Like most girls who binge-watched Gossip Girl during their summer vacation and then made a point of visiting 864 Madison Avenue, I treasure the delicate, pastel cookies that can make a girl feel chic and Parisian even if she isn’t dressed in head-to-toe Chanel. I had tried making macarons once or twice and while they wouldn’t have necessarily ended up on a BuzzFeed list of Pinterest fails, they also certainly would not have awarded me a diploma from Le Cordon Bleu. They are temperamental little things! Everything from the temperature of your egg whites to the way you fold your meringue to the humidity in the air to the outfit you’re wearing can affect the quality and success of your macarons (okay, maybe not so much that last one…but wearing a striped shirt does help you to feel the part of Parisian pastry chef). Because they are one of the trickier desserts to master, I figured it was worth signing up for a cooking class.
Even though I grew up watching the Food Network (since elementary school- I got a Magic Bullet blender for Christmas when I was 10) and understand the difference between a julienne and a mince, shallots versus scallions, folding versus stirring, I figured a proper instructional training wouldn’t hurt. Sur La Table was offering a class called “Summer Macarons”—on the menu: Strawberry Macarons with White Chocolate Ganache and Mango Macarons with Coconut-Vanilla Buttercream. YUM!
The class had 12 students in it (Sur La Table allows for a maximum of 16) which was a decent amount—I think the less people, the better! More time to ask questions, a chance to sift the sugar, and more leftover food to eat at the end of class! Of course, this is really out of your control so the best thing to do is remember the motto of your Kindergarten classroom— “Sharing is Caring.” Everyone took turns sifting the dry ingredients, folding the batter, piping the macarons, and of course EATING! (I ate three in the store and took two extras home).
The shells of the macarons were exactly the same except for the food coloring—the strawberry and mango flavoring came from a dollop of fruit preserves placed in the middle of the buttercream/ganache filling. You could easily buy a jar of preserves from the grocery store or farmer’s market but if you’re going through the trouble of making macarons, you might as well make your own preserves, right?!
Without walking you through every moment of the three-hour class, I will share some of the most valuable and interesting tidbits I learned:
- This particular recipe for macarons calls for a 300 degree oven. If I haven’t emphasized this enough already, macarons are EXTREMELY temperamental and the slightest shift in temperature could completely alter their success. Every time you open your oven, you lose approximately 20-25 degrees. SOLUTION: Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Then when you open the oven to pop those bébés in, it will be at 300 degrees. Turn down the temperature to 300 degrees and VOLIÀ— a perfectly even heated oven!
- Apparently the Irish do something well besides having melodious accents and a great selection of potatoes…BUTTER! The Sur La Table instructor said that herself (a professional pastry chef) and the other chefs she works with swear by Kerrygold Unsalted Butter in every dish—macarons, pastry crust, roast chicken, by the spoonful.
- When drying the macarons, leave them out for anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour (again, it depends on the temperature—on a particularly humid and hot day, they will take significantly longer to dry than the during the dead of winter).
- When you pipe the macaron shells onto the tray, there’s no need to drop the cookie sheet to get the air bubbles out. Instead, wait a few minutes and then gently pop any air bubbles you see with a toothpick. Physically picking up the tray and slamming it down could cause a lot more damage than it’s worth.
- Silpat (a silicon mat used for baking) seemed to work much better than just a parchment lined sheet. This is due to the fact that the parchment paper will absorb some of the oil from the macaron shells (which comes from the almond flour), so they will have a greater chance of sticking. Even though it’s a little pricy, it’s definitely worth the investment (especially when you’d otherwise be paying AT LEAST $2 for one macaron at a bakery)
I would highly recommend these classes to anyone wanting to learn the basics of cooking, master a particular technique, or have a fun activity with a friend! While they are a little expensive (~$69pp), Sur La Table gives you $20 off your next class if you sign up that day in the store (which, of course I did…see ya next week, Chefs)!
Have you ever taken a cooking class? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below!