Friday, 13 December 2013

Challenge of the Week #2

The challenge: Eat a classic pastry from a top pȃtisserie in Paris and, using it as inspiration, create a similar recipe that can be made easily at home.
The pastry: macarons
The pȃtisserie: Dalloyau, 101 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008, Paris

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend a masterclass by Christophe Michalak, one of the top pȃtissiers in France. At the beginning, he went round the group asking people what they liked to bake and home and what they wanted to be able to bake. One woman said, ‘I would love to be able to bake macarons, but …’ and everyone else in the room, Chef Michalak, included, gave a knowing sympathetic look.

Macarons are to France what cupcakes are the the USA. However, unlike cupcakes, they have a mystique surrounding them based on their supposed difficulty to make. A recent episode of Le Meilleur Pȃtissier contributed to this mystique when almost every contestant completely bodged their macarons and more ended up in the bin than before the judges.  They consist of two almond meringue shells with a flavored filling sandwiched between. The shells are colored to reflect the flavor of the filling.

Almost every eatery in Paris, MacDonalds included, serve macarons. Two boutiques in particular, Ladurée and Pierre Hermé specialize in them and are often have queues the length of which seem proportional to their prices. It would have been obvious to have visited one of these for this challenge, but instead, I chose what is supposed to be one of the oldest pȃtisseries in Paris, Dalloyau.

Dalloyau, Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré

From 1682-1789 four generations of the Dalloyau family served as master pȃtissier to the kings of France at the palace of Versailles. As the macaron was popular even then, it seems inevitable that Dalloyau would have baked them for Queen Marie-Antoinette, and it is for this that I chose them. After the revolution, in 1802 the Dalloyau of his day set up a pȃtisserie in the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré which is where I found them ready and waiting. Later, the shop was responsible for the introduction of another Parisian classic, the Opéra Cake, but that’s a different challenge.

I chose four different flavors of macaron from Dalloyau: pistachio, pink grapefruit, raspberry, and caramel fleur de sel. They all had a delicately crisp outer shell, with a gooey interior and fillings that I would say were competent rather than inspiring. I would have liked for the raspberry filling to have been more tart.

For my macarons, I chose to fill them with a home-made lemon curd as I adore the deliciously sour flavor that adds to the comfortingly sweet almond shells. For the recipe below however, I concentrate on the shells, as you can really fill them with anything you like but it’s the biscuits themselves that fill people with dread. However, like any baking, if you are meticulous about the measurements, oven temperatures and baking times, then you will master the macaron in no time. 

Note: I have written the recipe in weight measurements as they are more exact than volume measurements and for macarons, you have to be exact. The method is an amalgam of advice I have collected from top french chefs and cookery writers and a bit of trial and error from myself. However, for me, this produces perfect macarons every time. 

Macaron shells
Coque de macaron

Active time: 15 mins
Total time: 2 hrs

125g /4 1/2 oz ground almonds
225g / 8 oz icing sugar
¼ tsp food coloring powder
30g / 1 oz caster sugar
110g / 4oz egg whites

1. Heat the oven to 150° C / 300° F . Place the almonds on a baking tray and toast them for 10 minutes. Allow them to cool completely. Then pass them through a sieve, discarding any pieces which are too large. Sift them, together with the icing sugar, into a bowl.

2. Mix the food coloring with the sugar. Place them in the bowl of a stand mixer and add the egg whites. Using the whisk attachment, beat until they form stiff peaks. The consistency should be such that if you hold the bowl upside down, the mixture will not fall out.

 3. Add the egg whites to the almonds and icing sugar. Using a plastic spatula, scoop the almond mixture over the egg whites twice, and then flatten the mixture and slightly turn the bowl.  Continue to scoop, flatten, and turn until all the ingredients are combined into a smooth mixture. As soon as the ingredients are combined, draw a line in the mixture with your finger. If it closes up again, the mixture is ready. If not, continue to scoop, flatten and turn once or twice more until it does.

 4. Place the mixture in an icing bag. Then pipe small disks onto a silicon mat placed on a baking tray.  Lift the tray about three inches off the work surface and drop it to knock out any air bubbles. Do this three times. Then leave the macarons to dry at room temperature for one hour.

5. Heat the oven to 160° C / 320° F. Bake the macarons for 12 minutes. Then gently press the tops of the shells with your finger. If they are still soft, give them one more minute. Remove from the oven and allow the shells to cool completely before carefully removing them from the silicon mat. Refrigerate overnight before filling them.

Macarons filled with lemon curd

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