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Making the Best Macarons in the World!

The best macarons in the world; Pierre Herme Paris

The best macarons in the world; Pierre Herme Paris

My daughter Alexia (age 14) and I have fallen in love with macarons, especially the ones made by Pierre Herme’ in Paris.  We purchased his Macaron cookbook and have spent many hours in the kitchen trying to perfect his delicious concoctions.

Pierre Herme's Macaron Cookbook: Gorgeous photograhy; difficult recipes!

Pierre Herme's Macaron Cookbook: Gorgeous photograhy; difficult recipes!

Making Macarons by Pierre Herme

They say that macarons are the most difficult pastry in the world to make, so I prepared for the challenge as my father did on pre-flight checks for F-104’s and husband Philippe before a heart transplant.   I was going to do it right! Studied Herme’s book carefully, from listing the recommended utensils to visiting his sources in Paris for the best chocolate and ingredients.

Preparing to make macarons, a military exercise

We carefully calculated ingredients, equivalents and translated instructions for making Pierre Herme's Mogador Macarons. Diagrams, flowcharts and calculators required

We carefully calculated ingredients, equivalents and translated instructions for making Pierre Herme’s Macarons

We bought our first digital thermometer, a digital scale and a new sieve.  Wow, love digital thermometers and digital scales!  Where have they been all my life?  If I never bake another macaron they are fantastic basics for a kitchen.
I visited the main store he recommended for ingredients:  La Grande Epicerie de Paris in Paris’ 7th arrondissement. The list included:

1.) Special butter, beurre de la Viette 2.) 3 types chocolate : Cacao pate, Chocolate Jivara Valrhona with 40% cocoa, Chcolat Araguani and 3.) Almond powder

Chocolate and Butter Crises Almost Halt Macaron-Making

La Grande Epicerie de Paris

La Grande Epicerie de Paris: followed suggestion to buy chocolate, butter and almond powder at this beautiful food store in the 7th

I struck out on almost every front.

La Grande E doesn’t sell beurre de la Viette and no one in the store had heard of it. Panic. I called my mother-in-law at their home in Normandy. Normandy is the Wisconsin of France.  Check any milk carton in France; you’ll find contented cows grazing on Normandy grass.  ‘Quoi? Je n’ai jamais entendu parle’ de beurre de la Viette. C’est une beurre sale’ ou non sale’?  Est ce que c’est une beurre de la Bretagne?? ‘  (“What? I’ve never heard of beurre de la Viette.  Is it a salted or unsalted butter? Or is it a butter that comes from…horror of horrors… Brittany??”‘)

M. Herme’, I admit my ignorance about fine pastry- making, but when a person from Normandy who has cooked for 92 years has not heard of Beurre de la Viette, you need to come down a level.  How about a a hypermarche’-equivalent?

 Butter crisis almost halts macaron-making. What to substitute for Beurre de la Viette?? Le President, Lurpak or Beurre au Sel de Guerande?

Butter crisis almost halts macaron-making. What to substitute for Beurre de la Viette?? Le President, Lurpak or Beurre au Sel de Guerande?

I  checked our  emergency butter stocks at home and fretted.  No, not the Beurre au sel de guerande, our secret ingredient for chocolate chip cookies. Not the Flora for my pseudo diets.  I settled on the European Walmarts of butters, Lurpak from Denmark and Le President from France.  My inlaws scoff at Le President camembert and butter, but what else could I do? M. Herme’ may throw me out of his shop if he hears of this sacrilege.

Yes La Grande E sold almond powder, but it was expensive, an ordinary brand sold everywhere in France and… processed in Germany! Please.  I can find equally good almond powder in the French supermarkets or at Sainsbury’s in London for a third less. My apologies to British readers, but if Sainsbury’s sells good almond powder, it isn’t exclusive.

Chocolate: La Grande E didn’t carry any 40% milk chocolate by Valhrona or anyone else for that matter. No Jivara, no Araguani. Found 30% milk chocolate, 32%, but if Pierre wants it to be 40% milk chocolate I was out of luck.

