Sunday, 8 May 2011
The Ladurée Dream
I have no sense of direction. I easily get lost and find maps confusing. However, when two of my closest, most trusted friends told me I had to visit the famous pastry-house Ladurée while in Paris, I had no choice but to stumble through this great city and hope I wouldn't get lost in some dodgy street and end up naked in a dumpster.
When I finally made it to 21 Rue de Bonaparte, it was like finding my true home. Everything was in perfect harmony, the beautiful window display, the chic waiters, the china, even the toilette was stunning. However, Ladurée is not famous for their bathroom design, but for being the very first pastry-house to stick two macaroons together with ganache filling in the middle. Regular macaroons had already been around for centuries, but the ganache filling raised them to a whole new level. They are truly irresistible, and quite addictive. Ladurée alone sell 15,000 of these macaroons, every single day.
I’m totally baffled by this. How do they make them all? Ladurée macaroons come in a wide variety of colours and flavours. Pistachio with raspberry filling, yellow ones with lemon ganache, parfait, passion fruit, chocolate, just to mention a few. And its not like they are easy to make. Even when you get it right, its still really time-consuming.
Yesterday I was in the kitchen for hours sifting almond flour, making chocolate ganache, whipping egg whites and boiling sugar. I was really pleased with the flavour and texture, but the shape is still something of a challenge.
Still, even an imperfect macaroon is superior to most cakes and cookies I can think of.
So I keep trying, keep baking, each time getting a little closer to the Ladurée dream in my own home.
Before you start, set the mode with this adorable movie:
1 cup minus 2 table spoons finely ground almonds
11/4 cups icing sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 large egg whites at room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar
¾ cup fine white sugar
2 cups whipping cream
250 gram dark chocolate, chopped
First we make ganache. I prefer to make it the day before I bake. It needs at least 5 hours to chill, but longer is better. You can of course make it the same day you intend to use it, but then there will be a lot of waiting around, hoping it will firm up soon.
Heat up the cream over medium heat until it simmers. Remove from heat and add the chocolate. Stir a few times, then wait 20 minutes, then stir again. Refrigerate for at least 5 hours, but no more than 4 days before using.
Preheat the oven to 320 degrees and line cookie sheets with baking paper. Depending on the size of your sheets, you will need at leas 2 or 3.
Tip: iron the paper before you put it on the sheets. Here is why: a crumbly, slightly uneven baking sheet might cause the bottom of the macaroons to be uneven as well. They need to lay perfectly flat while baking, delicate as they are.
Find a glass or cup that is about 11/4 inch round, dip it in water, then in flour, and press little circles on the sheet. This is an easy, stress-free way of making sure that all the macaroons come out the same size.
Now for the baking part. Blend together the grounded almond, icing sugar, and cocoa. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl fitted with a whisk, whip two of the egg whites and the cream of tartar together until soft peaks start to form. You get a better result if you start off with a slow speed, then gradually increase the speed as the whites stiffen.
Combine sugar and water in a pan and stir over medium heat. From time to time brush down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush. When the syrup reaches 241 degrees whisk it into the egg whites. Make sure you pour the syrup in a thin, steady stream, not all at once. Continue to whisk until soft peaks form. Now we have meringue!
Work the remaining egg white into the almond mixture with a fork. Then you stir in one quarter of the meringue, creating a soft, sticky paste. With a spatula, gently fold in the remaining meringue.
Using a pastry bag fitted with a ½ inch round tip, pipe rounds on the cookie sheet, staying within the flour-circle you created earlier. To get rid of unwanted air bubbles, gently tap the cookie sheet on the work surface. Let it stand until a skin forms, about 20-30 minutes.
Bake with the door slightly ajar for 12 minutes, rotate the pan and bake for another 12 minutes. While the next tray is in the oven, you are left with the fun task of getting the baked macaroons off the baking sheet. You do this by peeling the baking paper off the macaroon, not by attempting to peel the macaroons of the paper. Just do it slowly, gently, making sure not to break them. Another trick is to put a saucer of hot water underneath the baking tray. The steam releases the sticky macaroons from the paper.
When done baking, bring out the ganache. Gently beat it with a paddle attachment before using, this improves the texture. If it is too stiff to spread (it happens), stir it with a heated spoon or spatula.
In any case, sandwich 2 macaroons together with a dallop of ganache and refrigerate for 24 hours before eating.
Can you wait 24 hours? The flavours certainly improve over night, but I think it’s OK to try one or two right away. Put a couple on a little plate, have a seat and enjoy.
Please share your own recipes, or hints and tips related to macaroons. Someone always knows something clever that somehow escapes the recipe books.