Sunday, April 17, 2011

Making Macarons in Paris

by EP

Loyal readers and/or anyone I've spoken to in the past few months knows I recently went on a trip to the City of Light, PARIS!  BFF Rachel and I had such an amazing trip: we toured famous sites, wandered through quaint cities, nibbled on croissants and sipped espresso (or beer) at streetside cafes, and partied into the wee hours at fun Parisian bars with fun Parisian folks.  Oh, and stared at the ridiculously attractive French men.  Le sigh.  But alas, this is a food blog, so I will be blogging over the course of the next few posts about some of the amazing food we had during our 8 day adventure.

One of the highlights of our trip was the cooking class we took!  This was something we had planned and booked months before our trip.  There were several English-speaking cooking schools to choose from, and based on TripAdvisor and guidebook recommendations, we ended up going with Cook'n with Class, a cooking school in Montmartre offering a wide variety of classes, from French pastries and breads, to desserts, to wine and cheese tastings, to market trips + dinner, to macarons.  Rachel deferred to me in the course selection, and I thought a lot about what kind of class I'd want to take.  I decided on the macaron class for several reasons: (1) macarons are so hot right now, they are perhaps the next cupcake; (2) I've always preferred making cookies or other individually sized treats, versus breads or big cakes; (3) I had no idea how to make macarons, so the class would truly be a learning experience.

So we signed up and made our way up to Montmartre (which turned out to be my favorite area of the city) the day of our class.  Class size is limited to 5, so Rachel and I were joined by a mother-daughter-granddaughter trio from the Bay Area.  They reminded me of when I first went to Europe with Xani, and our Mom and Grandma Claire - my other great European trip :)

We got started with Chef Briony, an Aussie who has been living in Paris for 10 years.  She explained that macarons are one of the most precise cookies you can make - we were measuring things in grams, and even when something was 2 grams off, we had to fix it!  2 grams!!  (BTW, this is exactly the moment I knew Xani would be interested in making these cookies.)

Chef Briony explains the piping tips we'll be using

For those who don't know, macarons are sandwich cookies - two almond-based cookies surrounding a filling of some sort.  Ideally they are the diameter of a golf ball, and are meant to be eaten in one delicious bite.  In our class we made three fillings: passionfruit-chocolate ganache, raspberry jam, and salted caramel, and then we died the cookie batter different colors to complement these fillings.

We made the fillings first, and let them cool/set up while we made the cookies.  The cookies were the more precise piece of the puzzle.  They are made from almond meal and powdered sugar, which is made into a paste with egg whites (egg whites that are four days old, mind you, so advanced planning is needed!).  Then an Italian meringue (sugar syrup + egg whites) is folded into the almond paste, and then, interestingly, Chef Briony instructed us to "macaronage" - beat the batter so it forms a ribbony, shiny dough.  In other words, after making such a fluffy meringue, we beat all the air out of it!

Watching the Italian meringue in action

Meringue added!

Licking the bowl is the best part :)

Macaronage in action!  It was hard work, actually...

Once the dough was ready, we died it with gel food coloring (not liquid - it would mess up the composition of the batter), and piped the cookies onto parchment.  Then, you wait for a skin to form, like on pudding or pastry cream - about 10 or 15 minutes.  And if it doesn't form?  Something went wrong.  Start again.  Chef Briony told us if things aren't looking right, just start over - it'll save you time in the end instead of going through the whole process and have the final product be wrong.  This actually happened when we were cooking - the Italian meringue was lumpy, and didn't look right, so we started fresh.  Good thing we had extra 4-day-old egg whites!

Died and ready for piping

Chef B shows us how to pipe and flick the batter to the side - this results in a smooth top to the cookie

Proud of our piping skillz

After the cookies are baked and have formed their signature "foot" where the cookie rises a bit, the cookies are cooled, paired up, and filled with filling.  And then you're done?  Nope.  Sure, you can sneak one or two to check out the taste, but Chef Briony explained that these cookies should be served the 1-2 days after baking.  This is so the cookies and filling can merge together, and more importantly, so the proteins in the egg whites can relax, which results in a super-tender cookie.  It's. Heaven.  Trust me.

Piping and pairing up the macarons
The rough edge of the cookie is the "foot" you want...if you don't get it, you got a problem

So, 4 hours later, we had our colorful cookies in hand, and we tried so hard not to eat them until the next day!  We served them on our final night to cousin Alexis and her husband Rob, who came to Paris to visit with us and eat lots of pain au chocolate, and our lovely hostess Jeanne.  They proclaimed them some of the best ever!!

The class was a great experience, and I would highly recommend Cook'n with Class if you are headed to Paris and want to spend the morning or afternoon cooking and learning something new.  Magnifique!

Our class with Chef Briony - so proud of our finished product!

We made friends with Daniel, the cooking class assistant

More Paris posts coming soon!



  1. The macarons were indeed awesome! Alexis and I passed a bakery the next day, and just by looking in the window we could see all the imperfections in their macaron construction techniques... :)

  2. I can't believe how complex these cookies are! Definitely makes me appreciate them that much more, though I think my next baking attempt will be good old, humble macaroons. :)

  3. So much fun, reflected in a great post. Thanks, EP! I'll make macarons with you any day.

  4. When were you there? I participated in the macaron class on 11 April with Briony. We made the same macarons, my favourite was the salted butter caramel. Which one was your favourite?

    I will also write a post on my blog about the macaron experience in Paris! :)

  5. Zita - I think my favorite was the passionfruit ganache! We were there on 7 April - just missed you!

  6. Oh, we arrived to Paris on 7 April, in the afternoon! :)

    We only made chocolate ganache without passion fruit. We were supposed to make with passion fruit but we left it out. Briony explained why but I don't remember.

    I tasted Pierre Hermé's chocolate-passion fruit macarons and I loved them!

    How many days did you spend in Paris? What did you like the most? Was it your first time in the city of light?

  7. EP- I cannot wait to make these with you! I need to start aging egg whites ASAP. Let's start thinking about what cooking class to take on our Italian adventure! xoxo

  8. Yum, they look so good. Love the blog!

  9. Great story Erin! I'm glad you got to experience the joys and pains of macarons! Now imagine making 5 full sheet trays of them twice a week! And that was just in Baltimore! xo

  10. Holy mackerel, I never dreamed they would be that complicated! Four day old egg whites? Boy you'd better not screw up your process.

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  12. nice macaroons .. looks so delicious .. nice post ..


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