On the other hand, I bought some delicious fresh pasta and sauce for dinner – La GE is a treasure trove for gourmet meals and nibblies — and headed home.

Major chocolate dilemma for macaron filling until I discovered Green and Black's Organic Chocolate in London

Major chocolate dilemma for macaron filling until I discovered Green and Black's Organic Chocolate in London. Lindt from Switzerland for the 70% dark chocolate, a mainstay in our kitchen.

Returned to London with almond powder, but no chocolate and no butter. Disaster loomed. I know chocolate, from swiping  icing off my mom’s chocolate cakes from age 8, to buying tons of chocolate bars in my former life as a banker on trips to  Switzerland, Belgium and France.  Good chocolate will make a recipe. Bad chocolate will ruin it.

England didn’t make the chocolate grade and I fretted. Cadbury’s – horrible! Too much sugar and tastes like wax. Mars Bars? the same! No wonder Austin Powers makes fun of the English and their teeth.  You can’t find a dentist on National Health, but eating chocolate comprised of 10% cocoa and 90% sugar doesn’t help.

I was in luck: stopped at the local Waitrose and found a wide selection of quality brands. To my surprise, I discovered an English brand, Green and Black’s Organic chocolate and it was excellent! OK, only 34% but that was close enough. Melt in a little 70% and  we’re in business.

Saturday morning and our macaron-making began!  It seemed almost too easy, but that was just the beginning.

Ready to begin our macaron making escapade!

Saturday Morning: things started well for our macaron escapade

First discovery, Herme’s recipes are complicated!  As 14 year old Alexia commented, ‘I think he makes these hard so you’ll go to his store and buy them.’  Too right.  We began to mark up the book and take notes on post-its to clarify the process.  A venn diagram was called for.

To execute Herme's macarons, a military operation and surgical precision were called for. Flow charts, HP calculators and Venn diagrams. If Herme' wrote the book so we'd give up and buy his delicious macarons instead, then we were going to prove otherwise!

To execute Herme's macarons, a military operation and surgical precision were called for. Flow charts, HP calculators and Venn diagrams. If Herme' wrote the book so we'd give up and buy his delicious macarons instead, then we were going to prove him wrong!

We had prepared the ingredients and utensils carefully but missed the part where he told us to separate and store the egg whties for a full week in the refrigerator.  He feels it’s one of the secrets of great macarons.  How much could that matter?  After all, the whites were resting calmly in their eggshells all week anyway.  We continued merrily on.

The pressure started to rise. Alexia accused me of getting too stressed out, but in my defense the instructions went like this:

Herme’ divides macaron-making into three separate parts, but combines ingredients and instructions into a single paragraph.  And two important parts require the exact same quantities of the exact same ingredient: 2 x 110 grams of egg whites.

Why not:  110 grams for one and 111 grams for the other? How much could one gram hurt? Mais non!  Or Blancs  d’oeufs A and blancs d’oeufs  B?   The instructions are unclear even if you speak fluent French.  I know, I’ve shown it to my  French ‘copines’ or pals who shake their heads in confusion.

Oh and M. Herme’, my French friends didn’t know what ‘pate de chocolat’ means either.  Isabelle thought it was like Nutella but without the hazelnuts.  Anne thought it was like chocolate chips.  I never did find out, but was relieved  I wasn’t alone.

Sugar water for macarons at 109 degrees centigrade and stress level rising

Sugar water for macarons at 109 degrees centigrade and stress level rising

Try this:

“Boil the water and sugar to exactly 118 degrees Centigrade.  As soon as it reaches 115 degrees Centigrade, simultaneously start to whip at a mid speed until it reaches a snowy mixture … the egg whites that are liquified.”

What??  What has to be whipped at medium speed to a snowy mixture?? Oh, the egg whites! Who writes a sentence where the subject appears at the end so you don’t know what you’re supposed to whip at medium speed — assuming it’s still the sugar water — until you’ve stuck the beaters in the wrong bowl??

