Because I have an obsession with perfecting my macaron technique, Jess bought me Pierre Hermé’s macaron recipe book for Christmas. For those of you unfamiliar with him, he’s one of the most famous creators of the macaron; he has cafes in Paris, London, and Tokyo, and he’s as famous for his traditional macarons as he is for creating unorthodox ones, like olive oil or black truffle.
Even in my free time, I’ve been busy with work-related stuff for the last couple of months, so the minute I had a free weekend I decided that I would tackle one of Pierre Hermé’s recipes. Many of them required obscure ingredients that needed to be ordered from specialty stores, so I chose one that contained items we could easily obtain at a grocery store. Little did we know that this was probably one of the more complicated recipes in the bunch. What was supposed to be a leisurely Saturday of baking turned into a two-day intensive extravaganza.
We chose the Piétra macaron, which is a hazelnut macaron with a caramelized hazelnut praline filling. Yum!
This recipe presented a lot of challenges. Because it is an English translation of a French recipe, all of the measurements were in the metric system, but we were undaunted. Grams, you say? Well, we are nothing if not resourceful. Our baby scale, which we use to weigh our cat, (yes, I am completely aware of the ludicrous sentence I just wrote) can double as a kitchen scale. Furthermore, we are clearly too used to American recipes, which, for the most part, are very clear and straightforward. This was less clear: Jess and I felt the need to “translate” the recipe as we went along.
This recipe started days ago: liquefied egg whites are better for making macarons, so they should go in the fridge, covered, with some holes poked in the top, at least a few days in advance.
Next up, weighing, toasting, and skinning the hazelnuts. After they were all toasty, we went about caramelizing a portion of them which would eventually end up in the praline. We heated some sugar and water, added the hazelnuts, and stirred…
soon, they looked like this… and then with more heat, they looked all golden caramelly.
Mmm. This got us thinking about other recipes in which we could incorporate caramelized hazelnuts. But that’s for another post. Back to the macarons!
In previous macaron recipes, I had made a French-style meringue, but Hermé prefers to make his macaron shells with Italian meringue, which involves making a heated sugar syrup which is then poured over stiffened egg whites.
this is NOT, however, what your sugar syrup should look like. Don’t stir– l learned that the hard way. Let it simmer. Use a pastry brush, dipped in water, to brush down some of the excess sugar back into the syrup. It should not turn amber, it should not turn into chunks. It should pretty much stay transparent before you pour it into the egg whites. Our second attempt went better.
On the side, we had to create a sifted mixture of ground almonds, confectioner’s sugar, and ground toasted hazelnuts. We poured a portion of the egg whites, unbeaten, on top of the eggs.
Finally, we combined the sugar syrup/ egg whites with the nuts/ confectioner’s sugar/ egg whites to create a light meringue/nut batter. We piped out little semi-uniform rounds onto parchment paper,
sprinkled them with chopped hazelnuts,
and baked them.
And then, on to the filling. (Seriously, this was about 8-10 hours of work later.)
We made another Italian meringue with heated sugar syrup and stiffened egg whites. In another bowl, we whipped some butter and added crushed caramelized hazelnuts. We folded in the sugar/egg whites with the butter/ hazelnuts, and voilà! Hazelnut praline cream.
We finally piped the cream onto the shells… two days after we had started. Next time it won’t be such a long odyssey, but this was an exhausting, but delicious process.