12 July 2010

With a little help from my friends...

Carrying on a conversation is problematic for me when I'm baking, as inevitably I pay more to attention to one than the other, but I love having music playing when I'm working away in the kitchen.  I don't think I'm alone in this, as this month's MacTweets challenge was Sing-a-Song macarons.  Normally I think I would have chosen one of the songs on my favourite baking playlist - and some french tunes would certainly be fitting for these popular Parisian sweets - but my quest for the perfect macaron recipe meant that a different song was more appropriate.

"What would you think if I sang out of tune,
Would you stand up and walk out on me.
Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song,
And I'll try not to sing out of key.
Oh I get by with a little help from my friends,
Mmm,I get high with a little help from my friends,
Mmm, I'm gonna try with a little help from my friends."

                                     John Lennon & Paul McCartney 

"With A Little Help From My Friends"... a classic Beatles tune from 1967's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Without our friends, where would we be?  I was fortunate enough to meet and make some new friends at Food Blogger Connect in London last month, and not just any friends, but fellow food-obsessed friends.  Among the many incredible new friends I made there, was one half of our fabulous MacTweets leadership duo, the lovely and talented Jamie from Life's A Feast, and the sweet and wonderful Cecilia from One Vanilla Bean, who was also my "tube-buddy" while in London.  I would love to have met the darling Deeba, our other head MacTweeter and the blogger behind Passionate About Baking, but she wasn't able to be there this year.

It's a fantastic thing to meet a fellow foodie; there's an immediate connection, a kinship that binds you as soon as you first shake hands.  I tend to be a bit guarded when I first meet people, so I was delighted & surprised when Cecilia and I headed out in search of a great restaurant for dinner one evening, only to find ourselves in a grocery store.... for two hours. Only another foodie can appreciate (or tolerate) spending a solid two hours in a grocery store in a foreign country.

what happens when you let two foodies loose...
Well, Cecilia and I never did make it to a restaurant that night.  Instead we filled our cart and fashioned a bizarre picnic dinner of goodies we couldn't get at home; the best double cream on the planet, tiny scarlet strawberries so flavourful my mouth is watering right now at the memory of them, crunchy coleslaw, jewel-toned root vegetable crisps, a creamy and young Asiago Pressato, some gourmet ice cream, French sparkling lemonade, Poilâne bread from France, a raspberry meringue the size of a dinner plate, and some delicious baked pasta and mushrooms.  I know, it sounds like a disastrous menu, but it was one of the most enjoyable meals I've had in years.  When we eventually were kicked out of the grocery store at 10pm, we headed back to the hotel and finished up dessert while chatting away till past midnight.  It was just a really great evening with someone I'd only met 36 hours earlier, but we share so much in common that it was as if we'd been friends for years, and I'm sure we will be friends for years to come.

darling Cecilia
But, back to the reason I chose this song... I've been on the hunt for a copy of Pierre Hermé's book Macaron, as well as La Pâtisserie de Pierre Hermé - a book I actually held in my hands a few years ago, only to put it back on the shelf because at the time, I could not justify spending €115 on a cookbook (I can't tell you how hard I've been kicking myself for that decision ever since!).  While I'm still hunting (and getting nowhere), dear Cecilia happens to have a copy of Macaron, and when she heard that I was still not able to get my hands on this book, she came to my rescue and e-mailed me the recipe for Pierre's macaron à l'huile d'olive et vanille, one of the specific reasons I want this book.  So, very literally, this month's MacTweets challenge would not have been the same had it not been for  "a little help from my friends".

Needless to say, after so much fruitless searching for his book, I was anxious to try this recipe from the pâtisserie genius that is Pierre Hermé.  Not only that, but while in London, Jamie, Cecilia and I discussed the pros and cons of macarons made with French meringue method vs Italian meringue method.  Having never tried the Italian meringue, I was curious to see if there would be a noticeable difference.  The verdict?  There absolutely is!  The entire recipe is quite different from the method I normally use;  first of all, only half of the egg whites are actually whipped.  The other half, in their liquid form, are mixed with the food colouring and stirred into the almond and icing sugar mixture.  The other egg whites are whipped into an Italian meringue, which is then folded into the almond-sugar-liquid egg mixture.  The result is a thicker, more stable batter that I found much easier to pipe, and didn't spread as much once it was piped.  When they baked up, these macarons kept that extra height and looked more like the very ones you find in Pierre's shop in Paris - or the one Cecilia and I visited inside Selfridges in London.

