Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Rainy day macarons

Rainy Day Macarons
I do not seem to have learned my lesson; to consider carefully whether one's self confidence can withstand  attempting macarons on a rainy day unless the workspace is fully dehumidified  and there is a convection oven . Most of all, always, always make sure your kitchen mixer is not going to malfunction in the middle of pouring hot syrup into the egg whites. argh... homemade mango jam , mango ganache , okay,  all are possible on a rainy day, but the macarons? Why do it? To keep my word to T for her play date, she had promised her friend I would bake them.
So against my better judgement and knowing that humidity at 60% or higher often bodes ill for meringue and macaron crunch, I forged ahead, adding dried egg whites as a stabilizer, cream of tartar to avoid over beating and folding with the care a debutant might make for her attire to her first dance.  I even  dried the almond powder and confectioner's sugar before processing and sifting them twice.
Always somewhat perplexed by the process of making a silken stiff meringue only to press the air out during the final stage, I pondered the macaronage. While more confident with French meringue, the weather pushed me to use either Swiss or Italian.  I opted for Italian after remembering how stiff the Swiss meringue can be.  Just as I attempted to pour the syrup, debating the temperature ( one books states 113degrees, while another 116 degrees and still another 120 degrees ), the mixer stopped. Wondering if this spelled doom for the shells, I quickly switched to my handheld mixer, burning myself in the process.I am still not confident in my abilities after reading more than 12 books, taking a special masterclass in Paris, discussion with several authorities and hours and hours of test runs ( should I mention the hours of watching others make them on Youtube?) .
The  weather meant I had a couple of options for the drying stage. One tray was left to dry near the air conditioner, another was dried in the oven according to Adriano Zumbo's technique (which looked great on television but which was a disaster for me as they cracked), while leaving them in a warmed oven with the door ajar seemed to work fairly well; half of them came out with smooth shells and pretty feet. Drying them on a bench consistently seems to work the best for me but could I really ask the children to wait two more hours while they dried properly? I need a drying technique I can use at the restaurant to churn them out more quickly than summer weather allows and I was no closer to finding my magic bullet.
The proof was in the heating and the eating. I could not age them for a day to meld the flavours properly. Result?  The coconut almond bases were tasty , the mango jam (and we all know the cost of a Miyazaki mango , though this one was a steal at 1000 yen) was delightfully astringent and sweet,  the mango white chocolate ganache ,leaving out the rum for the little ones, was fine if one likes white chocolate but oh my, those shells... Where was that magic crackle, the crisp to complement the chewy innards  when you sink your teeth into the outer biscuit? They had feet, not the feet of a princess but nice enough to be seen. The shells did not crack so I could assume they were neither over mixed nor under dried,  but they simply did not look like those ones in the pictures and  famous pastry shops. Oddly the cocoa macarons with the olive oil and black pepper ganache were closer to the mark but on each tray some had hairline fissures while others were perfect. Was it my piping technique I wondered?

T's response? "Even great chefs have a bad day ! It's good you weren't on Master chef though, you'd be eliminated. They taste really good though, and besides  my friend doesn't know what a great macaron looks like. Better luck next time, Mom." Remembering that Raymond Blanc said it takes chefs 10 years to master these little darlings, I promised myself I would persevere...once I figured out who could repair my beloved kitchen aid commercial mixer in Japan. This adventure is not over yet.
     A note- in June 2012 my spouse found a class offered for the first time at Ferrandi summer school, taught by Ollivier Christian , a master class for five wonderful intense days. 
This class ws not inexpensive by any means and one can certainly find less expensive and shorter classes but I was intent on having all my questions answered and mastering at least one style of macarons since I had purchased practically every book on the market , not to mention it was getting tiresome at work and stressful not knowing the result.
The class was small and I stayed virtually across the street in a lovely hotel which boasted a great breakfast(forgive me, my favorite meal when I have time to eat it) and a quirky ever so French set of concierges. Class ran from 8:30 to 5 but really we were there until 6. Lunch was included, cooked by the professional culinary students. This class is not for beginners. There were three of us and Ollivier. I am happy to say I was not the oldest, nor was I the only person with a culinary background but I was not the most outgoing and that meant I did not get as much hands on experience as I would have liked. But in these classes you must make yourself known and take what you want to get the hands on experience and I am not so inclined. Except after the 3 rd day when I was practically skinned a live for a reason I still do not know nor understand. My ingrained politeness, accentuated by so many years in Japan gave way to determination to get what I came for. And I did, in addition to a budding friendship with the events designer brought in the last day. Also, Ollivier has been true to his word as well as helpful in answering my emails. This on top of his own business speaks volumes of his decency.

What did I gain from this class? I am hesitant to share my information only because the class is still taught but I know it does not replace actually attending so the main points are-
1. Measure accurately and work quickly.
2. Use the Italian meringue  recipe if you wish bright and shiny shells.
3. Add flavour concentrates if you want exacting flavours in your fillings,but not too much.
4. Use a thermometer which is meant for sugar work.
5. Use two ovens, one for the drying and one for the baking stage and this one is where they get me. ...preferably a deck oven.
We tried convection and it simply did notroduce the same results consistently.

But really, who has a deck oven at home or can afford one at work?
So if anyone can share a reliable one oven baking method, then I am all ears.
The book is 'macaron' by Christophe Felder. (They work together.) m copy is in French so if anyone purchases it and needs help with the language I am happy to assist. Just contact me.

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