Sunday, July 29, 2012

Macarons

Reader, you must remember the awesome Outdoor Expert guy who took me on the crazy adventure at Bukit Tabur and the exciting whitewater rafting trip. He's into the outdoors (climbing, hiking, diving etc.), photography, gardening and... baking. Yes, baking. He's attended some formal culinary courses for breads and pastries, and fancy desserts. What a guy, right?

I was on the phone with him last night.

He: There's a baking class tomorrow. Macarons. Do you want to come?
Me: What time?
He: 10am to 4pm
Me: Hmmm... I would have to skip some classes at gym. But, YES!!!

I hope my pilates and dance instructor isn't reading this. (Sorry! :D)

I first came across this classic French dessert reading my roomee's blog, and was of course, captivated by the sheer variety of vibrant colours (and flavours!) they come in. Then, I came to realise that because they're relatively uncommon here, they tend to be really expensive. And anyone who bought macarons tend to show them off in ways that irritate me. So for a long time, to me, macarons are just fancy desserts, totally gourmet and catered to those rich enough, or those given to anything fancy just because they're fancy. I wasn't interested at all.

Some time ago, though, my roomee attempted macarons and according to her, they failed. This verdict was absolutely according to her, since we never actually saw the finished product - being the perfectionist she is, her "failed" was probably only "not pretty enough" for the rest of us..... Anyway, she inspired me to look up recipes for macarons, just to see how evil they are. No, not very evil in written words, but according to roomee, the technique itself is a major challenge, plus some say the egg whites need to be aged, or something or something else. The point is, macarons are generally considered very challenging. So, I got curious.

I'm rambling (waaay) too much. 

The class was hosted by a university nearby which offers courses in hospitality and/or culinary arts, and they have superb kitchen facility. It was my first time in a kitchen of a classroom setting. There was a demo station right at the front, and two rows of counters equipped with bowls of all sizes, spatulas, and electric mixers and their accessories. For our class, there was an apron, a hand towel and a hair cover for each of us. You know, Reader, the apron alone made me feel more competent already. Self-confidence is a weird thing.

Chef started by talking about macarons, and saying that he will be showing us the Laduree macarons, pointing to the very words, embroidered on his shirt (or whatever you call that robe that chefs wear...)

"Anyone heard of Laduree?"

A few of us, me included, nodded. I nodded wide-eyed. Of course I'd heard of it... my roomee blogged about it! Seriously! We are going to learn the recipe used by the most famous macaron-makers in the world! Honestly, I don't believe they'd give out all the secrets, but hey, the basics are good enough. For now.

So, Chef started by demonstrating a batch. He whipped up the batter, piped them into perfect circles while saying how he'd like to see us pipe (anticipating big time comedy, that is). While the shells were baking, he proceeded to make the filling.

"Anyone heard of Italian Meringue Buttercream?"

Again, I nodded excitedly. Granted, I was already very excited just being in the class. It was quite recently that I was reading up on Swiss and Italian Meringue Buttercream, how they are different and which I should try first should I ever want that much of frosting! 

I don't know how much filling he made, but he used 1kg of butter all in all, so... A LOT. This, he divided into several small bowls and added different flavours to each. We had lime, hazelnut, and pistachio to begin with. Later, he also made strawberry, raspberry, orange, apple, and also a super rich and extremely dark chocolate ganache. 

He then showed us how to assemble the dessert by matching pairs of shells most similar in sizes, piping a small amount of filling on one, and pressing them together. I made a joke about how that's gonna be tough for us, for our shells will all be of different sizes, maybe different shapes as well. Had I known just how really true that was, it wouldn't have been that funny. 

These pretty little things were from the first demo batch:


All the photos were taken using my phone (which has a camera but ultimately isn't a camera) so please excuse their quality...

Chef said macarons are best displayed standing. Someone else made a joke about how ours are not going to be able to stand so nicely due to being out-of-shape and/or having the two halves mismatched in size. Again, true.


The first batch we whipped we used ground almond, resulting in a smooth top. Apparently, both the Outdoor Expert and I aren't exactly very skilled in piping...


Fortunately, they don't look that horrible after assembly. We had to rip those conjoined shells apart, though, and that wasn't pretty nor classy at all.


While everyone was busy whipping up the second batch of macarons using ground hazelnut, Chef decorated a cake with some of those he'd made earlier:


Notice the orange one of the left? Yup, ours! Chef walked past our station, picked it up and used it. We totally took it as a compliment of the highest sort and deluded ourselves into many minutes of pure happiness.

Another cake that Chef decorated:


In all seriousness, the first batter we made was too thin, resulting in difficulty in piping and thus, the sloppy, spread-out shells of different sizes and odd shapes. The thinness was due to under-whipping the meringue, said Chef. So, for our next batter, I totally went overboard and "over-whipped". But we got these:



Yay!

We were joking about how we're now ready to take orders for homemade macarons when I realised I'd probably never be able to achieve the same results at home. Reason is, right after piping, we just hung around laughing at ourselves and others, walking about poking our noses into other people's piping, taking photos of all the different colours there are... and let the two student helpers do all the baking for us.

So, yea, I have no idea how to actually bake them. If jamming them into the oven, counting 10 minutes then taking them out works, great. Otherwise..... :P

3 comments:

CHER-RY said...

I've got your recipe loud and clear :))) Thank you Nee Lee!!!!

laura.forestdreams:) said...

i never even heard of macarons...or Lauduree...

at first i thought you were talking about 'macaroons'...but spelled differently there. nope. different thing entirely. but now i'm wondering if maybe the middle of these macarons are filled with macaroon??

are they soft when you bite into them? like little mini cakes? they look like 'moonpies'...but much more colorful...and sweeter too it sounds like.

neil said...

Bee Ree: you're welcome! Make them soon! :X

Laura: I once thought they were the same, and that one must be a misspell of the other! Haha! Turns out, they are different cookies! Macarons are sweet and chewy, with a distinct taste of almond (or hazelnut, depending on what was used in them). The filling can be anything - buttercream, ganache, jam etc. And yes, they're really sweet =)