I spent my Saturday afternoon in a pro(ish) kitchen with my friend Josh (and a few strangers) learning how to make macarons. Basically my baking buddy Josh & I saw a voucher on Living Social for a course at the On Cafe and decided that learning now for cheap was better than our original plan to take the Eurostar to Paris and find a(n English speaking) chef there to teach us. I still wanna do that option too (and I’m pretty sure Josh would be as well), but this option produced a more immediate turn around with less planning.
I will start with I love macarons. I mean, don’t get me wrong I’m a chocolate chip cookie girl at heart and always will be, but I absolutely adore macarons. They’re colorful. They’re cute. They’re a tiny bit of a sugar rush that makes your teeth feel like melting. And when done right, they are amazingly tasty.
So how stoked was I to finally get to learn how to make these little delights? I’d been meaning to give it a go on my own from instructions and recipe I found online but frankly, they seemed like a lot more planning than I’ve had lately. And as I learned on Saturday that is not only true, but has many reasons why.
Josh & I arrived a little early (really only like 8 minutes but didn’t stop us getting remarked that we were “really early so would have to entertain ourselves”) but it was kinda nice to get to look around the kitchen a bit before anyone else got there. The course started off with the chef Loretta explaining what we were going to do and laying out the structure for the course. She would demo the whole process out to us and then we would crack on doing it ourselves. Her teaching manner is a bit brusque but she was straightforward and pushed observation over talking by telling us to hold our questions until the end, which worked for the most part until I forgot mine.
She told us to focus on getting the hang of three main things for the day and then the rest could be tweaked through our own trials and practice at home. The three things to strive to learn were 1) identifying the meringue was in the right state, 2) the folding technique so you don’t collapse your meringue, and lastly 3) the piping technique. Now #3 I felt pretty confident I’d be okay on as I have some mad skills with a piping bag from growing up with a mom who decorated cakes as a side gig for a few extra bucks. For #2 I also figured I could swing the hang of pretty quickly as sounded mostly like just adjusting stirring techniques I already had (and I bake enough I do know how to “fold” things into a batter, I just rarely do it for lack of caring/patience), so I wanted to focus a lot on getting down #1 since I knew being able to spot the correct state of a meringue was going to be more tricky and require focus.
There were only three mixers so we had to go in groups of three for using them but Josh & I were lucky enough to get in the first group. I popped in my eggs and started that puppy up. Then after a minute I added my sugar and let it do its thing while I watched closely. The mixers all had timers with them as they knew how long it would take to get to the right stage for each of them (and all mixers are different) so we were pretty sure when the timer was up it would be fine, but I really wanted to see if I could catch it myself. I about did but not quite though I do know what to look for. (And I also now covet one of those mixers. I mean, I always wanted one anyway, but now am doubley reminded why).
Next came the other tricky bit which was folding the meringue into the ground almond and powder sugar. The key here was you had to be fast but gentle, otherwise if you were too slow, the meringue would collapse before you got all the dry ingredients mixed in or if you were too rough you could collapse the meringue. I started briefly at too slow a pace but then I got the feel of their type of spatula and found my rhythm and got it all mixed up perfectly. You also have to be careful not to over fold it otherwise the batter gets really runny (cause the more you fold it the wetter it gets) so you have to keep checking for the slow drip once it’s about mixed.
Then came the fun bit, piping them all out. I love working with piping bags and always find them fun, so this was no different. Loretta even decided I was skilled enough to show me the fancy flick so they don’t get a spike on the top. I had all mine piped out pretty quickly and about the only fault was that I wasn’t overly consistent in making them the same size, but I wasn’t too fussed since I wasn’t trying super hard at that.
Once everyone had theirs piped out, they all went off to get baked up. We got a chance to buy things off the kitchen that they stocked so I snagged one of the nice silicon baking mats so I can remake macarons at home on it. Another reason to go to Paris will be to go shopping in the cooking supply stores for more gear. Soon they were all baked up and then we got to fill them with the lovely chocolate ganache that Loretta whipped up during the demo. I didn’t quite mind not having to do that bit of making as ganache is pretty brainless to make, though I did learn why some have butter and some don’t: the butter makes it shiny so if it’s for decor, you may want to use it, otherwise it’s optional.
And then there was a lovely box of macarons I made to take home and gobble up. I think I ate about 5 of the 30 on my own by the end of Satuday. My housemates were well impressed. Now I really want to give it a go making them on my own at home and I feel reasonably like I should be able to do so.
Chef Loretta was a bit rough around the edges but she’s a hardcore chef who definitely knows her stuff, which kinda makes you want to please her all the more by showing that you got it (at least for me and I think Josh felt the same way). I was beaming a little when after seeing me folding the batter she could tell I was an experienced baker and again later when she deemed me worthy of learning the piping flick. As I was hanging about for Josh to finish filling his macaroons with ganache she randomly asked if I was planning to run my own baking business and I was a little like “who me?”.
Maybe my “backup plan” (you know the one you have for when your day job goes to shit) of maybe having my own little cafe/bakery place someday isn’t so crazy. Well maybe it is, but that’s why it’s a backup plan.