Pierre Hermé at Selfridges in London
Now for the sciencey portion of the program... Briefly, for those of you who may know the difference between different meringues, here is a basic overview:  all meringues are made up of whipped egg whites and sugar, but there are three main types of meringues, prepared and cooked in different ways.  In a French meringue, the egg whites are whipped with confectioners sugar or granulated sugar, and then baked as in a topping for lemon meringue pie.  Swiss meringue is made by combining raw egg whites and sugar, and whisking them over a bain marie to cook the eggs, then whipped into glossy stiff peaks off-heat.  To make an Italian meringue, hot sugar syrup is whisked into softly whipped egg whites.  The addition of the hot syrup actually cooks the egg whites, which makes them quite stable and suitable for a glossy icing for a cake, or a wonderful base for delicious almond macarons.

macarons à l'huile d'olive et vanille
As for the olive oil ganache, well that was a bit trickier than your average ganache, which is understandable when you think about the amount of oil that is being incorporated into something that doesn't typically contain oil.  Add to that, the fact that I may have mis-translated the instructions for the ganache, and heated the oil when I should not have.  Next time I make this, I will use the oil at room temperature, and I'm sure the ganache will turn out better.  That said, I am quite happy with the end result here, but when making it, the oil repeatedly separated from the cream and the chocolate, at least until the whole thing cooled down a bit.  I decided the best bet was to just patiently and gently whisk the ganache as it cooled, and I was rewarded with a silky and flavourful filling for my lovely green macarons.  Of course, because it is so silky and 30% olive oil, it becomes very soft at room temp, so keeping the finished macarons in the fridge is a must.  At Pierre's recommendation, remove them from the fridge about 2 hours before you wish to eat them, at which point they are the perfect consistency; crisp outer shell, chewy interior with a creamy filling and just a tiny piece of olive in the centre... sooooooooooooo gooooooooood. *wipe the drool from your chin, silly woman!*

There you have it, the master's method for perfect macarons.  Now that I've tried both recipes, I'll be sticking with Pierre's recipe.  After all, there's a reason he's called the Picasso of Pâtisserie.

Merci bien, M. Hermé....
Gorgeous Green Macarons
PS... a note on my never-ending quest for those two wonderful books.  Yes, I have searched every online vendor of books, and I have seen the €300 used copies of Macaron, but since the original book was only €30, it's more of a last resort.  I have even e-mailed the staff at Pierre's online store, explaining the situation and asking if they could ship books to Canada (I was unbelievably thrilled when I saw the books available on his store, and that Pierre would even pen a dedication in the book if requested!)  Unfortunately, I was told I should contact the publisher's directly and was provided their contact information.  Over a week has gone by and I have had no response from the publishers.  So, if anyone out there reading this happens to have M. Hermé's personal e-mail address, I'd love it if you could pass it along.  It seems that I have two options left: write to Pierre personally or hop a plane to Paris.  While I am always looking for another excuse to head to Paris, the €300 used copy is more in my budget for the time being....

Macaron à l'huile d'olive et vanille
adapted from Pierre Hermé's Macaron
(followed as closely as possible, but listing the ingredients I could get here)

150g almond flour
150g confectioners sugar
55g egg whites

150g granulated sugar
37g water
55g egg whites (yes, another 55g of egg whites in a separate bowl)
5g coffee extract
green food colouring

Olive Oil Ganache
175g white chocolate, chopped
75g heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean
113g olive oil
(because the flavour of the olive oil is in the spotlight here, choose a flavourful variety, preferably cold-pressed)
2-3 olives (preferably plain, unstuffed olives), pitted and chopped into small pieces

Prepare two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Using a fine mesh sieve, sift the almond flour and confectioners sugar together into a large bowl.
In a small bowl, mix the food colouring with the first 55g of egg whites.  Stir the coloured eggs into the almond sugar mixture until well combined and set aside.
In the bowl of standing mixer fitted with a whisk, whip the second bowl of plain egg whites until they are foamy but do not yet hold a peak.  Turn off the mixer and prepare the syrup:
Pour the water into a small saucepan, and pour the sugar into a mound the centre of the pot, but do not stir.
Place the pan over medium high heat, and keep your thermometer handy.
As the sugar begins to dissolve, gently and carefully swirl the mixture around to distribute any sugar that has not yet melted.
Once the syrup begins to boil, periodically check the temperature until it reaches 115˚C (239˚F).
Remove the pan from heat and check the temperature again - the syrup will continue to cook.
When the mixture reaches 118˚C (244˚F), turn the mixer up to medium speed and carefully pour the hot syrup into the egg whites in a steady stream.
 Once all of the syrup has been added, turn the mixer to medium-high and whip for another 2 minutes until the meringue is glossy and holds stiff peaks.
Using your thermometer, check the temperature of the Italian meringue - it should register about 50˚C (122˚F) or slightly cooler.
Fold the meringue into the coloured almond mixture until no white streaks remain, and has a consistency similar to cake batter.
Fill a piping bag with the macaron batter and pipe small rounds onto the prepared baking sheets.
Preheat the oven to 350˚F and place rack in the centre of the oven.
Allow the piped cookies to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to form a dry "skin" while the oven comes to temperature.
To make sure the cookies are ready to bake, gently touch one with your finger, if any batter sticks to your finger, they are still too wet.  You should be able to lightly press your finger to the top and have it come up clean.
Bake one sheet at a time, for 12 minutes.  You should have nice puffy macaron shells with the loveliest feet you have ever seen.  Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool.

