Monday, June 4, 2012

French Macaron Baking Class

Hello Again!

Yeah, here comes another backdated entry folks! I kinda have to since there's quite a few things to write about but I had to postpone writing them from being too busy with baking projects and office work. So today's entry will be about my very first baking class experience. To those not in the know, yes, I bake. Its a newly discovered hobby of mine. Mostly I do it for the personal satisfaction, and to fatten feed my family for special occasions.. but once in a while, I receive orders from friends and family for their own personal events. I'm just honored that they want my desserts to be apart of their day and glad people like my desserts is all ;)

Anyhoo, it was Mr. Hubster who sent me the link about a French Macaron Baking Class promotion on Groupon. These coupons were sold at RM98 per pax and RM180 for two pax. The classes are held at Excel College in Millennium Square, Section 14, Petaling Jaya for a good 2 months from Monday to Saturdays, but as usual, the weekend spots were the most ideal for most so it was quite hard to get ahold of my Saturday afternoon slot. After much calling, texting, and various failed attempts at booking via the Groupon website, I finally managed to get 2 slots on 19th May 2012 for myself and my sister-in-law with the help of Groupon's customer service team and the ever-friendly Excel College event coordinator, Eunice.

On the appointed day, we arrived just in the nick of time before our class started. We did the necessary registration at the college administration office and hurried to our class. The "classroom" looked like a small home science lab you'd find in schools, just abit more chic and with high-grade kitchen appliances. A huge and long kitchen island dominates the entire shop unit where the lab occupies. A total of 15 participants were in our session, and the lot of us tried to find our comfortable spaces within the limited area the lab permitted.

The French Macaron Baking Class Students: 19th May Batch

Our mentor introduced himself as Chef Ang. He started out as a hawker food chef at hotels, restaurants and such... and moved on to the delicate art of desserts as a pastry chef. At first, he seemed like a very serious, no-nonsense kinda guy, but after a few minutes of introduction and the basic introduction to French Macarons, he seemed to lighten up a smidge, and so did us students. We were divided into 5 groups, with 3 students in each. My sister-in-law and I were teamed up together with a girl called Nora, who apparently have tried making macarons before. We were assigned to make chocolate flavoured macarons, while other groups were assigned to green tea and original flavours.

First, Chef Ang demonstrated the delicate techniques required in making macarons. Since there was only ONE stand mixer in the lab, Chef Ang decided to teach us how to make these delicate desserts purely from scratch and by hand. Yes, that meant all the whipping was done by hand too! Now, I've had my share of hand-whipping experience, and in all abashed honesty, most of them failed miserably. Which got me abit antsy coz I was so scared that I might screw up our batter and thus disappointing my group. But, I figured that this was a class, and we were SUPPOSED to learn from mistakes and asking way too many stupid questions, so I put on a brave front and silently prayed that I dont mess things up huhuhu.

So after Chef Ang's demonstration, he popped his perfectly-piped batch of macarons into the oven and we were told to attack our ingredients and start baking. My group was off to a slow start, coz the quick-as-lightning groups quickly grabbed the limited number of sifters and bowls and got on with their projects. Believe me when I say there was a "Masterchef atmosphere" in the air that day.. haha. When we finally got our hands on the necessary equipment, we started on our batch of macarons. Thank goodness for pre-measured and well-prepared ingredients! So we sifted the dry ingredients, poured the egg whites into the mixing bowl, and grabbed the hand whisk to start whisking the egg whites into the desired glossy firm peaks. We were so engrossed and eager to get the perfectly whisked egg whites, taking turns in beating the eggs (we worked up quite abit of sweat and a helluv-an arm cramp from it too!) that we ALMOST forgot to add in the sugar! Hahaha. Now THAT would've been a disaster... :P

Anyhoo, I am pleased to say our glossy firm peaks of whisked egg whites was a great success. Yay team! We then folded the egg whites into the dry ingredients and mixed them to the required batter consistency, and poured the whole lot into a piping bag. Not before scrambling to get a cup or bowl to hold up the bag though (Yes, there was a limited number of those as well huhu). Once done, we started piping little dollops of batter onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper. If at first I thought beating the egg whites was tricky, this task is wayyy trickier! I mean, when Chef Ang did it, it looked oh so easy peasy... but in actual fact, its more difficult than we thought. First, you have to put the nozzle of your piping bag at the right distance from the tray. Then you need to press with the right amount of pressure, and at the right angle. And the fact that the batter is soft and runny (definitely unlike dealing with frosting) makes it all the more trickier to handle. There were smears and droplets of batter everywhere! On the tray, on the table, in the bowl, on our hands...... you get the picture.

Piping dollops of macaron batter... :P

Suffice to say our little dollops of batter were... inconsistent. Some were nice and perfectly set, some were oval-shaped, some were huge, and other were wayyyy too tiny. Oh well, we were all beginners, so considering our green hands, I'd say we did a good job. Since there was only 1 oven and 5 trays to bake, we had to take turns... so obviously, with our late start, we got the last round of baking turn. While the other group's macarons were baking, Chef started on the filling. His batch of coffee-flavoured macarons have just come out of the oven, so while it cooled, he showed us how to make chocolate ganache filling. Using dark cooking chocolate and whipping cream, his ganache came out beautiful and glossy. He popped a piping bag-ful of filling into the fridge to cool, and took out a bar of creamy butter, saying that he's got a treat for coffee lovers among us. Of course, my ears pricked up at this la kan.. hehe

Chef's perfect batch of macarons

He took some macarons from his sheet, cut a thin slice of creamy butter, and placed in between the macarons. We were quite puzzled, coz macarons are not normally eaten with butter... or was it? He urged us to have a taste, and goodness gracious me... it was divine! I mean, who would've thought a dessert known to be super sweet and traditional can be so savoury and totally my cuppa tea?? At that moment, it was quite frankly, the best macarons I have ever tasted. Not overwhelmingly sweet, and paired with the creamy unsalted, unsweetened butter... a bite of heaven.

