Macarons, the delicate, colorful little bite-sized delicacies, have become a global obsession. Books and blogs are dedicated to them. A Google search serves up 20 million results. Once you’ve tried a good one — with an airy, meringue-based cookie that’s crispy on the outside yet nougaty inside, and a filling that’s creamy and sweet— you’ll understand why.
In Paris, you can find macarons in nearly every patîsserie and even in McDonalds cafés. But not all macarons are created equal. Many aficionados will agree that you can find the crème de la crème of macarons at famous patîsseries like Pierre Hermé, Ladurée, and the slightly lesser known café Carette. And brave foodies will try to make them at home.
But, they are not as simple to make as they seem. There’s a technique to making a macaron that looks as good as it tastes. The humidity in the room, the precise temperature of your oven, the way you pipe the batter, all affect the final outcome of a macaron.
A First Class Cooking School
So, I was thrilled when Stéphanie Boutet-Fajol, the founder of Sacrebleu Paris, which creates bespoke, luxury experiences for people visiting Paris, invited me to participate in a macaron making class. Especially because this was no ordinary class—it was at the prestigious L’Ecole Ritz Escoffier cooking school, housed in the legendary Hotel Ritz. Recently reopened after a four-year renovation, this sumptuous, 5-star hotel has been a favorite destination for celebrated guests from Ernest Hemingway to Coco Chanel and Princess Diana.
Founded by Auguste Escoffier, the first chef at the Ritz Paris and the pioneer of modern cuisine, the Ecole Ritz Escoffier has been teaching the art of French cooking to professional chefs as well as chef wanna-bes like me for 30 years.
Upon entering the gleaming kitchen, my classmates and I were inspired by seeing the pros preparing food for the hotel’s gastronomic L’Espadon restaurant in the adjacent cuisine. We then donned our aprons and waited for instructions from our instructor, Chef Christophe Messina, who has worked at top gastronomic restaurants including Guy Savoy and in the Shangri-La Paris.
As we had Chinese and English speakers amongst us, Sacrebleu had arranged for simultaneous English and Chinese translation. Chef Christophe explained that we were going to make bitter chocolate and raspberry-rose macarons — yum! Since we only had two hours, the first part was mainly demonstration.
We started by learning how the ganache (a creamy filling) is made. Aside from the macaron shells, what really distinguishes one macaron from another is its filling — which is usually either a ganache, flavored buttercream or fruit curd.
Chef Christophe showed us how all the ingredients — dark Valhrona chocolate chunks and powder, cream, and butter — get boiled and mixed together. Then, he set the tray of creamy chocolate ganache into the fridge to cool off while we proceeded to learn how to make the macaron shells.
Macaron shells are basically meringue-based cookies — a mixture of egg whites, sugar (Chef Christophe uses a blend of white sugar, brown cane sugar and confectioner’s sugar), almond powder, and food coloring to achieve the color you want.
The egg whites and granulated sugars are whisked together at a slow speed in an electric beater for 10 minutes. Then, with a rubber spatula in hand, you carefully fold the almond powder and confectioners sugar into the egg white-sugar mix to incorporate the dry ingredients, while trying to maintain as much volume as possible. If you overmix the batter, the macarons will not have the volume that gives them an airy, weightless texture.
Then, we got to roll up our sleeves and practice making the macaron shells by piping the batter through pastry bags onto silicone baking sheets. Fortunately, they have a handy sheet with circles printed on them to guide us (a must buy if you plan to attempt these at home!)
For the uninitiated, piping can be intimidating. But we all eagerly jumped right in. The process involves applying consistent pressure at the top of the pastry bag with one hand, while guiding the tip around in a steady, circular motion with your other hand, to form the macaron cookie. When it’s the right size, release pressure on the bag and do a little swirl motion with the tip to cut off any peaks that have formed. This part is a bit tricky, but practice makes perfect!
After the shells were baked and cooled off, we were ready to pipe the chocolate and the raspberry-rose ganache.
The Final Assembly
First, we had to line up the macaron shells with a mate of the same size and shape, one facing up and one facing down. We then piped the filling on all the face-up shells and made little sandwiches with the face-down shells.
Chef Christophe explained that macarons are best eaten the day after they have been assembled, as this allows all the flavors to meld together and the shells to soften just a bit. For the best results, pop them in the refrigerator overnight, then take them out about 20 minutes before serving at room temperature.
As a special treat, Sacrebleu arranged for us to have champagne during our favorite part of the class — the tasting. While not all of our macarons looked perfect, we were very pleased with our results! And we all left with a little box of macarons in hand to share with our families.
Sacrebleu Paris is an incoming travel service company catering to the needs and wants of discerning visitors. The team at Sacrebleu Paris has been serving the world’s most sophisticated travelers, offering them exclusive experiences to match their interests in French gastronomy, art, culture, shopping and lifestyle. They offer their services in French, English and Chinese.
INSPIRELLE was invited to participate in this course by Sacrebleu Paris, but the opinions reflected within this article are those of the writer.