Pierre Hermé, Macarons, and Me

October 12th, 2011

mint pea macaron tray

Hello! I’m back from a week in sunny Florida, where it didn’t feel like fall at all. But I have a surprise side story: while I was there, I made a quick side trip to New York, and the 6th Star Chefs International Culinary Congress.  I didn’t intend to mix business with pleasure, but there was one reason why I couldn’t pass up this opportunity: Pierre Hermé. Any of you who have read my blog know that he has been one of my biggest pastry heroes and inspired me to go to pastry school. The master himself was at the congress to judge a pastry competition, and to give a pastry demonstration. It is extremely rare for him to make an appearance in the US, so when Bravo North America kindly offered me the chance to sit in on Hermé’s class, there was only one answer: YES!

pierre herme main demo

There were so many other famous and accomplished chefs at the congress; I wish I could have attended the entire three day event. The congress is a showcase for culinary professionals, so there was a lot of very refined, cutting-edge cooking going on – the best of the industry sharing information and techniques with each other. Again, there were many amazing-sounding presentations I would have liked to see, but I was there for only one day, and really for one person. Above, the first presentation featuring Hermé on the main stage. Here he is, going over some last-minute checks with his assistant chef.

ph cake demo

The talk was titled, “Emotions to Share: A Total Immersion in Sensations and Pleasure”, and focused on Hermé’s dessert philosophy and continuing pastry innovations. Hermé showed off two creations from his dessert line called “Emotions to Share”. These desserts are a middle ground between the traditional simple cakes found in bakeries, and the elaborate, multi-component desserts in restaurants, and quite appropriately the theme for these two creations was “Entre”, or “in between”. On the video screen above you can see some of the ingredients used in the demo. If you are familiar with Hermé’s Emotion line, a series of verrines, or parfaits, these are like supersized versions, hence “Emotions to Share”. Hermé explained that by using a mold to contain the various layers, he was able to use more delicate textures, such as pastry cream, geleés, and thin genoise, than he could in a standalone cake.

ph cake assembly

The first Entre was composed of a strawberry-tomato geleé layered with olive oil mascarpone cream flecked with black Ligurian olives, and tomato fleur de sel puff pastry. You can see the puff pastry here, cut into individual “matchsticks”, which are placed between layers of cream to give texture and crunch.

ph strawberry dessert

The finished dessert has strawberries and more puff pastry arranged over the top. A very intriguing sounding combination – it was too bad that we could not sample it!

ph matcha marshmallow

The second dessert, called “Delicieux”, featured wasabi geleé, fresh and confit grapefruit, white chocolate and wasabi mascarpone, and matcha marshmallows. While the combination of flavors may seem offbeat, Hermé’s elaborations about the genesis of this dessert showed how much thought he puts into every element of his creations. For example, he met with a wasabi producer in Japan and learned that the bottom 1/4 of a wasabi root has a sweeter taste than the rest, so that is the part he uses. He grates fresh wasabi into the geleé as he is making it for the best flavor. When he cuts up the grapefruit to layer in the dessert, he always includes part of the flesh, the pith, and the peel, because he wants to include all of their different flavors in the final product. The combination of wasabi and grapefruit is meant to contrast bitter and acidic – although this may not seem intuitive for pastry, he has obviously figured out how to make the two flavors work, because this is one of his most well known pairings.

ph grapefruit cake

Obviously the big question in the audience was, how does Pierre Hermé come up with his crazy yet delicious flavor combinations? When asked, Hermé displayed his true artist’s nature. Asking an artist where his inspiration comes from is obviously one of the most difficult questions to answer. Hermé claimed that he does not seek flavors, they find him. He comes up with a scenario, an architecture of taste in his mind, and then selects and refines the techniques to achieve this imagined result. As I listened to him describe his creation process, I was able to parse some general guidelines: 1.Get to deeply know your ingredients – for example, going to Japan to learn about wasabi. Hermé also likes to explore all the various forms of one flavor: his Infiniment Vanille series of desserts features vanilla in every component, layered to create an extreme vanilla experience. He even created a special Pierre Hermé house blend of vanilla, a mix of Tahitian, Madagascar, and Mexican vanilla proportioned to his liking, that he uses in his pastry. 2. Don’t take flavor combinations for granted. Hermé said that every time he recreates his famous Ispahan combination (raspberry, rose, lychee) in a new form – say ice cream, or tart, he has to re-evaluate how the flavors work together in a different format. It’s not just of matter of throwing the same flavors together any old way. He works to recalibrate the flavor balance in the new incarnation so the interaction, and the overall experience, is the same. 3. It may take time to get flavors to work together properly. Hermé related how he originally paired grapefruit and wasabi in a sorbet, but wasn’t happy with the result. It wasn’t until later that he got the combination to work in a macaron, and finally his “emotions to share”.

