Sunday 15 July 2007
How can someone be ready to work in the macaron team? This is exactly what I asked myself in the RER taking me back home after my first day working with the afternoon team – aka the macaron makers.
Honestly, I was beat and wondered how the guys could be so kind, funny and professional.
I arrived at the Vaugirard shop, well in advance, around 1.30pm to try my best at doing a good first impression.
I did the usual routine – outfit (self-note: I do look hot in my outfit; well I’m just trying to convince myself and eventually that will happen – ok I’m not kidding anyone: this will never happen but you know, one has to make concessions in order to reach one’s dreams), aprons, hand washing, hand-shaking… And then, I entered the macaron universe.
First, we start by making the ganaches and to tell the truth, I was desperate because, by the time I had finished my one and only ganache – Jasmin, all the other team members had already made at least two different batches.
It is now time to sort the baked coques [literally shells, standing for the shell of the macaron] – all the broken ones are put into a bucket, the baking papers are inverted onto racks and the coques are aligned: 12 in the length and 8 in the width. This might sound easy, but it is quite tiring. After a few hours, I felt like I was a macaron-sorting-machine; I couldn’t even tell the differences of size between the different macarons. So weird to see what strange sensations a tired brain can generate!
Then it’s all about the filling and closing. One – or two – pâtissiers pipe the luscious ganaches onto the arranged coques and it’s my job to close them right after the ganache has been piped. Indeed, ganaches tend to solidify quite quickly (except when the oven gets the room so hot that the ganaches are melting – I have a lovely souvenir of a melting olive ganache and me trying to close the macaron; a disaster, I tell you), thus it’s best to close the macarons quickly so the ganache forms a nice little belly. At this point, it was my favourite part. But then came the Ispahan macarons – read: not only you have to close the macaron but you have to place small sticky squares of homemade raspberry gellant (it’s a kind of fruit jelly that relies on agar agar instead of gelatine or pectin as a solidifying agent) on every single coque before you can actually start to close them. The result is beautiful though. Indeed when you bite into the perfectly round and shiny macaron (and gosh knows how much I loooove to do this) you discover a raspberry-ish surprise.
The addition of little hidden things in the hearts of macarons is Pierre Hermé’s signature: olive oil and vanilla (with two pieces of green olive), Ispahan (raspberry gellant), Mosaic (two griotte halves – hint: this is my personal favourite) and white truffle and hazelnuts (three crushed hazelnuts) just to cite a few. This is, in my opinion a wonderful invention – it places Pierre Hermé’s macarons to another level, a level no one can outdo. While I’m talking about what I love about these macarons I have to tell you that the amount of ganache in each macaron is insane (in a good way) and shows that, here, the focus is on flavours.
Well, it seems I’m (slightly and only slighty) starting to digress, so please let’s go back to the récit of my first day.
Basically when we finished closing the last few macarons (out of approximately 6000-8000) it was already 11pm and I thought I was about to go home. I was wrong; yep, totally wrong – time to clean the laboratoire. This was actually quite enjoyable because I got to clean the fridge and the fact that it didn’t feel that cold in it made me realise how hot I was. Who said making macarons wasn’t a sport?
Speaking of sport (and yes I’m digressing again), if macaron throwing was an Olympic discipline, I would be a serious challenger for the gold medal. Indeed, I did throw macarons all the time during this first day and every time it was totally unwanted. I would bump in the echelle [metallic shelves on which you put the racks of sorted macarons] and a couple of coques would fall on the floor. Alternatively, while throwing the not-perfect coques into the buckets I would send them overboard and they would fall on Loïc (who seems to always be in front of me; and no – sorry – I’m not trying to blame someone else!).
So this was my first day and although it is all true (well slightly exaggerated sometimes, but you know I come from the south of France and we do tend to exaggerate things) I was wrong.
Quickly, as I became faster and better, I started enjoying it a lot. And the days after the first one were really far from what I had imagined them to be.