Coffee Macaron with Creamy Butter

Piping chocolate ganache filling

Once we were done with our oohs and aahs.. he took out the chilled ganache and started to teach us how to pipe them onto the bottom of a macaron biscuit, and taking another piece of macaron, he put them together and twisted the biscuits into place. Voila! A french macaron, pure and simple. He made a few more and told us to have a go at it. Once done, he put some nice ones on a plate and switched on the "glam" lights above the kitchen island. The whole class started to whip out their cameras and camera phones and snapped away.

Chef's Coffee Macarons with Chocolate Ganache Filling
Next, he taught us how to make a special premium filling: Raspberry Cream Cheese filling. I was super excited to learn to make this coz I just LOVE cream cheese. Using standard cream cheese, sugar and raspberry puree (I've GOT to find this!!), the filling came out smooth and creamy... tasting just like a melted raspberry cheesecake. This too went into a piping bag and left to cool in the fridge to make it easier to pipe. The first batch of students' macarons were done, so we helped them pipe the chilled fillings into their macarons. These definitely were my favourite! Not too sweet, super creamy with a slight tangy raspberry taste in a crunchy, chewy macaron. I don't think I've ever liked a macaron quite as much before!

Making raspberry cream cheese filling with my dream stand mixer... *sigh dreamily*

Once our own batch of macarons were finally popped into the oven.. we hovered excitedly to see how it would rise... The joy of watching your handiwork baking in the oven is indiscribable. One one hand, you swell up with pride when your dessert is rising to its supposed size... just like watching your seedling grow into a plant, bit by bit. On the other hand, anxiety and impatience will definitely take hold of you once you've peeked into the oven window long enough.. hehe. If you give in to temptation and open the oven too soon, your baking macaron may just deflate and flatten into a circular chewing gum. Leave it in too long however, will turn them into crunchy biscuits. So its best to check ur macaron appropriately, but not too often methinks... :)

Our tray of macarons baking in the oven

Our baked goods!
Since ours was the last batch, some of the other students who've completed their macarons have already gone home. So with only 80% of the class left, we started to ask all sorts of questions to Chef Ang. I mean, seriously, how often do you get to pick on a chef's brain, aye? We asked everything we could think of, from the oven temperature and type, to the colouring, to pastry question. But best of all, we asked about the decorations on those fancy macarons you see in shops. Chef Ang smiled, glad that we asked. He went to get his special stash of decorative accessories... and took out these lovely and super expensive shimmer powders, not unlike those mineral eyeshadows you get from cosmetic counters, and started to sparingly brush our batch of macarons at certain angles. Now, our chocolate macarons practically gleamed in the "glam" lights, a gorgeous bronze hue! Other groups' white macarons were brushed with gold dust... and they appeared like little golden biscuits of yumminess. Dont you just LOVE pretty little desserts??

Our very own dolled up Chocolate Macarons!
Our fellow classmates' handiwork

We greedily packed the gorgeous macarons into our little tupperwares (I actually bought an extra tupperware from Chef Ang coz the one I brought was too tiny to fit in all the macarons I swiped hahaha), swapping a few with the other group members. Chef Ang even took out some of the previous macarons he made in the previous class for us to try and take home. More grabbing and swiping ensued.. haha. Its amazing how much gusto was going about despite being on our feet for the past 3-odd hours!

All in all, this was a great first baking class experience for me. I learned a new trade, picked a pastry chef's brain, made new wonderful friends with as much passion about desserts as I do, and had way too many macarons in between. The staff at Excel College, particularly Eunice, was exceptionally helpful and friendly, despite being just a month old in business. Chef Ang was a great professional guru whose love for food and desserts were infectous. His willingness to share inside tips and teach us newbies with extreme patience made him a great teacher. If he were to ever hold a parfait-making class (which I had the luxury of tasting -- utterly sublime!), I'd definitely be making a beeline to register myself for his class.

My Macaron Team & Chef Ang

The Last Girls Standing ;)

The only 2 things with room for improvement (I shan't say downside, coz this was my first class, and the college has only been in business for a month) would be the lack of equipment available in the lab (I mean, seriously, the sifter and bowls and cups is essential in a baking class, so having to share them simply wont do), and the slightly cramped space to fit 15 students comfortably. I guess they had an overwhelming response for this class so they tried to fit in as many students as they can. I would recommend them to either hold the class in a bigger lab, or cut the number of students per class and lengthen the redemption period. That aside, I would definitely keep my eye out for their future baking classes... simply because their PR and customer/student care is fantastic.

So that was my first baking class review. I shall be on the lookout for more interesting classes... and will definitely be blogging about them here in the future! Till then... cheerio!

Fab Photo Credit: Special thanks to fellow teammate, Nora Basik ;)