Ah, the French macarons - a baker's Everest. Those tiny little cookies, made from barely four ingredients, are deceptively cute. Their smooth top, and surrounding mysterious 'feet' in fact summon utmost care in technique and countless crossed fingers. The shells, as you might be able to guess just from looking at the picture, are extremely fragile, and absolutely hate moisture and uneven heat, unfortunately two things that bakers have minimal control over (the weather and the oven's temper). We try nonetheless, shoving off alarming heeds, sticky fingers and rising fear - for what a slap to the ego it is to be defeated by tiny little cookies! But we simply can't resist, we must whip those egg whites fluffy and grind our almond flour, because what a heavenly moment it is to bite into a perfect, colorful little macaron, through the soft, crunchy shell, into a chewy texture of meringue, into a bittersweet mocha ganache with a hint of orange zest. It's the one supreme moment of satisfaction and accomplishment that justifies the toil, frustration, and sweat (really, a lot of sweat!)
My first attempt with the macarons came one bored weekend browsing Tastespotting, a haven for wanna-be cooks. I stumbled on the macarons queen, Tartelette, a French pastry chef who made picture-perfect desserts. Not knowing any better, I decided to give it a try, pulsed my almond silvers in a blender (gasp!), hand-whipped my freshly cracked egg whites (double gasp!), and of course failed miserably. The products, which I didn't bother taking pictures of, didn't taste bad. In fact, they tasted a dream for the sweet-tooths. But alas, the macaron experience is at best half in taste; a heavenly moment is consumed by devouring by eyes first those beautiful creatures, only after that by taste their layers of textures and flavors. Without the oohs and aahs of admiration at their round dome and spreading feet, well, it's just not the same.
My chance to conquer the macarons finally arrived. Upon learning about ICE's upcoming macaron class, I promptly signed up. It was AMAZING! If you are a serious amateur cook, or a beginner looking for more refined technique, I highly recommend their recreational courses. My chef, the formidable Kathryn Gordon, who left a Wall Street and consulting career to pursue her passion in pastry, is a the utmost enthusiastic and patient instructor, not to mention years of producing perfect macarons with the Rainbow Room and Le Cirque. With her help, my chef-partner Jaqulin (an art history professor at St. John) and I produced these little mocha-flavor caps, soon to be swooned over by classmates and pronounced "best and picture-perfect!" by Chef Gordon:
A closer look at the pretty domes and feet:
Yummy! The best part of class is always the sharing at the end. Among the 12 participants, we made hundreds of those little sandwiches. My partner and I made two batches using two different recipes - one mocha-flavored shells hugging chocolate ganache fillings (above), and one ginger-flavored shells with caramel fleur de sel fillings. I freezed a dozen of those goodies awaiting Mugg's return, and will be bringing the rest to the office for a sugar-high Wednesday.
Can I let you in a secret? I am actually not that crazy about eating macarons (!!!) I know, I know... I'm just more of a creme-caramel kinda girl. I am, however, crazy about making these handsome and tasty French desserts. So if you are ever in New York when I'm rapping those macaron pans, count on having a lot of them to bring home!