And which egg whites, the 110 grams in the middle of your list of ingredients or the other 110 grams that appear later in the same paragraph??

Wait, that second 110 grams of egg whites was to be mixed with the food coloring and poured onto the sugar/almond mixture. It was the first batch of 110 grams! Oh no, the sugar water temperature has risen to 135 degrees, what do we do now???

We both became a little stressed by the confusing directions!

We both became a little stressed by the confusing directions!

The French instructions continue, one process running into the other. “…snowy mixture… the egg whites that are liquified.  Pour the the cooked sugar at 118 degrees Centigrade onto the whites. Whip and let cool to 50 degrees centigrade before incorporating into the preparation of sugar/icing/almond, and make sure it falls as a paste.”

To be fair, there are ten pages of instructions with excellent, detailed photos of the 32 step macaron-making  process at the beginning of his book.  But it’s impossible to flip back and forth while you’re sugar water rises above 118 degrees Centigrade!

We cheated a little on the chocolate since Green and Blacks wasn't quite 40%.  Added some 70% Valhrona.

We cheated a little on the chocolate since Green and Blacks wasn't quite 40%. Added some 70% Valhrona.

Yes, I panicked! Just like the program ”I Want to Become a Millionaire’ I used the friend card to call a copine for help.  Question: Exactly what is the consistency of snowy egg whites and how can you tell when a heavy, somewhat lumpy Pâte has started to glisten? She was a little surprised by my call, especially because she was boarding a flight to Nice. She’s a great cook but had never attempted macarons. “Sorry, I always buy them at Ladurée in Paris”.

We did our best as we whipped, stirred and folded towards completion.  I didn’t follow his tip to create a macaron template from a shot glass for the perfect size.

Squeezing macaron paste onto cookie sheets

Squeezing macaron paste onto cookie sheets

We arrived at the batter which some recipes say will look like magma. I could only guess. Half was colored pink for Macarons Framboise and the other half pale yellow for the famous Mogador Macarons.

Magma-like macaron batter

Magma-like macaron batter? Somehow I don't think this is what my friend Pierre had in mind

We banged the trays on the counter per his instructions to release air and waited half an hour.  Into the oven … so exhausted we forgot to follow his careful instructions:  “Let cook 12 minutes opening the door twice to make the vapor exit.  The first time after 8 minutes of cooking and a second time after 10 minutes.”  But they looked beautiful!  Until we discovered that the  macarons cooked onto the parchment.  Tip: use teflon or silicon sheets and wait til the macarons cool.

Our first batches of macarons

Our first batches of macarons

Here they are coming out of the oven!

Our first batch of macarons!

Our first batch of macarons!

A delicate process trying to remove the macarons from the parchment paper they were baked onto.  But nothing would deter us now!

Tip: don't bake macarons on parchment paper

Tip: don't bake macarons on parchment paper

Onto the best part, the ganache filling:

The first ganache or filling we tried remains our favorite: Mogador. It’s passion fruit and milk chocolate (34% milk chocolate and a few squares of 70% melted in.  Sorry Pierre, 40% n’existait pas).

Making the ganache was a piece of gateau compared to the macarons, but my friend M. Herme’ missed the mark on quantities. He said to buy 12 passion fruits, but it required 24. Two trips to Sainsbury‘s and we were back in business. Nightmare to press each one, then rub the seeds and juice against a strainer with a wooden spoon.  But…so good!  We love it so much that we buy dozens, squeeze out the juice and freeze for our next batch.

I made corrections in the margins.  I’m going to email Herme’ and volunteer to re-write the instructions if he’ll offer a special macaron making class for me and our Paris Perfect guests. Or open a shop on rue St. Dominique.

Here is our first batch of macarons!  Not perfect but delicious all the same.

