Friday 27 February 2009

Macarons 1 - sablés hollondais - bugger

Today couldn't have started more badly. I had set my three alarms (radio, phone and classic) to rouse me at 4.30am so I could be in plenty of time to get to school.

Since I moved families at the weekend this is my first early start. There are no buses from here at that time of the morning so I have to walk to the train station to take the metro. I had been told the walk was just 15mins.

First disaster, I do not wake until 5.30am. No idea how I managed that given the bloody racket ringing out in my room. Too bad. I shot out of the house in a stinking hurry and was still trying to make it to the ruddy station over half an hour later. In all it took 37mins. Not a quarter of an hour (or an English one, at any rate).

I finally arrived in the labo half an hour late feeling incredibly ill (fatigue has been going up and up) and ready to give in to the waves.

How extraordinary, then, to go on to spend one of the best days cooking yet.

As for yesterday's comments on biscuits, I eat my words. Or, at least, I make an exception for the sablés hollandais we made with the pâte sablée we prepared last night. They're a real challenge to make regular because you have to cut exactly vertically through two inches of very firm pastry. Because things largely worked out, they were great fun to make. I find geometry hugely satisfying.

And then today became really special: we made our first macarons lisses. The French macaroon (not to be confused with those coconutty abominations) are hugely popular out here and most delish. They are effectively two little coloured meringues held together with an intensely flavoured ganache, cream or fruity whizz. The inside is all chewy (but not sticky) and the shell has a little bite.

Very popular in France, they are pretty hard to come by in the UK but you can usually get chocolate, coffee and pistachio ones at Paul outlets (but beware, these are often rather weak - they reek of having been frozen). I reckon the top place is the Ladurée boutique in Harrods. Ladurée is a luxury grande maison making really first class products (with complementary prices). The company claims to have invented the modern French macaroon after the founder's grandson came up with the idea of sticking two macaroons together with ganache. Interestingly for some, Ladurée was bought out a few years ago by the Holder family who happen to be the founding family of Paul (the things we learn in our economics classes...)

There is no limit to the flavours you can concoct: Pierre Hermé, widely regarded as the best pâtissier in the world, even introduced a foie gras macaroon (Humphrey?).

Our first ones were vanilla, chocolate, lemon, blackcurrant and Morello (sour cherry). Each pair of us made a different flavour (how practical) and ours was cassis (violet in colour) which I bagsied because Purple is the mater's favourite colour. The filling is a little blackcurrant jelly we made with blackcurrant purée, sugar and pectin.

Making macaroons is a favourite hobby of home-patissiers. I discovered this when reading blogs in preparation for my course. A whole mystique has sprung up around the methods (should one use Italian or French meringue, how does one get the frilly foot around the bottom of each shell, how do you perfectly destick the buggers and is Lord Lucan still in Taipei?) with the result that people often think they're very hard to make.

Because of this, I was dead chuffed the little rascals delivered the goods for our first time today but I imagine things are a spot different in a domestic kitchen. Here are just a few photos of how they turned out. We cooked them right at the end of the session (we somehow ended up last in the oven queue), had to turn the oven hotter than ideal to speed things up and then garnished the whole batch of over a hundred in 3 minutes flat. Of course, next time in ideal conditions they'll all go tits up.

The macaroons forming a gentle crust prior to being cooked (contentious point...) Not sure how to rotate this quickly and easily.

A wee purple number showing off its pretty feet. A little extra filling wouldn't go amiss.

The assortment I prepared for my sister who is coming out to visit me tomorrow. Fortunately, they're supposed to improve overnight.

And tonight I went to the pool and cut my finger on a tile. Luckily I'll have the weekend to heal. Typing is hqrd.

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