French Macaroons have been high on the “Food Trend-O-Meter” in the past few years. In fact, they have stuck around the longest amongst the other desserts like Red Velvet cupcakes, Jam-jar desserts and the latest fad of Waffles. I guess the reason they have stuck around so long could be because that they aren’t easy to make (although they look deceptively simple) and also that the kind of fillings, flavourings and colours you can get around in them are vast. Believe me, the options are endless and that is what makes them an all season product to have.
French Macaroons have two aerated shells that are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside filled with fillings such as ganache, buttercream or even fruit compotes. A perfect French macaroon takes a lot of skill.
I had tried making them on quite a few occasions earlier and failed miserably too. So, the first thing I looked up when I had a business trip to Nice, France scheduled out in June was for authentic French Macaroon workshops. Well, I was there for work but then I did take a couple of days off for myself being my first trip to the South of France.
I found the class “Les Petit Farcis” amongst a couple of others. However, what set them apart were the varied other classes such as farmer market trips, Nice street food tours and even an Organic cooking class that they hosted. They had some fantastic reviews online too.
I registered for their class online and was set for a Sunday during the weekend I was scheduled to spend in Nice.
Day of the class and I decided to take some time out to wander around the local farmers market that happens in Nice every Sunday. The market is another experience altogether.
Anyway, post the market; I walked into the smaller bylanes around the area where my map showed the class as being run and reached a quaint little set-up by the street that served as their food studio. A rather homely set-up with chairs and a communal table, a kitchen and all possible tools and equipments that one would need to create some rather wonderful dishes.
We were about 12 people in the class – an American family with 4 children, a couple from Iceland, a gentleman from Canada and me. Rosa and Sophie were the co-ordinators of the workshop.
The class was a combination of some elements being demonstration items and most of the others as hands-on with everyone pitching in and getting their hands dirty in the macaroon-making job.
We made some Italian meringue as opposed to French Meringue as it was more stable to work with and sort of fail safe. Two flavours were chosen for the day – Orange shells with white chocolate ganache and a Chocolate shell with Chocolate ganache.
The orange shell mixture was flavoured with fresh orange zest while the chocolate shell mix had some cocoa powder.
Piping bags ready with the meringue and all of us set up to pip the macaroon shells on the given templates. Turns out, we weren’t experts at piping these “so simple looking” round shells on the baking sheets. There is a precise technique to be followed and once you master that, the shells turn out to be beautiful, smooth rounds. Rosa and Sophie made sure we were taught the correct way to hold the piping bag, the correct technique to pipe the shells and what disasters to avoid as well.
The shells were put away into the oven for baking. A lot of finer points that I had initially messed up when I was making the macaroons by my own were cleared here. The temperature settings, the humidity levels to keep in mind, the shell sizes amongst a few.
With the shells cozy in the oven and happily baking away, we shifted attention to the next best part – making the fillings.
We were scheduled to make two of them; one of white chocolate and orange flower water and another was a chocolate with salted caramel. Orange flower water is a very typical flavour to come across in Nice. There are shops were Orange flower extract is readily available. I was extremely glad that we weren’t using any synthetic flavouring in the macaroons and that both the filings were made using all natural ingredients. It makes you happy in this processed ingredient world.
We all chipped in for making the fillings. It wasn’t too difficult and we also got a lot more ideas that we could explore for making the fillings from a couple of books they had there for reading. Unfortunately, I missed taking down the book names or their authors.
The fillings went for resting in the fridge and work started on making a caramel sauce. It is all about balance of flavours in this one and the salt does the trick here. A few minutes into the job and we had a smooth, silly toffee caramel sauce in the pan and on a few spoons that had already dived in it for taste tests. After all, everything needs a taste test, right?
The oven pinged indicating the shells were ready to come up. One look through the oven window and all I could hear were several “Oohs” and “Aahs” looking at the smooth, coloured Macaroon shells with dainty crusted feet.
Sheets came out and the next wait was for them to cool down before we could pick them off the baking sheets. Believe me, this was the hardest task we had that day – “WAITING”. Try and imagine our plight – ready macaroon shells, fillings ready to be piped onto them and eager and hungry stomachs and what were we to do – just wait for the shells to cool to a decent room temperature to avoid them sticking or breaking.
Well, we did manage to keep our hands off these beauties (OK..OK..a few of us did get impatient and tried taking them off the sheet only to get a couple of them cracking, but hey…we ate them. No wastage there)
Shells ready, piping bags with the fillings in hand and we started the piping job.
The orange flavoured shells were filled with the white-chocolate ganache with orange flower water and the chocolate shells were filled with smooth chocolate ganache, a small spoonful of caramel inside and a sprinkling of sea salt.
I guess we must have made about a 100 of these beauties in the class – well, everyone was to get a few to take home. Working together in a kitchen is one of the quickest ways to make friends I think. Everyone starts talking while sharing common tasks and the ice does get broken down much quicker. All of us sat down for a quick chat about ourselves, a bit of life, travel experiences but mostly, it was all about eating the macaroons – first ever that we all had made in our lives.
I always say “Nothing connects people like food” and this was a perfect example of that. I have been on food classes earlier too during my travels and it is one of the best ways to interact with the locals, get them to share more of their experiences around their local culture and possibly, play a role in passing their legacies forward too by passing the word forward to others who may be interested in such events but would have no idea off.
I am yet to make a batch of Macaroons back home in Mumbai, mainly because the season is extremely humid owing to the monsoons here currently (that’s an excuse) but more because I want them to be absolutely perfect as I made them in France and I need a sort of relaxed holiday to get it all done. Maybe in a couple of weeks, I guess.