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Tuesday, 21 January 2014
Words and Photography by Felicity Spector and Luiz Hara
We were invited to try out the 2 hour ‘Mastering Macarons’ baking class at L’Atelier des Chefs in St Paul's - held on a Friday evening between 6-8pm.
I have to confess I was rather sceptical about the idea of learning how to make macarons in such a short time. I've never tried them before, but watching vicariously as far more experienced Bake Off contestants and the like try and fail to achieve the right consistency and texture made me think it would take far, far longer for me to pick up the technique.
But the class promised macarons in two hours, and I was ready to learn.
Adorned in fetching plastic aprons, we gathered around our tutor for the night, Daniel Stevens, who had already begun the class at a gallop. In order to get a head start, he had managed to measure out some pre-prepared mixture onto trays, so they would dry out in time to put them in the oven.
All the ingredients we needed were already weighed out, and the equipment stood waiting - if only such preparation was so easy at home!
Under Dan's careful direction, we sifted flour and ground almonds, watched as egg whites and sugar ballooned into meringue in the Kitchenaids, and took turns to fold them together. A few dollops of the brightly coloured food colourings in - and we were done. So far, it was all very manageable.
We were then shown how to load up a piping bag and measure out the macaron halves onto the prepared baking trays. This was certainly a technique to remember, as we discovered how to look straight down at the tray, holding the nozzle into the dollop of mixture so it spread evenly and consistently. It was easier than I’d feared, and something I could replicate again.
We were invited to pipe our mixtures onto some trays: some produced lovely neat little macarons, while mine were frankly designed for a greedier person. Or perhaps 'generous' would be a kinder way to describe them.
Next they needed to dry before going in the oven - and the trays were placed next to open oven doors to speed up the process.
Dan carefully advised us how to make sure the mixture was the right consistency, and how to tell when the piped macaron mixture is dry enough to put into the oven: it should be slightly tacky and just firm enough to touch.
Onto the fillings: and there were four. A chocolate ganache was first, flavoured with a mint essence. I got a chance to get over my fear of making caramel - it really wasn't that scary after all. No saucepans were burned in the making of my toffee sauce. A citrus buttercream was surprisingly easy, and a delicious praline creme patissiere completed the lineup. Another useful recipe, which I'll keep for a later day.
Somehow all the fillings managed to set in time for us to fill our piping bags again, and sandwich the finished macarons together - there were certainly plenty to go around and we all filled takeaway boxes with our brightly coloured creations. I confess that we might possibly have eaten the odd one or two as well - but only the ones which weren’t quite perfect looking enough to take home. Honest.
I had arranged to take my batch to friends later in the weekend, and in retrospect I probably shouldn't have tried to keep the ones filled with the creme patissier for so long: they turned rather soggy after two days in the fridge, although they still tasted pretty good. The others held their shape and consistency far more impressively: the salted caramel version went down particularly well.
Dan advised us that macarons are far better eaten the day they're made - a sugar-filled midnight treat, then, or you could take the class right before a dinner party, and take them as a contribution towards dessert.
We were emailed the recipes for the macarons and fillings during the session, the easier to replicate them at home, although it would probably take me rather longer than 2 hours without Dan to provide his expert guidance.
I came away with some excellent tips: those piping techniques, the discovery that old egg whites make better meringues, and that caramel will not instantly burn to a blackened mess and wreck your pans. Our class definitely managed to de-mystify the art of macaron baking. Not such an impossible sweet to attempt, after all.
We were invited to attend the Mastering Macroons class at L’Atelier des Chefs St Pauls, 10 Foster Lane London EC2V 6HR, for more information visit their website here.
Classes cost £72 per person for two hours, and you can take home all the macarons you can eat.