Our first batch of macarons! Mogador flavor by Pierre Herme'

Our first batch of macarons! Mogador flavor by Pierre Herme'

Well, the recipe book will never be the same.  I’ve considered mailing it back with the corrections and post-it notes to help M. Herme’ for the next edition.

Our finished macarons!  Not quite Pierre Herme' but pretty darn close!

Our finished macarons! Not quite Pierre Herme' but pretty darn close!

M. Hermé on adore vos macarons, mais comme dit Alexia, on a réalisé qu’il faut les acheter dans vos magasins!

In the meantime, I have researched macarons and found an easier recipe, to follow shortly.  Not as ‘raffine’ but done in 20 minutes!

Pierre’s macarons set the gold standard for taste, texture and originality.  But we’ll buy them in his shop whenever we can.

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31 Responses to “Making the Best Macarons in the World!”

  1. barbarabakes@gmail.com' Barbara says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post as I’ve recently been on a quest to bake a perfect macaron. I will try again soon, but not with Pierre Herme’s recipe! I’ve just recently become acquainted with the macaron and unfortunately did not have the opportunity to taste one during our stay in Paris! I’ll have to plan another trip!

  2. I think you’re both very brave taking on the challenge and you definitely both look very cute trying to meet it. I’d not be fit to be photographed!

    Every once in a while someone writes to me wondering about a place to stay in Paris. I usually mumble something about already having a place to stay. Now I will direct them to your site.

    Bookmarking now.

    Happy Blogging!

    Kim

  3. YOU DID FANTASTIC!

    Loved the post.

  4. katsandu@sbcglobal.net' Kathy Sandel says:

    Re the butter from Brittany…. Go to davidlebovitz.com and read today’s blog (10/15). Toward the end he talks about Gavottes with delicious butter from Bretagne… Apparently they are famous for it. If you aren’t familiar with David Lebovitz, he is an expat from San Francisco, living in Paris. He was a pastry chef for Chez Panisse for something like 10 or 15 years before he moved to Paris. He has written a book (memoir style) about living in Paris and writes dessert cook books etc. He seems very charming and has a great blog. If it is sweet or goes into a dessert, he knows where to get it. Loved your blog about the macarons. You certainly know how to complete a task!…… And I loved your haircut. Kathy S.

  5. jessnh3@msn.com' Jessica says:

    Oh, my goodness, the two of you have entered the Olympics of baking, and I love the photos!

    Am here in Paris, staying in one of your lovely properties. Flying back to Chicago tomorrow with my stash of macarons, if they make it home on the plane : )

  6. emmelyn_g@hotmail.com' Lady Macaron says:

    Ladies first of all congratulations on ur first macaron baking! U have made a pretty good macs considering it’s ur first time. I succeeded on the 6th batch. I love macarons and have fallen in love with baking, tasting, experimenting w diff flavours and just looking at them never tires me! visit my blog, perhaps you’ll get some inspiration and ideas. Great book i agree, PH is the King of Macaron. Though Laduree is Queen of macaron!

  7. passeira2007@gmail.com' Susana says:

    Amazing job, congratulations! Could you please share the 20 minutes recipe?? Thanks.

  8. corry.garam@gmail.com' Corry says:

    Thank you both for sharing your entertaining and delightful story. I also love your photography.
    My friends and I have fun days where we get together and bake macarons and share ideas and flavours. It really has become an obsession. We’ve turned in to macaronophiles. We have so much fun (and stress but in a nice way – just imagine bums up in the air watching the oven to see if the macarons develop feet- YEAAA!!!!).

    It will only get better from here on and as you say, they still taste great.

    Just a little tip. If you use parchment, let the macarons cool a little then put them in the freezer for a few minutes and they will peel off the parchment easily.

  9. cuisinekaren@gmail.com' Karen Gros says:

    very impressive! You’re macarons look quite authentic. When we stayed in your Chardonnay apartment, my daughter (age 13) and I did the Meet the Parisians at Work tour at Gerard Mulot ~ yours look just as tasty. I noticed that Williams Sonoma is carrying them now (incomparable to pastissier-fresh), and our friend at PH keeps promising that his delicacies will be available soon in New York…. still, nothing tops macarons in Paris!