I got to make so many different ganaches, close so many macarons and discover the sweetest people ever, that eventually, when it was time for me to say goodbye I almost cried (hint hint – I am exaggerating but the feelings were there). The whole week seemed like it only lasted a minute and gave me the opportunity to learn how to work fast.
Although I can’t say I am the best macaron maker in the world I did notice an improvement – my moves are now quicker and more confident.
So, yes, you understand I had to reward myself for all the hard work. And what’s better that a selection of the current macaron collection. Hmmm ten different pieces of what is probably referred to as ‘heaven on earth’.
Please do not worry for my stomach – I did not eat them all in one day (though three were enough to finish the gorgeous box). By the way, when you buy the macaron they look far more perfect than the ones below but something unexpected happened in the metro – I dropped my Pierre Hermé bag. I know you’re certainly gasping right now: how could she drop the beautiful laced bag? But sadly it happened and the macarons definitely suffered. They were just as good though ;)
Chocolat amer [bitter chocolate]
Chocolate macaron (the batter contains actual chocolate not cocoa powder) with dark chocolate ganache
This is always the first sort we make – I guess it’s because of the ganache. Indeed, given that it is made with 70% chocolate that contains a great part of coca butter, the amer ganache tends to solidify really quickly and thus, we need to use it before it’s too hard to pipe.
Tasting notes: at first, you get the intense chocolate taste which is then balanced by the slight bitterness.
Macaron with milk chocolate and passion fruit ganache
Then we make these, also because of the higher coca butter content of the ganache.
Tasting notes: when I first tried it, I was a bit dubious. But then, it quickly became addictive. Now, the Mogador macaron is probably my favourite. The combination of milk chocolate and passion fruit is simply outstanding – I love how the tanginess of the passion fruit enhances the milk chocolate.
Macaron with rose and litchi ganache and squares of raspberry gellant
Tasting notes: I know most of you won’t believe what I am about to say, but I’m not the biggest fan of the rose and litchi ganache. However, I just love this macaron – maybe not as much as the entremet though; I think the acidic touch brought by the raspberry gellant makes for a perfectly balanced macaron.
Macaron (sprinkled with pistachio) with apricot ganache and a square of pistachio praline
The apricot ganache, which is the one I made the most, is thickened with dried apricots and contains no cream – a pure delight. And let me say one word about the pistachio praline – it is out of this world. I could eat the whole box of it.
Tasting notes: apricot and praline might sound like an unusual combination but it works. The ganache is thick and creamy yet sharp and the chocolate part of the praline round up the flavours nicely.
Café fort [strong coffee]
Macaron with strong coffee ganache
Tasting notes: this macaron looks so pretty. I just love the different tones of brown – c’est chic! The flavour is clean and perfectly balanced. A favourite.
Thé au jasmin [jasmine tea]
Macaron with jasmine tea ganache
Tasting notes: this macaron is very floral and has a distinctive jasmine tea taste.
Caramel au beurre sale [salted caramel]
Macaron with salted caramel crème au beurre [buttercream]
Tasting notes: one word – delicious! Just the thought of the rich caramely crème au beurre makes me drool.
Macaron with rose crème au beurre
Tasting notes: yummy in pink. This macaron is really fragrant and delicate.
Macaron with pistachio and cinnamon ganache, and two griotte halves
Tasting notes: this is one of my favourites. First it looks pretty. Second it tastes fabulous. The ganache is terrific: I love the hint off cinnamon that enhances the warmth of the pistachio flavour. And the griottes (small cherries) add a balancing sourness.
Olive oil et vanille
Macaron with olive oil and vanilla ganache and two pieces of green olive
Tasting notes: I am a big fan of the olive oil and vanilla combination, and I’m sure that if you still have some doubts about it this macaron will convince you. I love the roundness of the ganache – slightly bitter because of the olive oil yet sweet.
Next week: Let’s go back, back to… the morning team!