Sunday, 30 November 2014

Le Cordon Bleu week 9 - MACARONS

"Women LOVE macarons because they're so tiny and delicate that we can enjoy them without seeming greedy" says lingerie designer Chantal Thomass within Laduree's Fabricant de Douceurs. "Eating a macaron is not like giving into real gluttony, but rather letting yourself be tempted...just a little."

And tempted I was and always have been. I began my eighth week at Le Cordon Bleu with much excitement and trepidation. My time table featured an ice cream lecture followed by a macaron demo, then a macaron practical followed by more sweet desserts. For someone like me, who has a ridiculously sweet tooth, the only way to have improved upon this week would have been to perhaps add a little more chocolate. 

Unlike previous weeks where I'd felt unsure as to exactly what I'd be making and felt it necessary to hunt down the best of the best in London in order to sample the patisserie prior to my class, the macaron and I needed no introduction. I fell in love with them a number of years ago and our romance is still as strong now as the day I first laid eyes upon their pastel shades and gooey middles. That didn't however stop me from swinging by the Laduree Salon in Convent Garden to remind myself just how much I love them. I left, floating on a cloud, with my favourite trio in hand: pistachio, vanilla and salt caramel. 

Some believe that Laduree are to be held responsible for the macarons second wave of popularity in the UK and I think they might be right. My first encounter with the macaron was at the smallest of the their Salons in London which can be found at the end of the Burlington Arcade, a stones throw from Fortnum and Mason. It was here that encountered my first macaron tower and, like a child, I stood, jaw dropped, staring at it as though it were magical. I'm sure I even pressed my nose to the window, trying to take in its every detail. 

Before I continue to gush over my love for the macaron, I must clarify that my love is for the French / Italian macaron, not to be mistaken for the more robust, British coconut macaroon. Although made from much the same ingredients, the results of the British recipe couldn't be further from it's continental cousins if it tried. Baked upon edible rice paper and often dipped in chocolate, the coconut macaroon isn't as pretty, colourful, nor light however it does fulfil its promise of a sweet indulgence. 

For those of you reading who are unfamiliar with the French macaron, its a delicate little thing, made using icing sugar and whipped egg whites, gently folded with ground almonds. The shells are then left to crust over before being baked, giving them their shine. When ready, the shells are married, then sandwiched together using a variety of tantalising emulsions...from pistachio buttercream, to chocolate ganache to salted caramel the flavours are both enticing and endless in terms of possibilities. Looking back through my Instagram account it clear to see just how much I love these little treats...and how regularly I indulge in them! 

When I travel abroad, I always make a point of hunting out the best patisseries and macarons in the city I'm visiting. I like to taste the variety of flavours used, as often they are a little different to those found at home. I enjoy discovering the culture influences the pastry chefs have taken inspiration from and infused into their recipes. 

When I arrived in Sydney, the first thing I did was to take a trip to one of Adriano Zumbo's store. I'd heard him be described as the Willy Wonker of the macaron world, adventurous with his flavours and finishing touches. I can  now look back on this day fondly, although at the time my feet were in absolute agony...and I really only have two people to blame for this. Myself and Google. It was a beautifully sunny day, not too hot but not by any means cold. I was staying at a friends apartment on Manly beach so I did a quick Google search and located the address of the patisserie on Zumbo's website. 

Wow a boat ride and a 15k walk...well, it's a lovely sunny day, I thought to myself and I should imagine I'll see lots of fun things on the way, so off I went on my little journey of macaron discovery. Some 3 hours later (I stopped for sightseeing and refreshment purposes en route) I arrived at the tiny boutique patisserie in suburban Balmain only to be informed by the sales assistant (who I think wondered why I was so out of breath following the mostly up hill walk) that I must have passed at least 4 other Zumbo stores on my way in order to arrive at this one. including one on Manly. Taking pitty on me, she gave me two extra macarons on the house and wrote me out some simple instructions for my return trip. Which was significantly shorter. After my 3 hour hike I felt it perfectly just to devour all 8 of my macarons whilst sailing back to Manly. When the boat pulled in, there was Zumbo's, stood proudly on the edge of the pier. I sighed and chuckled to myself whilst I ate my last macaron for consolation. 