Hermé also has a sly sense of humor. When someone in the audience mentioned that she was having difficulty getting her customers to try her matcha-inspired desserts, he answered that the first time he tried matcha, he hated it. He said that he had to keep trying it to figure out how to use it in a dessert. He suggested that sometimes it will take time and patience for your audience to “get” what you have created. He also joked that when he first came up with the Ispahan combination at Fauchon, it sold once every earthquake – meaning not very often. It’s hard to imagine that Hermé’s signature flavor wasn’t immediately embraced by the public, but it took a while to catch on. Now, it seems every pastry shop has their own version of the Ispahan. I thought Hermé was very kind in encouraging young pastry chefs to be persistent, and to believe in their craft.

dessert display

Afterwards, I took a stroll around the main floor before the second Hermé demonstration started. Here’s a display case full of more dessert-y goodness. I like the cakes on the upper right with the multi-colored macaron fringe.

vitamix booth

The Vitamix booth! So pretty.

waring booth

The Waring booth, with an almost obscene spread of appliances.

chef stephane treand

I also stopped by the Bravo booth to chat with my generous sponsors, and I got to meet the amazing Chef Stephane Treand. If you didn’t notice his collar, he’s an M.O.F – one of just a handful working in the US (Watch Kings of Pastry, if you haven’t learned about M.O.Fs). Better yet, he is about to open his own pastry school in San Clemente, down in Southern California. Other M.O.Fs teaching in the US include Sébastien Canonne, who opened the excellent French Pastry School in Chicago, and Jacques Torres, who is the dean of pastry arts at the French Culinary Institute in New York.  So I was very excited to hear that the west coast would finally have its own M.O.F. If you are considering pastry school, the Art of Pastry is scheduled to open at the beginning of 2012 – there is limited information available on the website, but Chef Treand is very enthusiastic about his program, and I promise to pass along more information as I hear about it!

Chef Treand is posing with Bravo’s signature machine, the Trittico. This truly ingenious invention combines the functions of numerous pieces of kitchen equipment into one unit and automates many typical pastry processes. With both a heating chamber and cooling chamber in one machine, it can: melt and temper chocolate; make custards, ganaches, and ice creams; whip buttercream, mousses, and meringues; and cook jams and jellies. You basically program your recipe into the machine, add the ingredients, and walk away. This may be the most perfect pastry-making machine ever. The list of pastry chefs singing its praises on the company page certainly got my attention. Alas, no home versions yet – anyone want to go in with me on shared ownership of a commercial model?

herme demo class

Finally! Time for the second presentation from Hermé, which was a more intimate demonstration featuring one of his signature items, the macaron. At least it was meant to be intimate – I suspect that not everyone who crowded into the demo room had actually registered for the class. I think it says something when even after macarons have gone mainstream and nearly every dessert blog has done a macaron tutorial, that scores of culinary professionals still turned up to hear what the master had to say about this singular sweet.

You can see him getting ready in the photo above, and a Bravo Trittico unit behind him. Hermé is a fan of this little machine as well, as he used it to make the ganache filling for his macarons. But, of course, we could always make the ganache by hand, he reassured us!

Here are some of Hermé’s thoughts on making the perfect macaron:

  • Hermé does not believe in flavoring his macaron shells. He believes all the flavor comes from the filling, which is why he uses a larger amount of filling in his macarons than other pastry shops. It also means he experiments to make his fillings very rich and flavorful.
  • Be careful not to over-aerate the batter when stirring it. Too many air bubbles can contribute to the dreaded hollow shells – there should be no gap underneath the top of the macaron shell. Hermé emphatically said macarons with big air gaps are not macarons, merely meringues. Yikes!
  • After piping a sheet of macarons, tap the sheet firmly a few times on the counter to get rid of any air bubbles and help any peaks settle. Hermé believes so deeply in this that he came up with a machine in his shops that will tap the baking sheets exactly the same, every time. Another reason why your macarons may not turn out the same as his!
  • Hermé bakes his macarons in a convection oven with a steam release option. If you don’t have one (ha!), open the oven door quickly a couple times during baking to allow steam to escape so the macarons don’t get soggy. Don’t leave the oven door open too long because the change in temperature will affect the macarons as well.
  • Let assembled macarons age 24 hours before eating. Hermé stated that fresh macarons are too dry to enjoy properly, and need to “age” with the filling to achieve optimal texture. When we tasted freshly-baked and assembled macarons in class, and compared them to some he had made the day before at Payard, the difference was obvious. The fresh ones were crisper, and crunching through them was a separate experience from tasting the filling. The aged macarons yielded more softly to the bite, and had absorbed some of the flavor from the filling, making it a fuller, and more complete experience.
  • Practice! Yep, the same mantra. Practice your macaronage, and practice your piping. Hermé related a story about how he tested out some of his macaron recipes by having his 10 year old daughter make them. Although her macarons were not as round and perfectly sized, they still tasted good, and reinforced his belief that anyone can make good macarons (of course, his daughter may be the only person in the world who could dare give him less than perfect macarons).
  • Last interesting tidbit – he doesn’t like filling macarons with ice cream! The combination of textures isn’t what he prefers. Instead, he makes very thin biscuits out of French meringue and uses them to sandwich ice cream, because he likes the crunch of the thin meringue better.

