Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Macarons in Poitou Charentes, France

La Rochelle
This seaside fort that is hundreds of years old has a massive cylindrical-shaped tower surrounded by a long wall, that gives a medieval ambience to shops that are not too far away. Together with the ile of Re, it was a stronghold that protected France, even during world war II, when the city was a submarine base.

In a bakery at La Rochelle, I recall finding a variety of flavored macarons. Not just food-colored macarons with varied jelly fillings, but different flavored macarons that came with flavored buttercream or ganache fillings. They had not only almond, chocolate, pistachio, and macarons; they also had bluegrass, jasmine, lavender, and rose. There is something scintillating about finding flavors that you don't expect in your dessert; not to mention finding flavors that you didn't even know were edible.
History of the Macaron
Near La Rochelle, in Montmorillon (Poitou-Charentes region), there is a museum dedicated to almonds and macarons, one of the towns where one of the earliest versions of macarons were first made since 1673, after the first non-sweet macaron shells (similar to amaretti cookies) were brought by the Medicis from Italy in 1611. The words macaron and macaroni mean "fine paste".
Almonds, the main raw material included in this delicacy, were first taken to Vienna from the Middle East.
La Duree in Paris, however, is the first place that made the modern version of the macaron, in the beginning of the 20th century. Pierre Desfontaines, a relative of the owner, placed ganache (melted chocolate with whipping cream) in between two macaron shells.
Other towns and regions reknowned for their macaron cookies, which are all differ quite a bit: Amiens, Le Dorat, Sault, Cormery, Joyeuse, Chartres, Nancy, Boulay, Saint-Emilion and Sainte-Croix.

My second Macaron Wreck, consisting of cracked shells.

Pierre Herme Recipe (adapted instructions and quantities) from Secrets Gourmands
140 grams of almond flour
240 grams powdered sugar
100 g egg whites, at room temperature
pinch of salt

Age egg whites for 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator, in a container that is loosely covered with aluminum foil. If you will make your own almond flour, loosely weigh the almonds, then blanche them (place the almonds in skins in boiling water for 2 minutes, then remove them) so that you can easily remove the skins. Once the skins have been peeled, let the almonds dry. Then you may place them in a coffee grinder, on the finest grinding setting. Grind the almonds, then sift the meal. Use only the almond flour that has gone through the sifter.
Sift the almond flour and powdered sugar, and place in a bowl. Beat the aged egg whites separately, then add them to the dry mixture. Beat at least fifty times.
Pour the beaten egg whites onto your almond flour mixture and gently fold them in, using a rubber spatula. Move your spatula from the bottom of the bowl to the edges with one hand, using your other hand to rotate the bowl. Watch a video to get a clear idea: 
Now hit the spatula against the rim of the bowl until the batter falls in a wide ribbon when you raise the spatula. When you can´t see any crumbs of almond flour and the mixture is shiny and flowing, the batter is ready.
Place your batter in a pastry bag, and add a number 12 tip. Squeeze the bag in a 90 degree angle onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, that has the 2.5 inch macaron-patterned-printout underneath. If you prefer a smaller sized macaron, choose the 2 centimeter macaron pattern. It was surprising that one of the black and white patterns I found online was so pretty and elegant that it was perfect for putting me in the right mood for piping.
When you're squeezing, don't move it; just let the batter puff up around it, until the circle you see underneath the paper is full. Then shake the pan delicately sideways, against the tabletop, holding the paper in place with your thumbs,  until the tips on top of the batter rounds disappear. If necessary, poke them delicately with a spatula to get rid of them. Preheat the oven to 325 F. TIP: Let the macarons rest for 30 minutes.

TIP: Place the cookie sheet on top of another cookie sheet, and insert the pair in the oven. (TIP:) Insert a wooden spoon between the door and the rest of the stove. Bake for 14 minutes, and test; if it is necessary, leave it longer, until it is cooked. TIP: After you take them out of the oven, cool for 2 minutes before peeling them off.

Macaron shell wrecks


Chocolate Ganache
8 oz. semisweet chocolate
4 oz. whipping cream
Melt chocolate for 30 seconds in a bowl in the microwave, then stir. and add whipping cream.

TIP:Once you place the filling in between the shells, you can let the pastry wait for 1 or two days in the refrigerator until it has the right texture (some say it is a marriage of flavors).

Upcoming posts

Salted Caramels from France (Ile de Re)
Milk Candy from Antigua Guatemala


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