  10. hglickman@aol.com' Howard says:

    After eating macorons (while stying in a Paris Perfect apartment), I returned to the San Francisco area determined to master these morsels myself. I asked many different bakers their secrets to a perfect Macaron and none would give them up. But one did tell me that they have to be made on a sunny day. Apparently on a foggy day her in SF there is too much humidity in the air. I consulted many recepies but ultimately went the the one in Pascal Rigo’s The American Boulangerie. I went so far as to grind my own almond flour for one batch. After several batches I finally did it and it was a wonderful feeling. I may not have mastered them, but they looked and tasted right. But now that I’ve done it, I will buy them from now on.

  11. meir@mechanico.co.il' Meir says:

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    Découvrez la gastronomie de nos régions, les entreprises agro-alimentaires, les produits du terroir. Gastronomie, agroalimentaire. Entreprise agroalimentaire LAITERIE COOPERATIVE DE LA VIETTE. E.Mail : laiterie@laiterie-coop-la-viette.fr Cibles commerciales :
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    – Beurre demi-sel
    – Beurre doux
    – Crème
    – Fromage de campagne
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    Région Normandie
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    Borde Région Pays de Loire

  12. skrabbit@aol.com' Shelly Bacci says:

    Oh, my gosh!! I can’t believe you two. BIG KUDOS to you.
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your baking escapade. I have found myself and daughters in similar baking adventures in the past and have never made the receipe again because it was so exhausting and much easier to buy. But the thrill of the bake and comradery was worth it.

    Your macarons look fabulous girls!!!

  13. mlschless@gmail.com' Martha says:

    You and your kitchen are remarkably tidy given the size of the undertaking!! Remarkable, really. Though this project was stressful at times, it seems there was some fun in there too. Nice that you and your daughter could do this together. The macaroons look pretty darn good if you ask me. I can’t wait to return to Paris and enjoy them again.

    Thanks for this post – I enjoyed both the story and the pictures!

  14. sudsysez@yahoo.com' Jon-Henri Bonnard says:

    Oh my. I laughed until I cried. I know how you feel Try to do a Julia Child receipe and you will have to go buy out the appliance store. It is good you don’t live in Palm Beach or you would have to fly to New York for the ingredients. The height of chocolate at Publix is either godiva or Lindt. You should send your efforts to David Liebovitz-I bet even he could not do this. Your apartments are stunning–I might even be lured away from my favorite hotel in the future but, I would have to give up room service and exquisite food and rely on rue cler and the “Joy of Cooking”

  15. sueleidolph@easdenver.com' Sue Leidolph says:

    Just read your post and laughed out loud so many times my office staff wondered what was going on! Great article! I had the absolute pleasure of my first French macaron when in Paris in September (while staying in one of your perfect ParisPerfect apartments). I’d been avoiding macarons because I hate the American coconut macaroons. Near the end of our stay, I finally bought one (sadly only one) at Laduree’s. When I bit into their caramel with sea salt macaron later that day, I fell in love. Since I have no access to buy ready made ones, I’d love to try them at home – even though my baking track record is not good. In hopes of recreating the madeleines from a French cooking class, I brought French honey home, bought madeleine pans, and a digital scale, and proceeded to make the flattest, gooeyest madeleines imaginable. I then realized I had used stale baking soda and failed to adjust for altitude (we live at 6,000 feet). Reading this article makes me determined to keep trying. Thanks for a fun story.

  16. abbeygraf@gmail.com' Abbey says:

    I was unknowingly pregnant in Paris this May, and had a pistachio macaron just about every day, and would kill for one right now! My mom and I have decided to attempt to make them, because after reading this blog posting, I gotta have some!! I hope to find a recipe that isn’t as difficult…

  17. burwellplace@gmail.com' cindi lou says:

    What is the new recipe you used? Love macarons!