While the macarons are baking, prepare the olive oil ganache.
In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, gently melt the chocolate.  Once the chocolate has melted, remove the bowl from the pan.
In a separate small pan, heat the cream until it is hot, but do not allow it to boil.
Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the cream and stir well.
Whisking gently, pour the cream and vanilla into the melted chocolate.
Pour the olive oil into the ganache and continue to stir until everything is well blended.
When you stop stirring, the oil should not separate from the ganache.  If it does, gently continue to stir the mixture as it cools, until the oil is remains emulsified in the ganache.
Fill a piping bag with the finished ganache.

On a clean work surface, turn the macaron shells upside down.
Pipe ganache onto half of the upturned shells and place a small piece of olive in the centre.
Pipe a small dot of ganache on top of he olive, so that the olive is completely covered.
Top each filled shell with an empty cookie shell and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Remove from the fridge about 2 hours before serving.
Believe me - they are absolutely worth the wait!!

Pierre Hermé inspired Olive Oil Macaron


Gastroanthropologist said...

Pierre Herme's macaron method is absolutely the way to go. I had the wonderful fortune of working with a pastry chef who spent nearly a year at Herme's in Paris. We actually baked together last week and made a number of his creations including kouign aman, tart vanille, and of course macarons - salted caramel and chocolate passion fruit to be exact!

Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite said...

Umm will that hate me forever if I tell you that I found Macaron (in French) at Amazon.ca for $75??? It is supposed to be coming out in English this summer so perhaps you will have more luck with that version?

In any case, your macarons are gorgeous and inspiring - I will be attempting Hermé's method next week for the first time and hopefully mine will turn out as lovely as yours!!!

lora said...

What a wonderful post. The macarons are just gorgeous. And the color WOW!

tspegar said...

these are fun. my best friend has to see your post! she would just die over these!!!

Daily Spud said...

I wonder if I will ever attempt macarons - I've never even come close to trying! At least I know to use M. Herme's method if I ever do :)

Cecilia said...

Julia!! These are absolutely perfect! My mouth is watering just at the thought of the smooth and creamy olive oil ganache. It was truly such a pleasure to hang out with you in London, I could not have wished for a better 'tube buddy'! I am so glad you liked the Pierre Herme method, welcome to team Italian Meringue ;O) xoxo

chocoparis said...

These are simply beautiful, and such a gorgeous shade of green. I've never tried the Italian method before, but now I'm tempted to do so.

Bonnie said...

I'm so embarassed that you could see the drool on my chin. Yes I was. Absolutely, just as you suggested. These macarons are that beautiful. I have never tried the Italian merinque method but I think I must the next challenge. Loved this post.

shewhisks said...

They look so pro! I feel scared when the thought of even attempting a macaron comes into my mind. One thing's for sure, I will definately be popping by Pierre's next time i go selfridges!!

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

These look awesome - I thought they were matcha at first because of the colour but I like what you've done here more.

Happy memories of FBC!

lauresophie said...

I have the book macarons, the one with the oliev oil is one of the next I defenitely want to try. But I read that you have to be really carefull with the temp of the ganache specially when adding the olive oil. However yours are really nice, and the colour just great (like the green olive)! Have a nice day!

Deeba PAB said...

Can macs be more gorgeous than these? WOW! Julia, you are a mac-pro!! I love them and I love the olive oil ganache. Fabulous macs and kissable 'feet'...
Hugs dear friend. Sorry I wasn't in at the FBC. Missed meeting up with you!!

Cristie said...

What a terrific post, I've learned so much. Next round I'll be using this recipe and the tips you've suggested. Your mac's are stunningly beautiful!

ParisBreakfasts said...

If you're going over at least go in October for the Salon du Chocolate but here's another suggestion.
Contact Galignani bookstore - I saw a copy there in June.
I bet they do mail order for less than 389 euros(the price went up on Amazon)
Bon chance

ParisBreakfasts said...

Macaron - Pierre Hermé - Agnes Vienot
Parution : 11 Septembre 2008
Prix indicatif : 29.90 €
Indisponible temporairement
there will probably be more copies in the Fall-another printing peut-etre...
I would contact them to hold one for you.
Yr macs are gorge!

ParisBreakfasts said...

I found La Patisserie de...for 115
Here. they are another good source for mail order.

Seattle Pastry Girl said...

Oh my gosh-first a wonderful post, but your macarons-PERFECTION !! just absolutely gorgeous...

Sue Sparks said...

I did my first mactweets challenge, and NEXT time I am going to try the Italiam Meringue! It sounds more labor intensive, but look at the glorious results! Your macs are gorgeous, and the cream is so, well, creamy!
Great post! Thanks for the info! Now I want that book too:)

Valentina said...

Julia , your macs look absolutely perfect.and you write about them as if they are the easiest thing to make.or better to say, as if they are achievable. I like that.i will keep my eyes open in case I come across this book - so far I haven't.