October 1, 2011

Our Macaron Adventure at Lenôtre Culinary School

(Bun - pay NO attention to the following sentence): I think I'm in love with a French man. His name is Philippe, which of course if the PERFECT French name! Chef Philippe Gobet was our instructor at Lenôtre for our French Macaron class. He's a very accomplished chef of cuisine (worked at Joël Robuchon for 13 years) and has earned the title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France "MOF", which is a unique award in France according to a category of trades in a contest between professionals. In doing some research on Google, I discovered that he's also the President of the Jury for the International Cuisine Competition and appears in the documentary "King of Pastry" that my friend Laura Templeton suggested we watch.

April and I decided to register for this class after we were already in Paris and after we had finally fallen in love with French Macarons. Although we have eaten them before on previous travels to France, for some reason, they were just "meh" for me. Perhaps they were just too sweet? Maybe I didn't try the right flavors?

Our first day in Paris (while we were waiting to get into our apartment), we sought refuge in a delicious cup of strong espresso avec crème (une noisette) paired with the most delicious macarons I had ever tasted from Pierre Hermé, which in my opinion are better than other famous macaron makers such as Ladurée. But I suppose it's a matter of taste. I prefer a less-sweet, less-chewy macaron and Pierre Hermé's deliver just that; plus the flavors are unusual and delicious. Some favorites include matcha green tea with sesame filling, coffee with salted caramel, violet with a passion fruit filling and pistachio. Très yum!

The class was limited to only 6 students, however, we only had 5 students in our class (perhaps someone forgot to set their alarm clock?). Since this class was offered in English (which is an exception, rather than the rule at Lenôtre) all but one of our fellow students were from the United States. Coincidentally, one of our fellow students was from Bellevue, Washington!

Upon arrival, we were greeted by Chef Philippe, an awesome espresso machine and a plate of delicious croissants. This was going to be a great day . . .

It took only a few minutes for April and I to establish ourselves as not only proficient bakers, but as the teacher pets. I suppose I take it for granted that baking is simple, but it's just second nature for me (and April as well). I don't mean to be negative about our fellow students, but perhaps they may want to leave the baking to their local pastry shops (or order some delicious macarons soon at Le Petit Biscuit). Even weighing out ingredients using a scale proved problematic for them. Our fellow student from Bellevue has taken this exact course twice before and still cannot seem to bake a proper macaron. But perhaps that's because she had a difficult time understanding "add 500 g of ingredient A" and "250 g of ingredient B" when reading the recipe (that's in English). She was seriously scribbling on her recipe doing math. We're not sure exactly what she was calculating since there was nothing to calculate. Call me confused. April was the star pupil in the class for her piping skills, although I finally got it right on my second attempt.

Chef Philippe is a nut. He had us laughing all morning and he's very playful in the kitchen. One of the funniest moments that happened (and I wish I had captured via video or camera) was after we had made the egg white meringue. He had just colored the meringue red using powdered color so that the chocolate macarons would become a deeper cocoa color. He removed the whisk from the mixer that was covered in red meringue and asked April to taste it. She moves towards the whisk he was holding out to her and as she went to grab it, Philippe shoved the whisk into her nose! April's face was half-covered with red meringue -- OMG, it was hilarious! April had this look of surprise on her face and the rest of us were doubled over in laughter. I know you "had to be there" but just picture April's face covered in red-colored meringue and you get the idea! That silly Chef Philippe!

We made three kinds of marcarons: chocolate with a chocolate ganache filling; vanilla with a vanilla buttercream filling and coffee with a coffee buttercream filling. The buttercream recipe was different (and easier) than the French buttercream recipe April and I use at home, so we were excited to have learned a different recipe. Chef Philippe was great about sharing tips and secrets for success that you don't really read about in a recipe. He also gave us some great ideas on how to flavor macarons by infusing ingredients with flavors such as flavored teas (love Early Grey!) or using liqueurs. During our last week in Paris, April and I will be running around to find some of the specialty ingredients we used using the list of culinary supply shops he provided. Not sure how I'm going to get all my accumulated stuff home yet given that I was already 10 lbs. overweight just getting to Paris! I think we may have to ship some stuff home.

April and I are excited to experiment at home with our new skills, particularly with different flavor combinations. I had so much fun during this class and was really thrilled to learn that Chef Philippe was also my instructor that afternoon for my croissant and pain au chocolat class. Now I'm inspired to learn more pastry techniques and will definitely be looking into other classes for my next visit to Paris.

À bientôt!

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