notes + observations + star addresses
INTERNATIONAL MACARON DAY
CONFECTIONING MACARONS WITH THE PROS
Who can resist the macaron? Two airy, meringue-like cookies (there's some almond powder thrown in for good measure) sandwiched around a creamy ganache filling. Today, March 20, is feted across France, and other sweet-tooth countries, to honour these addictive confections. Started in 2005 by celebrated pasty chef and chocolatier Pierre Hermé to raise funds for cystic fibrosis, the honorary day is known as Jour du macaron or "International Macaron Day." In this post, I share my experience meeting the illustrious Macaron Man and making macarons for this first time. It was a sweet day indeed.
Last year, I had the extraordinary opportunity of celebrating International Macaron Day by baking macarons at the new Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute in the 16th arrondissement. To my sweet delight, the special guest of the evening was none other than Pierre Hermé whom many regard as the pastry chef who modernised pastry-making. In 2016, he received the title of World's Best Pastry Chef by the World's 50 Best Restaurants. Vogue magazine also dubbed him "the Picasso of Pastry." On a more global scale, he is basically the rock star of macarons. Hermé owns several eponymous boutiques all over the world, including several in Paris.
Hermé addressed the group briefly, but with much passion. He talked about where he finds inspiration, and how it comes from other creative fields outside of the kitchen, such as architecture, design and fine art. Personally, I was most intrigued by his wizardry at inventing new flavours. Besides the traditional options of pistachio, salted-butter caramel, lemon, etc., a signature creation by Hermé is the Mogador, a combination of milk chocolate and passion fruit. Another popular one is Isaphan, a mix of rose, raspberry and litchi. And he's always on the hunt for new tastes. Did you know that each month, you can go into a Pierre Hermé boutique and try a new flavour of the month?
After seeing a documentary on television about how Hermé creates "bespoke macarons" - in other words, a unique flavour just for you - it was interesting to learn more about this "sur mesure" service, of which he does about ten cakes, macarons or chocolates per year. Hermé talked to the group about the importance in his profession of having a "familiarity of ingredients and of their flavours," a kind of "library of tastes."
"Every time is an adventure," he said of his personalised challenges. He once had a client who loved cigars, and so naturally wanted a cigar macaron. "I tried to steer him left and right, but he wanted his cigar macaron. Finally, we did a cold infusion. I never smoked a cigar, but the infusion gave me shivers in my veins because the tobacco was so strong. In the end it was delicious."
His most recent request was from a man who wanted to offer a special cake to his fiancé, and the day she was to come and taste it, he was going to propose. "I made him pay in advance," Hermé joked.
After the talk by Hermé and sampling of macarons (by Maison Pierre Hermé and other boutiques involved in his charity), it was time to hit the Cordon Bleu kitchen (see video above, 1 min 30 sec). We tried an interesting recipe inspired by Hermé - a carrot macaron. Inside the ganache filling we placed tiny cubes of the orange vegetable, which had been cooked in orange juice, lemon and cinnamon. I thought it was odd at first to put something that I thought of as savoury in a macaron, but the end result was this wonderful, fresh flavour with, yes, sweet notes of carrot.
One of the things that Hermé said that has stayed with me was about how he measured success. He talked about texture and emotion a lot, but essentially he noted: "If the person's face lights up upon eating my cake and a smile appears, that to me is a successful cake." After the event, I presented my carrot macarons to a few girlfriends. They couldn't guess that there was a vegetable inside them, but their faces did light up with each bite and each of them had a huge smile. Success!
*Pierre Hermé recently hooked up with beauty brand L'Occitane and opened a new concept store that is part boutique, part café, called 86Champs at 86, avenue Champs-Elysées. You may remember they've collaborated before in the past, a limited edition Christmas collection in 2015. As soon as I check it out, I'll report back. Do sign up below under Keep in touch if you don't want to miss it.
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