I think I upset some friends on Facebook. I “rubbed it in”, as it were. Well, yes I did and I’m sorry. Sorry because now I’m going to talk about it yet again: eating pastries in Paris.
These last few days I’ve taken a break from baking. The weather has been surprisingly summery after such a LONG winter that for once, it seemed wrong to stay in the kitchen. So there was nothing else for it but to take the short ride into Paris for a taste of some pastries and macarons. Would I do it on my own? Of course not. The pastry binge was with one of the most serious pastry tasters I know. Here he is in action:
My gourmet friend, Adam Wayda, has finally arrived from the US to spend the next few months in Paris, tasting his way around the best pâtisseries in the City of Light. You probably already know him from ParisPatisseries.com fame. Tasting pastries with the reviewer himself was seriously fun. I mean, this was my breakfast and lunch: for Adam, he had already a head start beforehand! How does he do it? Fat pants, he says.
This was my first time at Jacques Genin’s chocolaterie in rue de Turenne and I was so glad that Adam had suggested it. The luxury chocolate boutique is full of the most incredible sculptures that are showcased like museum pieces. Time for a seat and a taste of Monsieur Genin’s Ephemère: a mix of chocolate mousse and passionfruit on a charlotte base, while Adam attacked a caramel éclair. Would he stick it under his nose like a moustache first? Just take a look at that hot chocolate. It’s not for the faint hearted.
We couldn’t leave without getting a few of Mr Genin’s legendary caramels. Adam persuaded me (it didn’t take much convincing) to try the mango/passion fruit caramels and the caramels au gingembre. True, at 110€ a kilo, one or two is fine. But you know me, that’s inspiration enough to make some at home à la Jilly. In the meantime, why not add some ground ginger and finely chopped glacé ginger to a crème au beurre salé?
Genin’s boutique was wonderful but he didn’t have any macarons. So Adam suggested a wee stroll up to rue Rambuteau to drop in for some macarons at Pain de Sucre.
This is what was left from my doggy bag: chocolate mint, caramel au beurre salé, morello cherry-pistachio and chocolate-passionfruit. My first taste was his Fleurs de Sureau (Elderflower) macarons. Absolutely delicious. Cassis/Blackcurrant was excellent, too. The chocolate mint was just so refreshing with a dark chocolate button in the middle. Although it was hard and I had to take it out and eat it at the end, it was full of flavour. In fact, all of Monsieur Mathray’s macarons are just bursting with flavour at Pain de Sucre.
That’s what I adore in a macaron. But as you can see, the shells are not quite perfect. Some were coarse, some had cracks and some not perfectly round. But does that REALLY matter? Even Monsieur Mathray isn’t worried about absolute perfection. Some of his macarons may have a slightly bumpy shell (or “homestyle charm” as Adam calls it) but the taste is just fantastic.
On the other hand, there are also many famous Parisian macarons that LOOK absolutely perfect but if you were given a blind tasting (i.e. not influenced by its colour or fancy name associated with it), it’s often difficult to tell the exact flavour you’re eating.
Many readers are excited when they get their macarons perfect first time. That’s brilliant. Even my Dad made fabulous macarons recently for the first time ever and he doesn’t even BAKE for goodness sake! But I’ve been amazed at some readers who make macarons for the very first time and are expecting complete and utter perfection. They worry when they have a slight crack or feet that are not big enough. Please, please: don’t be so hard on yourself!
There are macarons – expensive macarons – in many great pastry shops in and around Paris that have been making them for years and they’re sometimes not quite “perfect”: not the perfect looking shell or perhaps a perfect shell but not enough flavour. They are made by professionals with the right equipment with fancy ovens. Professionals have access to liquid egg whites in cartons that do act differently. Many use macaron-making machines. We’re making them at home in our own kitchens, often with ovens that are so-so.
Just remind yourself of this and have confidence that the next time you’ll get it right, once you’ve ensured you’ve done everything in the recipe and followed the tips in the book. Have you checked the oven’s exact temperature with an oven thermometer? Did you whisk your egg whites enough to stiff but still glossy peaks? Feet not good enough? Then leave your macarons out to dry a bit longer before baking them. Some people say they don’t need aged whites or they don’t need to dry out their macarons. Great. But again, we’re baking them in our own home kitchen and not as a professional baker.
Making macarons is not a competition: it’s about having fun, being creative and above all, enjoying them! There’s nothing quite like getting that rush of excitement when the feet form in the oven and you can think up your own flavours, bringing out the artist in you. To be able to say “I did that”. I mean, have you done the macaron dance out of sheer excitement with these things? The proof in the pudding, though, is the taste.
Talking of being creative…. for all macaronivores who are fans of the forthcoming Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate, I’m looking to showcase YOUR inspired macaron creations for a Special Royal Macaron Procession on Le Blog on 29 April. It’s not a competition. Just a fun post to share our macaron ideas; it could be a typically British inspired flavour or on a decorative flag theme of red, white and blue. Please send me your photos to jill(at)madaboutmacarons(dot)com and I’ll add them to LeBlog. Have fun! But wait…
Before you go, just a word for anyone who missed our first Blog Post from Erin, author of BigFatBaker.com. She is kicking off a brand new series of egg yolk recipes on the site with her organic pineapple curd. Just perfect for all those egg yolks left for making macarons!