flour
1 tbsp green tea (matcha) powder
22g butter, melted and cooled

  1. Preheat oven to 220C and line a jelly-roll pan with parchment paper.
  2. Mix the flour and matcha powder.
  3. In a medium bowl, with a handheld (or standup) mixer, beat egg whites and caster sugar until stiff peaks (see tips #1). Set aside.
  4. In another medium bowl, heat eggs and icing sugar over a bain-marie, whisking all the while (see tips #1).
  5. Once it's warm to the touch, take out the bowl and with a handheld mixer, beat until light and voluminous (around 3 minutes)
  6. Sift in the flour-matcha mixture and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined.
  7. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the meringue into the almond mixture.
  8. Fold in the melted butter.
  9. Pour and spread the batter into the baking pan.
  10. Bake for 5-9 minutes or until springy to the touch and lightly brown (mine took 8 minutes).
Soaking Syrup

100ml boiling water
50g sugar
1tbsp matcha powder
splash of kirsch

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.

Green Tea Buttercream
adapted from here

2 egg whites
1/2 cup caster sugar
170g unsalted butter, cut into a few pieces, room temperature
1.5 tbsp match powder dissolved in 1/8 cup of bowling water

  1. Heat egg whites and sugar in a bowl over a bain-marie, whisking all the while (see tips #2)
  2. Once it's smooth like marshmallow cream, remove the bowl and beat with a handheld mixer until cool (about 3 minutes).
  3. Beat in the butter, little by little, until smooth.
  4. Once the butter is in, beat on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, about 5 minutes. It's okay if it curdles or separates during this time, just keep beating and it will come together again.
  5. Gradually beat in the green tea on medium speed until it is all absorbed
  6. You should have a shiny, smooth, velvety, green buttercream.
Chocolate Ganache

100g dark chocolate, cut into pieces
100ml whipping cream

  1. Heat cream until boiling (see tips #3) and put the chocolate pieces in a bowl.
  2. Once it's boiling, pour the cream over the chocolate.
  3. Whisk continually in the center until the mixture turns smooth and glossy.
  1. Cut the joconde according to the size of the square mold ring and make 3 pieces.
  2. Line the bottom of the mold with parchment paper and place one piece of the joconde.
  3. Soak well with the syrup.
  4. Spread about 1/3 of the buttercream over this layer.
  5. Top with another piece of the joconde.
  6. Moisten the joconde with the syrup.
  7. Pour about half of the ganache over the second layer.
  8. Top with the last piece of joconde. Moisten this layer with the syrup too.
  9. Spread buttercream on the last layer. Smoothen the surface (see tips #4)
  10. Freeze the cake.
  11. Once firm, unmold (see tips #5) and pour the remaining ganache over the cake (you can re-melt it over a bain-marie).
  12. Smoothen with a metal spatula.
  13. Freeze the cake.
  14. Once firm, cut the sides (the secret to a neat finish)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

'Tis the season of the cherries

It's official. I now have a new favorite fruit.

I was always more of an apple or mandarin orange kind of girl. Those two fruits are practical. They are easy to store/handle (strawberries are super fragile! so I discovered this week at work), easy to eat (minimum soiling of hands/space from the juices, easy to dispose) and they have a pretty long fridge life (the strawberries I buy always go bad within a couple of days). Yeah, I'm not a strawberry fan unless they are already inside a dessert. Haha. But cherries.. Yum! Those I will more than tolerate.

Back in Indonesia, it was one of the most expensive fruits in the supermarket aisle. Here in France, they're everywhere and at such a great price! It's cherry season and has been since May. The price dropped from 10ish or so euros per kilo to, the cheapest I've seen today, four euros. The individual fruit also got bigger, shinier and not to mention sweeter. Hence, our mandarin orange supply at lunch has been switched to cherries.

So when I came across Pierre Herme's cherry and pistachio tart recipe from here, I just have to try it. I've also just gotten a few pastry supplies including tartelette pans and pistachio paste that are begging to be used. 