If you want to learn more about Hermé’s macaron methods, I have another bit of great news: his Macarons cookbook has been translated into English! Finally, after over two years! I bought my copy from the Kitchen Arts & Letters booth at the show, and they told me they had literally just received the shipment the night before. I can finally read this book – and I got it autographed! (Photo of autograph may be forthcoming). You can order it through the Amazon link above, or from Kitchen Arts & Letters.

pierre herme and me

This may be one of the best moments of my life. No joke.

mint pea macaron

The recipe below is courtesy of Pierre Hermé and StarChefs, and is the macaron that was demo’ed in the class. The macaron is composed of a mint green-color macaron shell paired with a pistachio green-color macaron shell – the names refer to the different shades of green, not flavorings, as Hermé does not flavor his macaron shells. The shells sandwich a piquant mint ganache dotted with sugared peas. Unusual, imaginative, and delicious – quintessential Hermé. Make sure you generously fill the macaron shells as Hermé does, and let the macarons “age” for 24 hours for the best flavor. The macarons are made with the Italian meringue method – if you’d like more information on this style, see my tutorial here.

Thanks again to Bravo for allowing me to be part of the ICC, and for making one of my long-cherished dreams finally come true. Can’t believe I got to meet one of my heroes!

Fresh Pea and Mint Macarons

makes 144 macarons
  • recipe from Pierre Herme via ICC

Mint Ganache

  • 950 g white chocolate
  • 30 g fresh mint
  • 900 g liquid creme fraiche
  • 40 g Pippermint Gel (or creme de menthe)

Sugared Peas

  • 200 g water
  • 15 g sugar
  • 100 g fresh peas (petits pois)

Green Pistachio Color Macarons

  • 300 g confectioners’ sugar
  • 300 g almond flour
  • 220 g egg whites
  • 1 drop green food coloring (more depending on strength of coloring)
  • 1 drop yellow food coloring (more depending on strength of coloring)
  • 75 g water
  • 300 g sugar

Green Mint Color Macarons

  • 300 g confectioners’ sugar
  • 300 g almond flour
  • 220 g egg whites
  • 1 drop green food coloring (more depending on strength of coloring)
  • 75 g water
  • 300 g sugar

For the ganache:

  • Melt the white chocolate to 45 degrees C to 50 degrees C. Pluck and chop the fresh mint.
  • Bring creme fraiche to boil in a small pot and infuse mint in creme fraiche for 10 minutes.
  • Strain mixture and reserve mint. Mince mint very fine.
  • Combine creme fraiche with the white chocolate. Add in the mint and Pippermint Gel.
  • Turn out mixture into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 6 hours.

For the peas:

  • Bring water and sugar to a boil in a pot. Add peas and cook for about 4 minutes.
  • Strain and plunge peas into a ice bath to shock them. Refrigerate until use.

For both color macarons:

  • Sift confectioner's sugar and almond flour through a tamis.
  • Pour 110 g of the egg whites over the confectioner's sugar mixture. Add the food coloring. Fold in to combine.
  • Bring water and sugar to a boil in a pot until it reaches 118 degrees C. Meanwhile, whisk the remaining 110 g egg whites in a separate bowl (or a stand mixer).
  • Pour the sugar syrup at 118 degrees C into the egg whites. Continue whipping mixture until it cools to 50 degrees C.
  • Fold egg white mixture into confectioner's sugar mixture until incorporated.
  • Fill a pastry bag with batter and pipe out 3 1/2 cm round macarons spaced 2 cm apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Tap bottom of the baking sheets gently on a work surface.
  • Let macarons sit on sheets for 30 minutes at room temperature to form a crust. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.
  • Bake macarons for 12 minutes, opening oven door quickly twice to let out steam.
  • Remove macarons and let cool.

To assemble:

  • Pair Mint Green Macaron shells and Pistachio Green Macaron shells together. Fill pastry bag with mint ganache and pipe generously onto pistachio green macaron shells.
  • Place 3 peas on top of ganache, and sandwich with a mint green macaron shell.
  • Place finished macarons in air tight containers and refrigerate for 24 hours. Remove from refrigerator 2 hours before serving.

Tags: ····

17 Comments so far ↓

Leave a Comment