Although long and tiring, the walk really was worth it. Zumbo's macarons were every bit as wacky as I'd heard and with over 40 flavour combinations to delight and inspire, it took me the best part of ten minutes to choose which to try. In the absence of Laduree, I found Zumbo's macarons to be very tasty alternatives. He now has several patisseries in Sydney and has recently opened a store in Melbourne. All well worth a visit if you're in the area, if only for the decor!

Luckily, when I was in Barcelona not long after, I didn't fall victim to the same issue. I was told by a friend who lives in the city that the only place to go was Bubo's (and thankfully she provided me with directions). A group of friends and I had flown out for a long weekend to celebrate a friends hen do, but convincing a group of girls to take 5 minutes out of partying to eat patisserie wasn't exactly a challenge. Off we went to the gothic quarter where we were greeted by giant macarons dressed as burgers and an award winning chocolate moose cake. Torn between the cakes and macarons we brought a selection of both and returned to our hotel to indulge with a cup of tea. When you see a sign claiming "Worlds Best Chocolate Cake" you simply must give it a go. To this day, I have never tasted anything like the Bubo's chocolate moose cake. It was the very best composition of tastes and textures to ever come into contact with my taste buds and its clear to see why they've won so many awards, including Worlds Best. If you ever find yourself in Barcelona, I recommend that you make it your sole purpose to find Bubo's and immediately order the chocolate moose cake upon arrival. You won't be disappointed.

Shortly after returning home from our trip to Barcelona the bride to be, Sophie, asked me if I'd be able to make her wedding cake. Her now husband, Ben, suffers from celiac decease meaning that sadly he can't eat anything containing gluten. Luckily for those who are intolerant, macarons contain only three ingredients: egg, almonds and icing sugar, none of which contain gluten, so it seemed the perfect solution to make them a macaron tower. I discussed the style with the bride and groom to be at length and it was decided upon that the tower should be ombre in terms of colour and a wide variety in terms of flavour. I remember driving the macarons to the wedding venue, no faster than 30MPH the entire journey so as not to damage them! Once on site it took me the best part of 3 hours to assemble the tower, one macaron at a time. I only had minutes to spare in order to position my masterpiece in the reception room, get changed and take my seat before the ceremony began, but much to the delight of the bride, groom and guests I did it. Just! 

As you can probably tell, I rather like a macaron so naturally when I arrived at school for my macaron class I wanted to hear everything there is to know about them. I was delighted to discover that it was, once again, down to the wonderful pastry chefs of Catherine De Medici of Italy that macarons came about, although they were rather more basic than they are today. If you're a regular reader of Path to Patissiere you may remember reading about her in one of my first blog posts:

Like me, Catherine De Medici had a sweet tooth so when the time came for her to move from Italy to France to marry Henry II, she refused to do so without being accompanied by her pastry team. Yes, team. The macaron was created by her team in approximately 1533 along with many other favourites of mine, but it wasn't until 1792 that this beautifully light indulgence began to gain its popularity and fame and funnily enough, this came about thanks to a pair of asylum seeking Carmelite nuns. The nuns, so thankful for the housing and protection offered to them in the town of Nancy during the French revolution, wanted to thank their landlord, so they'd bake and sell macarons in order to raise money. They quickly became known as the "Macaron sisters" or the "Soeurs Macarons" and people would travel from far and wide to taste their famous delicacies. Unlike the recipes we use today, the recipe of the "veritables macarons de Nancy" is still closely guarded by Nicolas Genot of the Maison des Soeurs Macarons! One day I'll visit and see if he'll give me some pointers. 

