I have had the good fortune to travel to Paris, a lot, and be paid for it! In my career-so-far, I have worked for two French companies whose headquarters are in the City of Light. On one of these trips, about two and half years ago, I arrived a day early and upon arrival, dumped my luggage with the hotel concièrge and then ran off to my "Macarons Class" at LeNôtre, conveniently located on the Champs Elysées. For the uninitiated, macarons are almond flour & meringue cookies sandwiched together with a delectable filling. They are crisp, and chewy and melt in your mouth. We were eight students under the tutorage of a high-toqued French pastry chef. We learned techniques and put them to the test, making an abundance and a variety of macarons. One of the tricks that we learned is once a pan of macarons is baked, pour a cup of water under the parchment paper and let it drain off. This creates a hint a humudity which keeps the underside of the macaron moist, while maintaining the crisp dome on top. We each received two large pastry boxes of our creations - too much for me to bring home especially with all of the other French foods that make their way into my luggage. I shared the wealth and gave a box to a Paris-based friend that night at dinner. One of my food pet-peeves are the shocking food colours used by many makers of macarons. I try to stay away from them, and prefer to have the natural tones of the nuts and fillings show for themselves - hence "my" colours are on the muted side. Almonds are always used in the cookie base, but I have also incorporated hazelnuts, and pistachios and am game to do some other nut experiments. As far as fillings go, the salted caramel is deadly, and I am convinced that I gain weight by osmosis while merely making it!! Chocolate ganache, chocolate buttercream and chocolate-praline ganache are all close runner ups. For a "lighter" flavour, raspberry-rose buttercream is fragrant & floral and naturally pink. Mixing and matching is fun, and I am constantly on the lookout for new permutations.
The salted caramel buttercream is a three step process, but well worth the effort: making the caramel, cooking egg yolks & heavy cream to 82 C without turning them into scrambled eggs, and lastly incorporating the 375 grams of butter. Send me an email if you would like the recipe. Thanks to Michael Kohn for making the photo.