Ah, the perfect macarons have kept many a baker up at night – and all of you, too judging by the amount of WhatsApps, emails and DM’s I get with a ‘My macarons are cracked/flat/wonky/don’t have feet, what did I do wrong?’.
When I was in Mauritius a few weeks ago at the Festival Culinaire Bernard Loiseau at the Constance Belle Mare Plage Hotel I was so blown away by the incredible desserts and pastries I ate every day (tough life) – each petit four, buffet dessert and macaron was so expertly crafted by the pastry chefs at the hotel that I simply had to pick their brains on this elusive cookie. While I have my tips and tricks for the perfect macarons, I don’t 1. make macarons nearly as often as pastry chefs do (which is daily) and 2. make them in massive quantities. So who better to ask? What’s that? You thought I was lying on a beach all day? Nope, I was working – don’t say I never do anything for you! 😉
So what are the most important tips for nailing the perfect macarons? Interestingly enough, none of the 5 pastry chefs I grilled, had the same answer! We know that the perfect macarons need to have the characteristic ‘foot’ or ruffle, with a smooth glossy top, and a chewy texture. But getting those three things is easier said than done!
Rajeshwar Rugoobur from Constance Prince Maurice was the winner of the Nespresso Café Gourmand contest (his petit four plate is pictured above). Each pastry chef had to create a macaron inspired by Nespresso and his coffee macaron won the approval of Pierre Herme himself, who was one of the judges. Guys, Rajeshwar told me he only started making macarons 2 months ago! Shortly after winning he told me the secret to perfect macarons is to “Try, try and try again. Macarons take lots of practice. And if you don’t get them right, remember that sometimes even for a pastry chef they don’t turn out perfectly every time”. There’s hope for us after all!
Latika Ramtahul’s coffee creme brulee macaron caught my eye (pictured above). Being mentored by Constance Belle Mare Plage’s Executive Pastry Chef, Nicolas Durousseau I knew she’d have one or two tricks up her sleeve. “Perfect macarons are very difficult to make,” she told me the day before the competition. “The macaronage (macaron mixture) must be a good consistency. Test it by piping a little onto the baking tray, it must flow into a nice glossy round. Don’t overmix it otherwise it becomes too liquid.”
Grace Lucas, pastry chef at the beautiful Constance Ephelia Hotel in Seychelles swears by mixing in the same direction. “If you go right, you have to go right. Mix very slowly and always in the same direction.” Amazing!
Last year’s pastry competition winner Stéphane Labastide, who heads up the pastry kitchen at Constance Prince Maurice had equally ground-breaking tips for perfect macarons. “I sift the almond flour but I keep the larger pieces of almonds aside and then add them back to the macaron mixture just before piping. This gives the macarons a lovely texture.” Mind = blown. Stéphane swears by the Italian meringue method (boiling a sugar syrup and adding that to the meringue) but unlike a lot of recipes which use the meringue when warm, he waits for his meringue to cool. “I add 1/4 of the cold meringue into the almonds and mix that very slowly, then add the remaining 1/2, still mixing slowly. This prevents you from over-mixing. The last 1/4 of meringue, you can adjust the mixing speed fast/slow to achieve the perfect texture.” Clever, very clever!
Iven Chitray, who won the Constance Pastry Competition Pierre Hermé – Valrhona Trophy this year and works with Stéphane also gave me a few pearls of wisdom. I interviewed him just after he was announced the winner and (rightly so) he was simply beaming! “You have to serve macarons a day after you’ve made them,” he told me, “that’s the secret to getting the perfect texture”. Then he dropped some serious macaron philosophy that really got me thinking. “Flavour is also so important”, he said. “You can make beautiful perfect macarons but if you don’t have flavour, it’s nothing.” So true. I’d much rather eat less-than-perfect macarons that taste good than perfect macarons, that taste average.
If you want to taste the creations of these talented pastry chefs, you can simply book a stay at the Constance Belle Mare Plage Hotel during the Festival Culinaire Bernard Loiseau which happens next year from the 16th – 24 March 2019.