Apr 3, 2012

les jardins

a box of macarons from pierre hermé landed, unexpectedly, in my hands last night.* macarons are a bubble which has not yet popped. a few years ago, most people wouldn't know them from a macaroon. today, many places with aspirations to quality (and some without those aspirations) manufacture and sell them. for a while, mcdonalds in france sold macarons.

macarons are little sandwiches with cookie shells made of ground and blanched almonds held in a flavoured meringue, filled with a flavoured ganache or cream. it is easy to make a mediocre macaron.

the shell is notoriously finicky. the meringue must be robust enough to support the almond flour during baking, requiring the maker to detect and respond to very small gradations in the texture of the uncooked meringue. this in turn responds to very small gradations in ambient temperature and humidity and the hydration of the meringue. macaron-making thus features many arcane directives. some recipes call for aged egg whites (which have lower water content due to evaporation). many formulations also call for uncooked macaron shells to be set out for a while to dry further and develop a skin on the top surface. this skin constrains the cookie as it rises during baking, producing the desired smooth, glossy top and rough-edged foot.

fillings should have flavours and textures that complement the shells. overly aggressive flavours are unfortunately common, but texture seems to be the bigger hurdle. many fillings in inferior macarons are poorly matched to the texture and robustness of their shells. biting into a robust shell causes a too-fluid filling to squeeze out of the sides. conversely, a delicate shell collapses too quickly around a too-rigid filling. both scenarios are untasty. (not incidentally, the same principle of textural harmony applies to sandwich construction and design.)

inevitably, average macaron quality declines as supply of macarons increases. i am happy to leave most macarons on the shelf, for those who would exchange their hard-earned doubloons for dense (or over-airy and/or sticky) shells and tasteless (or overly flavourful and/or overly avant-garde and/or poorly textured) fillings.

on the other hand, it is a good day when life hands you a box of macarons from pierre hermé. their shells have perfect texture, density, and surface, and just enough understated filling of precisely the right texture (some traditionally flavoured, others quite unusual). naturally, he is Big in Japan. confiserie sprüngli, conveniently close to the main train station in zurich, is another place to get very correct macarons of a different style. (and different name. these luxemburgerli are smaller, with a more fluid filling and a more delicate shell, and more traditional flavours.)

a great macaron is usually a rare and costly experience.

* thx journeyman; welcome home.

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