For these 5cm tartelettes, I baked them in a 180C oven for five minutes before adding the streusel topping. After that, they needed another 30 minutes. Compared to the recipe, this is a lot longer considering the size. Cooking times will vary according to what kind of oven you have. Mine is a miniature sized one so it's good to check the baking from time to time. Two good indicators are the topping and the bottom of the tart shell. The streusel topping and the bottom of your tart should turn golden brown. I finished off the tart with a dusting of icing sugar, a molded version of the previous white chocolate mousse and a cherry. Here is what it looks like inside~

Friday, June 17, 2011

Not exactly tiramisu

People have been asking whether this cake is a tiramisu. It could be...but I'd like to think not. The flavor combinations are similar but the cake came to be as an experiment on layering and on finding out whether coffee goes with spicebread.

Coffee and Spicebread
with mascarpone cream
  1. Pain d'epices
  2. Coffee syrup for soaking (strong coffee with some sugar)
  3. Thin layer of mascarpone and coffee cream
  4. Dark chocolate and coffee ganache
  5. Mascarpone and coffee cream
  6. Dusting of cocoa powder
Dark chocolate and coffee ganache

250ml whipping cream
25g instant coffee
187g dark chocolate (chopped)
  1. Bring the cream and coffee to a boil.
  2. Weigh and place the chocolate in a bowl.
  3. Pour the boiling cream over the chocolate.
  4. Whisk continually in the center until the mixture turns smooth and glossy.
  5. Mold and freeze.

Mascarpone Cream
adapted from a couple of pastry magazines

250ml whipping cream
250g mascarpone cheese
50g sugar
1 gelatin sheet
2 tbsp water

  1. Soak the gelatin in the water and melt over a bain marie until very hot to the touch.
  2. Meanwhile in a medium bowl, beat the cream, cheese and sugar until firm peaks.
  3. In a small bowl, pour the hot, now liquid, gelatin and add a whiskful of the cream.
  4. Whisk immediately until fully incorporated.
  5. Fold back the cream-gelatin mix into the original cream.
To Assemble:
  1. Cut the pain d'epice to the shape of the mold and place the layer on the bottom.
  2. Spread a thin layer of the mascarpone cream.
  3. Unmold the frozen ganache, cut 1cm off each side, and place over the first mascarpone layer.
  4. Pipe the remaining mascarpone cream until the top of the mold.
  5. Pipe the decorations (optional)
  6. Freeze.
As for the leftover mascarpone cream...

Giving it another shot

It's been a while since I've made a cake 'with the works' at home - a layered buttercream cake or a layered mousse entremet. Last year, I made them week after week at school. These past few months, I was always tired after work and spent weekends going out. Plus, the tiny apartment's kitchen equipment and oven can't be compared to the professional's that I just thought it would be impossible to make anything worthwhile.

This week, I decided to give it another shot. Since I'll be moving to Petits Gateaux, I felt inspired and wanted to try something more elaborate than just cake bases at home. In French Pastry, a complex multilayered cake is called an entremet. It usually has one to two layers of cake and more layers of different creams, mousses and jellies. Sometimes, it has a tart base and most of the time, it's glazed. But it's always very rich in flavor and texture - in most pastry shops, it's made up of 4 to 5 different elements in one.

At school these were some of the entremets we made:
And they were considered the basics. So armed with the Pain d'epices, a bargain square cake ring and some pastry magazines and sites, I set to experiment. Here are pain d'epices entremets two ways (over 2 posts).

White Chocolate and Spicebread
with peach puree


  1. Pain d'epices
  2. Peach puree (from here)
  3. White chocolate mousse
  4. Strawberry and speculoos crumbs

White Chocolate Mousse
adapted from So Good magazine, June 2009 edition

85ml milk
218ml whipping cream
200g white chocolate
3 gelatin sheets


  1. Soak the gelatin in plenty of water.
  2. Whip the cream and store in the fridge until needed.
  3. Weigh and chop chocolate. Place them in a bowl.
  4. Boil the milk and add the gelatin, previously drained. Bring to a boil again.
  5. Pour the boiling milk over the chocolate. 
  6. Whisk in the center until the chocolate turns to a smooth, elastic, glossy texture.
  7. When the mixture is at 37C, pour over the whipped cream (If the chocolate mixture is less than 37C after being whisked, reheat it over a bain-marie.)
To Assemble: 
  1. Cut the pain d'epices to the shape of the mold and place on the bottom.
  2. Spread the peach puree immediately after it's cooked in the saucepan.
  3. Freeze.
  4. After the peach puree is firm, pour in the white chocolate mousse.
  5. Freeze.


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