SIMPLY COMPLICATED: THE MACARON
The magical, melt-in-your-mouth combination of its sweet, silky centre nestled between two perfectly baked shells is like no other. Simple in structure, yet vastly complex in creation, this is the macaron.
The team at Le fournil Bakery prides itself in selling beautiful handcrafted macarons, and when I discovered that such a simple looking item came from such incredibly arduous process, I knew a behind the scenes look needed to be shared.
Chef Pascale Tétreault is a woman filled with pure, unbridled passion for her craft. When we sat down to discuss the entire process – from concept to creation – she spoke with her special brand of French-English phrases and animated enthusiasm. What follows is the labour of love undertaken by the amazing team at Le fournil each and every week.
To begin to understand the scale of difficultly in creating a macaron let’s first consider the fact that even for a huge macaron company in Montreal, who makes 10-12 batches per day, no two batches turn out the same, EVER.
At it’s most basic level, a macaron is two meringue cookies in which some almond meal and food colouring (Le fournil macarons have natural food colouring) are incorporated, and these two cookies surround the perfect amount of sweet filling.
The first step to it all is creating the meringue – also referred as the appareil (dough) – and achieving the perfect consistency is absolute key! Chef Tétreault explained that the consistency for an appareil depends on a long list of variable factors: The humidity. Is it too high or too low? The ambient temperature. Is it too hot or too cold? The strength of the person or machine is that is combining the mixture. Are they strong or gentle? The eggs. Where they are from and how old they are? Almond meal. How much fat is present in the almond that was used to make this flour and how old is it?
As Chef Tétreault says, “The Macaron is the single most difficult, finicky, annoying thing to make. But we love it.”
The next step is give shape to the appareil. “Now, create a template of small circles on your baking sheet and ensure they all the same size. Be extra careful to pipe a consistent amount into each circle; yes, size matters.” Chef Tétreault explains; “ Do not drop too much, or the shell will be too big and under baked; drop too little and the shell will be too small and burn.”
Patience is a virtue along this journey and we must let these circles sit for a bit before we put them into the oven. The amount of time needed depends entirely on the ambient humidity and temperature of the day.
Due to the overall lack of ambient humidity in Alberta, shells are often ready to be put into the oven after fifteen minutes of sitting. Other times, like a rainy day, they can take up to an hour or more. By comparison, if you’re in making macrons in Montreal in the middle of the summer… three hours later, you’ll still be waiting for your shells to set.
But, once they are dry, your little shells are ready to go in the oven.
THE HEAT IS ON
Now that it’s time time to bake your shells, ensure that your oven has a consistent heat throughout. If not, you will risk having to constantly check on your shells; flipping and moving them around on the pan often leads to burning.
Once they are safely in the oven, the only question on your mind will be, “Am I going to have pieds?” Pieds (feet) are the fluffy edges in the centre of a macaron and are determined by how much the meringue is baking under the hard shell. Pieds are 100% key to a perfect macaron.
In order to determine if everything has worked out just right, one of the tricks of the trade at Le fournil is to gently check and Chef Tétreault explained how her team does that, “Just to be sure, we take our macaron shells out of the oven, let them cool, and with a very sharp serrated knife we carefully saw one right down the middle – if they are perfectly baked, they will have no space between the meringue and the top, will be perfectly moist in the middle and have the right amount of crunch on top. Then onto the next step we go.”
CENTRE OF IT ALL
You may be surprised to learn that the shells themselves rarely have any flavour, because the majority of a macaron flavour actually comes from the centre.
The centre can be made from two types of bases: a ganache (milk and chocolate) or a crème au beurre (buttercream). Be extra careful about which you choose here. As you are seeking levels of perfection, flavours must be balanced. Take a few minutes to make your filling of choice and once that’s ready, put it aside and return to the shells.
Now, spend a few moments matching up all the pairs of shells. Due to the fact that the size of each shell is slightly different, it is important to ensure each pair of shells is as close in diameter as possible.
In the palm of your hand, cup one shell upside down and pipe some centre filling – just the right amount – then take your second shell and align the two halves so that they are nicely centred. Being centred is key so that when you press them together, the filling will make its way to the edges in a perfectly round, uniform layer.
Et bien, you may now breathe again, and feel free to take a moment to marvel at your little creation.
AGE BEFORE BEAUTY
Now it’s time for a rest! Mais, attend! On n’a pas fini! No, the rest is not for the baker, but rather, for the macarons themselves. Our little cookies are not quite ready yet because they need time to soften. This final 2-step process imparts more of the flavour into the shells.
To begin the maturation process macarons are refrigerated for 12-24 hours and, like with all the steps of this process, with just enough humidity but not too much. Then, they go into an air-tight container in the freezer. It’s important to note, explained Chef Tétreault, “There is air circulation in our freezer – so there’s not going to be any bad or old tastes. Plus we go through everything here so quickly that our creations are lucky to be in there for any more than three days”
Here at Le fournil Bakery, once our macarons are perfectly mature, you will find them behind the glass in our front of house and ready to be enjoyed.
So, the next time you’re eating a macaron from Le fournil, think of the complex journey that this little treat took to achieve such perfection. Savour it a little longer… or don’t, we won’t mind: there’s another batch ready in the back.