Review: Learning Macaron Towers from Josephine

I’ve written about Josephine and her macarons here before.  For those who have not been to Macarons by Josephine, it’s a little French tea shop on Sydney Road Brunswick that specialises in macarons and tarts, but which also does a number of beautiful savoury dishes.  The high tea I had there last year was by far the best high tea I’ve been to.  What makes Josephine’s food stand out, I think, is her precise, delicate, impeccable balance of flavours.  I haven’t tasted anything like it elsewhere.

As for her macarons – well, to be honest, I’m not a conoisseur of macarons.  While there is something almost magical about them, and some of the flavour combinations used are amazing, I find most (including, she says pretentiously, those of Pierre Hermé) far too sweet for my taste.  But Josephine’s do manage to tempt me – her macarons are small, not overwhelmingly sugary, and flavoured with beautiful things like violets or black sesame.

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So when I heard that Josephine was giving a class not just on her macarons but on how to make a macaron tower, I was intrigued.  And when I realised that it was on the first day of my holidays, I jumped at the chance.  It’s been the sort of month where overtime has been on the menu every day, and while I was theoretically off work from the morning of the 23rd, I rather suspected I’d wind up in the office regardless – unless I had a patisserie course that meant I absolutely had to be somewhere else…

Josephine’s class is really more of an introduction to macarons than a comprehensive lesson.  But with only three students in the class, it’s a pretty solid introduction.

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The basic sugar, almond meal and eggwhite mixture

 

We started by being given our recipes both for the macaron we would be making, and for a number of variations on this macaron.  Josephine then demonstrated the Italian method of macaron-making – this is the version that involves making a sugar syrup, and pouring the hot syrup into the meringue.  It’s a little trickier than the French macaron style, but produces a more stable product.

The meringue has to be stiff.

The Italian meringue mixture

We were told about the ways in which weather can affect macaron-making (apparently, humidity is not your friend when you are making macarons, and running a macaron shop in February in Melbourne is a bit of a nightmare), and then Josephine showed us first how to fold the meringue into the mix of almond meal, icing sugar and unbeaten eggwhites, and then how to knock the right amount of air out of it to get the proper piping consistency.

Still not quite right...

Still not quite right…

(I strongly suspect that gauging the correct consistency is in fact the trickiest part of making a macaron…)

A nice, smooth ribbon that does not break - this is the correct consistency.

A nice, smooth ribbon that does not break – this is the correct consistency.

Then we were each given a large piping bag, and finally got to get our hands dirty!  For me, this was one of the best parts of the workshop – not just because I really prefer hands-on learning for this sort of thing, but also because I learned several good tricks for piping things, including twisting the bag so that one can get the mixture compressed down at the bottom without it squeezing out, and how to use the nozzle to ‘cut’ across the top of the meringue to get rid of the pointy bit that tends to happen at the top.

Look!  All flat!

Look! All flat!

We piped out our meringues, and I was rather chuffed to find that mine looked far more professional than any of my previous attempts – could it be that I am finally getting the hang of piping things?   And then we had to bang our trays around to knock out the air, and I was really quite hopeless at this.  (I asked at one point if I’d done it right, and Josephine gave me a kindly, pitying look and took the tray away from me to bang it more vigorously.  Evidently not…!)

While our meringues baked, Josephine brought out a number of meringues she had prepared earlier, and showed us how to use toothpicks to arrange them on a cone.  Of course, our attempts were rather clumsier than hers, even once we learned to hold them by their sides and not press on them.  I have to say, our final cone was a little lop-sided (the one I made at home, oddly, worked much better).

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We got our meringues out of the oven, and finished them with decorations and fillings.

Fresh from the oven

Fresh from the oven

Josephine explained that meringue towers work best when the macarons are completely cold (from the fridge), and when the macarons have a ganache or caramel filling, so we decided to just finish our demonstration cone, and make our actual towers at home the next day – or in my case, later that evening.

My macarons - still flat, but now with little macaron feet!

My macarons – still flat, but now with little macaron feet!

And then, we were given show-bags.  And I must say, this would have to be the best value course I have ever been to in terms of what I brought home from it, because in addition to our cones, cake boards, recipes, macaron template, and the twelve macarons we’d each made, we were also allowed to choose enough macarons from Josephine’s stock to complete our towers at home – around 40 macarons in total.  I chose salted caramel, violet, rosewater, pistachio, and black sesame macarons to go with the praline macarons we had made.

'Here's some I prepared earlier...'

‘Here’s some I prepared earlier…’

We packed our macarons carefully in boxes, and took them home to refrigerate.   I had friends coming for dinner and to go for a walk in search of Christmas lights (and I won’t lie – the real reason was that then I would have an excuse to serve a macaron tower for dessert), so I put my macarons away, to give them plenty of time to get nicely cold.

I have to say, with properly cold macarons, and an a kitchen that was much cooler than Josephine’s was at the end of a warm day, the tower came together like a dream.

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Macarons are tricky – building them into a tower is not.

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It took me about five minutes to assemble it.

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…And it took my guests less than two to demolish it…

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I still need to set aside time to make macarons from scratch sometime in the next few days, so that I can consolidate what I’ve learned, but that was really fun.  And for once, I didn’t have trouble with presentations.  And I figured out how to pipe things!  Yay!

I’d absolutely recommend this course to anyone who wants to give macarons and macaron towers a try.  You won’t get a thorough experience in making macarons, but you will get a good grounding in piping, and you will have an excellent product to take home with you. It’s a class for enthuasiastic amateurs rather than professionals who are trying to develop their pastry skills, but right before Christmas, that’s precisely what you need.

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I found it a wonderful, relaxing way to spend an afternoon, and at $175, probably the best-value cooking class I’ve been to recently.   Highly recommended.

Thank you, Josephine!

A note for those with allergies – the macarons we made were entirely gluten-free, but not dairy-free, as there was butter in the filling.  The shells would be dairy-free, however, and the macarons, both filling and shell, would be low in FODMAPs.

Macarons are, of course, made primarily of egg whites and nuts, so if this is where your allergies lie, stay away from them! 

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