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.


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