Friday, May 4, 2018

Making Macarons!

Recently I took a cooking class to make macarons. This was my very first cooking class and to be honest I was a bit skeptical going into it - thinking what could I learn there that I wouldn't by reading blogs and watching Youtube cooking video, but neverthless I had some time and decided to give it a try. And boy was I surprised at how much fun it was and how much I learnt along the way!

I love baking - I find it very relaxing, almost therapeutic, but I'll confess, I am not very good at it. So one of the culinary objectives I have during this small break is to improve my pastry skills and a macaron making class seemed like a good way to kick start that initiative :)

I took the class at our local Sur La Table. The class included lemon macarons with two kinds of fillings: candied lemon w/ white chocolate ganache and second with lavender honey buttercream. The theme of the class was celebrating spring Provencal flavors.
Lemon macarons w/ candied lemon and white chocolate ganache filling and honey lavender buttercream.
It was a morning 9am class and about 7 other wonderful ladies were super excitedly waiting at the door by 8:50. It was a sunny spring morning with a bit of a chill in the air - so the weather set a perfect tone for our provencal spring baking class. 

Our group was a really fun one - and I think the fun, engaging group of bakers is really what made the class so much fun for me. Not to mention our teacher who never gave up bravely marching through the many many small things that went wrong along the way!

The store provided us with tea, coffee and some light snacks being it a 3.5 hour class. We put on our apron; heard a little history of macarons and started off with teacher demonstrating the right way of preparing them.

Then came the fun part - we were paired in groups of 3-4 and tried our hands at making the meringue first, then folding with sifted flours, piping, drying and then baking. 

I learnt so many things about baking - probably basics for an advanced baker, but were very educating for a novice one like me:
  1. Importance of sifting flours together - NEVER skip or shorten this step, and how different flour textures demand slightly different sifting techniques/times.
  2. Learnt that what I considered a meringue's stiff peak actually needed a minute or two more and was not ready.
  3. Learnt that I was doing folding the wrong way this whole time and it made so much difference learning the right way to fold the batter.
  4. Learning the science behind every step takes time but *really* helps. Once I knew why I was folding versus beating, my technique improved.
  5. How sensitive the meringue is to even tiny ingredient changes. Adding more lemon zest literally ruined it because of the oil released by the zest in the folding process! Again, learning science behind baking really helps.
Macarons were super sensitive to the texture of the batter - a slightly runny batter was enough to ruin a batch.


And so we finally prepared our batter and rolled the meringues learning the right piping techniques along the way.

Next big lesson was the importance of drying time for meringue. The batches which were rushed through even by 10mins, did not raise as well and did not have as pronounced "feet". So, we patiently waited the recommended drying time of 40minutes and spent that time making and tasting delicious fillings!

Fillings were fairly straight forward - a while chocolate ganache and candied meyer lemons and honey lavender buttercream. I never realized how a dish can be upped to the next level just by a simple addition of candied lemon - we have a meyer lemon tree at home so I am definitely going to make lots of candied lemons soon!

Another eye opener for me was the use of lavender in baking - oh my! The flavor was so delicate but yet unmatched. And the whole kitchen filled with the lovely lavender aroma as it was baking. If you have not, highly recommend baking with lavender. We have lavender growing in our garden, not sure why I didn't realize it's many culinary usages before.

Towards the end we assembled the macarons and again learnt different filling and piping techniques. The biggest take-away for me in this step was to really let go of the engineer within, ignore the-correct-way and let your creativity take over during pastry decoration phase. 

It was so much fun and a morning very well spent! But the best part was a large box of macarons I got to bring home to share and brag about - and seeing my daughter's delighted and amazed face that mommy can actually make something that looks like bought from a pastry shop:)  
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