Did I tell you about the time I learnt how to make macarons?
For her birthday, our neighbour organised a macaron-making class for a small group of her friends, and I was lucky enough to be invited.
There’s a small pâtisserie across the border in St. Louis, which is just a 10-minute drive from here. The pâtissier, Nicolas, conducts 2-hour macaron classes in the kitchen of his pâtisserie. We were in for a treat.
We assembled ourselves around a large marble-topped table, and Nicolas had already placed printed copies of the recipe on the table for us. Nicolas spoke very little English and for the most part, the lesson was in French.
What little French I learnt back in school has long packed up its bags and left the deep recesses of my brain, but thanks to the printed recipe, which was in English, and Nicolas’ brilliant miming, I wasn’t entirely lost. I did have to surpress a laugh every time Nicolas mentioned “egg whites”, though. Because he was literally translating from French, he said “white eggs” (blanc d’oeufs). And because he spoke with a heavy accent, whenever he said “white eggs”, it sounded like “wife eggs”. Macarons use a lot of egg whites, you see, so there was a lot of “wife eggs” throughout the lesson. All I could think of was ovaries.
Anyways, it was only towards the end of the lesson did Nicolas realise we could understand a bit of German, so he switched to German.
Man, I really envy the multilinguism of the Europeans. I can’t even call myself truly bilingual, as I would be hard pressed to converse or write as eloquently in both Malay and English as some of my friends. Schade.
So under Nicolas’ tutelage and watchful eyes, we went about making macarons.
Oh my gosh. I’ve always known macarons – and French pastries in general – are highly technical in nature, but I never really realised how technical.
For instance, to get the syrup which you later mix into the beaten egg whites, you have to boil sugar and water to precisely 118 degrees Celcius. But you only start beating the egg whites when the syrup has reached 107 degrees Celcius and not any sooner, because in the time that it takes for the sugar to go from 107 to 118 degrees, the egg whites would have reached the perfect – or almost perfect – texture.
Oh and to make the syrup, you have to make sure you pour the water first into the pot, and then the sugar. If you pour the sugar in first before the water, you’ll get caramel – which you would have to constantly stir to avoid it getting burnt.
And then, when you pour the syrup into the egg whites (while they are still being beaten), you have to make sure none of the syrup touches the metal beaters – which requires some dexterity, as the beaters are spinning rapidly in the bowl. According to Nicolas, if the hot syrup touches the metal beaters, air bubbles will form. Or something to that effect.
Way too sciency. I thought I’d left the scary confines of the physics and chemistry labs a long, long time ago…
Anyways, thankfully none of us made any sciency technical mistakes (only because Nicolas was around), and we managed to pipe out blobs of macaron mixture onto the baking sheet, make the ganache filling, and pop them into the big industrial ovens!
The bit I enjoyed the most was assembling the macarons; pairing up equal-sized shells, piping the ganache onto one shell, then popping the matching shell on top and giving it a nice squeeze to secure it! It was the least sciency bit of the entire process.
It was a nice way to celebrate a birthday, and we all had fun. And to top it all off, we got to take the macarons home!
I would never be able to make them on my own, though; it’s just too precise and technical for me. No, thank you. A lemon drizzle cake, perhaps. Candy thermometers and piping bags? That’s what pâttiseries are for.
Oh, and from now on, every time I see macarons, I think of ovaries.