As per the previous weeks at Le Cordon Bleu, we sat in ore as chef danced around the kitchen, making the task ahead of us look so simple and easy to complete. Before our very eyes, he'd conjured up two batches of macarons, begin the class by making chocolate macarons using a French meringue base, followed by pistachio macarons made using an Italian meringue base. My heart leaped - how did chef know that pistachio was my absolute favourite??! 

Unlike the previous weeks at Le Cordon Bleu we had to wait the best part of an entire day before we had the opportunity to bake them ourselves! We did so with very little drama and both myself and chef were very pleased with the results. Below are both Chef's and my efforts - I wonder if you can tell whose is whose :o) 


It seems crazy to even mention the word macaron without giving a nod to Pierre Hermes. Although I favour the macarons from Laduree, Pierre is the undisputed champion of the macaron. Thankfully he now sells his macarons in Selfridges so I have been able to sample them. Prior to this you could only find them at his patisseries in Paris and Tokyo. 

Pierre is a man with an interesting background. In 1976, aged 14, he was the apprentice under the innovative patissier Gaston Lenotre. Gosh, at 31 I have some catching up to do! At that time, macarons come in only four guises: coffee, chocolate, vanilla and raspberry. "I didn't really like macarons, they were too sweet for me" says Herme. "I started to experiment with them in the mid 1980s. I tried creating different flavours such as lemon, pistachio, salted caramel and mandarin." The results caused a sensation in France...a sensation which has thankfully now made its way across the channel. 

Pierre Hermes is best known for his wide variety of flavours, his collection now including delights such as: chocolate, caramel and gingerbread spices, white truffle oil, rose, raspberry and litchi, milk chocolate and passion fruit and Madagascan vanilla. But not only this, he is also notorious for his sensational and unique food photography. It was whilst reading his book 'Macarons', that I first discovered 'food pornography'. His book, as well as informative is a piece of tantalising art. Flicking through the pages you feel sadden to turn to the next, but instantly delighted to see what he has in store for you. 

With macarons successfully added to my repertoire, it was time to put my head down and revise for my forth coming basic patisserie exams. When it comes to revising patisserie it is of course not only the theory that needs to be covered and revisited but the making of the exam dishes also. In order to ensure full focus I left London in favour of the Malvern countryside where I've taken refuge at my parents house. I thought it best to take over their kitchen for the day and to make all three of my exam dishes so that they could share them out amongst their friends, much to their delight! I spent almost 10 hours in the kitchen, making the odd mistake here and there but learning along the way. My mistakes resulted in my Dad having to leave the house incredibly early this morning in order to fetch my 4th dozen of eggs...he commented that it might have been more cost effective for him to have purchased a flotilla of chickens prior to my arrival. I'm sure it's a flock but he wasn't in the mood to be corrected.  

Watching my parents and their friends enjoy each of the dishes I'd made filled me with happiness and if their feedback is anything to go by, all three would have passed! Let's hope the chef marking next week is as happy with my efforts! Below you can see my tarte au citron which I first made during my third week: i-heart-lemon-tartNext, my eclairs au cafe made during week 5: choux-look-beautiful. And lastly my least favourite dish to make...the genoise a la confiture de framboise which I first whipped up during week 6: cake

Next week on my path to patisserie...exams. Dum dum duuuuuuuum. Please think very positive cakey thoughts for me on Wednesday and Thursday. I'll let you know how I get on next week! And before I sign off for the night, thank you to those of you who've taken the time to read my patisserie tales. My blog has now had over 3,000 views which feels both incredible and crazy! If you ever want a recipe or have any questions about baking or my time at Le Cordon Bleu please do leave a comment and I'll come back to you.

For now, please keep your baguettes crossed for me and hopefully, come Thursday I'll be channeling St. Honore and all will go well! x

*Please note that the views I express are mine alone and do not reflect the views of my place of study*

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