  18. I won a “Best Blog” award, I selected you as a winner of the “Best Blog” award too. See the following link for details.
    Congrats.

    http://enchantedtraveler.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/best-blog-award/

  19. bumblebeegrad@gmail.com' danielle bumblebee says:

    thanks so much for sharing! i had stumbled upon ur blog when looking up pierre herme’s macaron book. it’s such an adventure baking these little babies :) looking forward to seeing more posts on paris!

    quick tip about not using parchment paper for macaron – it’s not always true. they just have to be the good quality parchment paper. neither the papery kind nor the super waxy kind. perhaps something in between like they use in patisseries: http://bumblebeegrad.blogspot.com/2009/11/evolution-of-macarune-chocolate-macaron.html

  20. maddersb@gmail.com' madelyn says:

    Thank you Mary Ann, I enjoy your blog too!
    Madelyn

  21. I am a macaron fanatic too and recently attended a class at Lenôtre in Paris on how to make them:

    http://www.eatlivetravelwrite.com/2009/12/graine-de-macarons-ecole-de-patisserie.html

    Last weekend I followed the recipe faithfully to produce my first ever macs with feet and smooth tops:

    http://www.eatlivetravelwrite.com/2010/01/mactweets-january.html

    (there are some neat tips at the end of the last post, eg: you CAN bake them on parchment – there’s a trick to getting them to come off!)

  22. sandylee6@juno.com' Sandra Rice says:

    Oh I love this post and do hope you post the “easier macaron recipe” I fell in love with these treats and of course can find no true macarons here in the USA. I also look forward to another Paris visit and quite possibly in one of your rentals.

  23. If I ever get up the nerve to make these suckers, I now know that “beurre de la Viette” is sweet butter from Charentes…
    I read in an interview P. Herme say this recipe was so easy, his 11-yr old step- daughter made them without fault.
    Of course if I had PH around the house macaron making would be contagious.
    I commend you on your bravery Madelyn
    BRAVO
    Carolg

  24. rlh2@excite.com' Robin ONeill says:

    WOW! And I had such fun searching for beurre de la Viette on the Internet.

  25. travelgirl1203@yahoo.com' Elizabeth says:

    Loved your adventures on making these yummy treats! I have a Friench friend, Celine and we have made Macarons on three different days, with mixed results. They are worth the effort. Your first attempt is impressive! They also freeze quite well.
    Love your website. My Mother is booking Richebourg for her 70th birthday in February 2011. We are looking forward to staying in one of your rentals and going to Laduree for some macarons.
    Elizabeth

  26. marakg@gmail.com' Mara says:

    I enjoy your posts! I’m brushing up on my French cooking, studying French too on babbel.com. They have a lot of food vocabulary there. It’s cool to learn the cooking and language in tandem.

  27. maddersb@gmail.com' madelyn says:

    Thanks Sandra!
    Best, madelyn

  28. maddersb@gmail.com' madelyn says:

    Promise to publish it soon! Madelyn

  29. maddersb@gmail.com' madelyn says:

    Hi Sue, You are so very welcome and thank you for the encouragement!
    Madelyn

  30. schmidt@austarnet.com.au' Russell says:

    Loved the Macaron challenge. I haven’t been brave enought yet. We have a challenger for Pierre Herme downunder in Sydney, Australia so Macaron lovers check out Adrianozumbo.com from Balmain in Sydney.

  31. jemcope1985@hotmail.com' Jem says:

    There are some brilliant British chocolatiers who make high percentage milk chocolate – Hotel Chocolat being a very reasonably priced one (British despite the name!) and Rococo being another, well worth looking into for baking :-)

    You were so brave to take on making Macarons! I recently watched them tackled on The Great British Bake Off shown on BBC Two and was marvelling at how complicated they look, but then they are utterly lovely and divine – yours looked lovely for a first batch!!

    Jem xXx

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