It hit me Monday morning on our way to the Eiffel Tower – luckily cousin Shane was there to catch me as my feet inexplicably gave way. One minute I was bouncing along, the next I could barely put one food in front of another. Added to this, it started raining and was bitterly cold – so much for spring in Paris. I knew I was in trouble when an elderly lady with walking stick bounded past.
Plans of wandering idly along Parisian streets were stalled – unfortunately, if forced us to spend a fair bit of time inside cafes sampling cocktails and resting (OK, so there was an upside!). My final few voltarin tablets were spaced out and used when absolutely necessary. Like just before taking off to my first cooking class – when ‘someone’ suggested it wouldn’t be ‘too far’ to walk there.
I’d heard of La Cuisine before leaving home and had ascertained that they offered a wide range of classes at OK prices – not super cheap, but not as obscene as many classes available in Paris. It appears their classes are usually subscribed well ahead of time so I was lucky to get into a macaron class just a day or two prior.
While the macaron has become relatively popular in New Zealand over the last couple of years, they have been a staple pastry in France for centuries – apparently a favourite of Marie Antoinette. However, they seem to have their origins in Italy. There are two main ways of making them – the French meringue or the Italian sugar syrup method. Naturally, the classes I looked at in Paris all taught the Italian sugar syrup method – it’s the first time I’ve heard a French person saying something Italian gave better results. I was full of anticipation as I’ve always made the French meringue (with varying degrees of success).
We were warmly welcomed at La Cuisine by a North American accent (a coffee wouldn’t have gone amiss while waiting, however they were able to point me up the road to a lovely little local) before we headed downstairs to the underground kitchen.
We were given a disposable apron to write our names on and the Chef, originally from the US, introduced himself and whizzed through an impressive resume. Chef was organised and the routine slick. They’d done this before. It was a very hands on class, with everyone having turns at mixing, beating and filling making.
In true convenience style, probably indicating how many macarons are made in the France, you can buy almond/icing sugar pre-mixed. Likewise, you can buy egg white in a container. Certainly time saving and you don’t run the risk of yolk contamination, but I’m not sure it feels right to be pouring egg whites out of a plastic bottle.
I was pleasantly surprised how easy the Italian meringue method turned out to be. All you need is a beater and a decent candy thermometer. In short, you finely sieve equal quantities of ground almonds and icing sugar. Then, at the same time as making a sugar syrup, you beat egg whites and caster sugar. Once the syrup reaches the magical 118C mark, it is mixed in with the egg whites.
From there, you remove the bowl from the beater (a hand beater will do, but you might need two people) and mix in the almond/icing sugar combination by hand. We then separated the mixture and coloured each batch – powder colouring worked best as it didn’t add more moisture. It became quickly apparent that macaron making was more of a science than an art – exact measurements were important and an extra splash of liquid did make a difference.
It was then a conveyor belt as we took turns at piping macarons and getting them into the oven. Most recipes call for the macaron to sit for a while to dry out. I suspect their recipe has been altered a tad, as time didn’t allow for this step.
Lack of standing time didn’t seem to matter as they were perfect – crunchy on the outside and all gooey and almond-ey in the middle. We cooked them at 160C fan bake on the day. When I tried to recreate them at home, using fanbake was just too hot. I’ve tried two batches so far – one was OK, the other not. I’m thinking I’ll try 150C regular bake next time.
We made two fillings – while it was interesting and pretty creating a pineapple vanilla cream, it was time consuming. I think we may have been better placed making basic fillings and having some time at the beginning to introduce ourselves to each other and at the end to ask questions in a more relaxed manner.
It was a good class, even a really good class, but did feel a little hurried. In saying this, I do recommend the La Cuisine macaron class. It was fun and I have a new skill. A bit of a bonus at the end of the session is that you have lots to take home with you and they give you a map and list of the fabulous catering stores in Paris (as well as a 10% discount voucher for the iconic chef supply shop, Dehillerin).
I note that Cook’n with Class, a cooking school I’ve been to in the past, also offers macaron classes. I love this school, but their prices have increased and La Cuisine did seem to offer better value. However, they are both worth a visit if you’re heading to Paris (the market class with Chef Eric at Cook’n with Class is outstanding).
I’m not going to give you a ‘maybe OK’ recipe right now. I will wait until I get them right – or as close as I can, then share how I’ve done it. My husband suggests that I keep Moore Wilsons (local wholesalers and everything food store) in business through the amount of ground almonds I buy, so I’ll spare you the trials.
There are some great macarons available in Wellington, as good as many in France – check out Creative Cooking’s offering at City Market in Wellington on a Sunday morning. Yum. There are also many blogs out there about the macaron. My buddy, Cakegirl, has given them a go recently. Read here to see how she got on. I’m making more this weekend, so there should be a recipe post soon…..
2014 update: here’s that recipe …. better late than never!