Meeting the Picasso of Pastry

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Weeks ago, I was lamenting the fact that I got an email from the French Pastry school in Chicago that I did not make the selection in an exclusive class taught by Pierre Hermé. A week after that, I got a phone call from them telling me that I was on the waiting list and a spot had opened up – did I want it? Heck, of course! I tried so hard to keep my voice calm but I remember barely squeaking out the information needed to reserve the slot. Apparently there were 2000 entries – hmm… I wonder how far down the waitlist I was – but who cares!

That was in the 1st week of March. Can you imagine the difficulty of containing my excitement and waiting 2 ½ months for this class? Fortunately I was kept busy with a new job assignment, the business and a visit from my brother.

You can’t believe how paranoid I got about getting sick or about flight cancellations or whatever might prevent me from attending the class. However, I did arrive at the French Pastry school in full chef’s uniform and was greeted by the school director who instructed me to go up to the second floor. Three tables were arranged in a U shape where I saw about 10 students seated and having coffee or tea.

I was informed that they had our chef’s jackets made especially for the occasion and I eagerly looked for my name. It was then that I saw him…suddenly appearing and walking over to the table to greet the students at the tables, and then he headed my way. I managed to smile …he smiled back and greeted “Bonjour”, then gave my hand a firm hand shake… and all I could get out was a weak “Bonjour”… as he moved on to the next person.

Gah! I was suddenly reminded of Meg Ryan (Annie) in the movie, “Sleepless in Seattle”, where she flew all the way from Baltimore to Seattle to meet Tom Hanks (Sam) and all she could say was a weak “Hello”. I am an idiot!

Over a breakfast of black-truffle eggs, bread and rose-litchi jam; I continued to ogle him as he took the chair right across the table from me. Luckily for me, his assistant Michaél was seated right next to me and spoke perfect English; in addition, he was very friendly. I sure did not waste any time and grilled him on the technique of their macarons. PH uses Italian meringue in his macarons and I complained that it was too sweet. Michaél agreed that it is indeed sweet but that the shell is balanced by the filling. I told him that I was giving him the benefit of the doubt until I tasted them (Quite cheeky, aren’t I?).

I eventually found my voice and talked to Pierre. I told him that I had made his white truffle macaron from his PH10 book and that the result was awful. Could it be my truffle paste? He agreed with me then and related that it took him a while to find the right truffle paste for it. He said that for our class he has included a black truffle macaron recipe as well as a foie gras one. Oh my God… I couldn’t wait!

Although Pierre spoke English, he was most comfortable speaking in French. Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, owner of the French Pastry School, was on hand to quickly translate. (Incidentally, my lessons with Helen helped tremendously because the language did not sound completely foreign and I was able to pick up on a lot of new French vocabulary). We were initially asked to introduce ourselves. I’d say we were an interesting bunch – there were a couple of pastry chefs from some high-profile places like Spago, Payard and Robuchon. There was also another food blogger in the class, Mitzi of Yummy in the tummy blog – such a sweet lady!

The class started with PH’s power point presentation regarding his ideology on how he runs his business:
1. Quality of his ingredients
2. Attention to detail. He hates perfection but loves detail. He confers that if you look for perfection you will never be satisfied. He continually desires to make his offerings interesting and different from others. Every patisserie in Paris makes macarons but his macarons stand out in terms of detail.
3. Packaging – enough said.
4. He encouraged us to always think of how we can do things better. His recipes are never staid. He keeps on tweaking them.

His products are classified in three categories:
1. Classics like tarts and millefeuilles
2. Fetishes – which are his flavor combinations
Ie. Ispahan, Chloe, Sarah, Elise
3. Creations – how it is interpreted – Emotion, Miss Gla Gla

 

 

 

Before PH started delving into his recipes, Chef Pfeiffer informed us that we were having a test at the end of the class on how to properly say the word macaron. “Maca-RAWN” with that tricky French R sound.

We had a total of 12 creations, one of them not yet released.

 But these included the following :

 

Black Truffle Macaron
Emotion Depayse (green tea , red bean, grapefruit)
Emotion Ispahan (rose, litchi, raspberry)
Ispahn Entremet
Chocolate and Foie Gras Macaron
Macaron Ispahan
Macaron Satine (Orange, passion fruit, cream cheese)
Miss Gla’Gla Ispahan glace
Revelation ( tomato puff pastry, black olive, olive oil and vanilla mascarpone)
Tarte Ispahan
Vanilla Tart
New Creation 2008
 

 

It was confusing at first as we jumped from recipe to recipe while completing each component at a time. We started with the geleés and the English cream that went with the buttercreams. Most of PH’s macarons use ganache, but his Ispahan uses buttercream.
I’m sure it will be tedious for most readers if I get into too much details in this post. I selected a few pictures and some captions to share with you a gist of the class. Warning: there is an overabundance of the Ispahan creations – they are absolutely heavenly!!!
 

Preparing the Tart dough
 

PH preparing the sugar dough for the Vanilla Tart. He told us to  mix the dough only a little so the tart dough will not puff too much.

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Preparing the Litchi Gellee for the Tarte Ispahan.

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Delicious Chocolate and Raspberry Sable we had during the morning break. Pierre directed us to undercook them. The interesting crunch witihin the cookie comes from Fleur de sel.

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PH getting down and dirty with the Ispahan macaron batter. He said there was no spatula big enough to mix the batter properly.

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Piping the macaron batter for different creations.

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My first taste of PH’s macarons. Passion fruit and milk chocolate. It was the moment of truth too – the shells were not sweet at all. They had the perfect texture. Though I certainly love my French Meringue method, I am curious again to try sucre cuit again. 

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PH weighs each component of his Emotion creations. This is because the balance of flavors are very important. Such attention to detail!

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Putting the different Ispahan creations together. It is important to select raspberries of the same size.

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Shaping the vanilla mascarpone cream for the tart. Poured into warmed rings so it can be lifted out easily.

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Taking care of Miss Gla Gla (gla gla is what the French say when they are cold)

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Pierre with a margarita in hand during cocktails. We headed out to Art Smith’s house (Oprah Winfrey’s former personal chef) for Mexican food.

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DAY 2

Most activities on the second day were assembling all the creations.

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Working on the Ispahan tarte.

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PH  pointed out that the tart shell should be really browned otherwise you will taste the flour.

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Finishing up the Foie Gras macaron. Pierre said that his idea of a perfect macaron should have a lot of filling.

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Rolling out the tomato puff pastry in the laminator.

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Ispahan Emotion

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Ispahan Entremet

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I asked Pierre what he did with the litchi juice leftover from the can. He answered that  to take a bath in it was a dream of his. Someone commented:"With rose petals?" The class burst out in laughter.

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The finished Vanilla Tarts with the trademark PH logos.

The next few pictures are from the dessert buffet that immediately followed the class . We started with some champagne. But seriously, I think it was pretty cruel to have us eat all the desserts in one hour. I mean look at the spread!

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My favorite macaron turned out to be the foie gras macaron. This is not savory; rather, it is sweet. How this combination worked simply blew my mind. Pure genius!!! I was not able to finish a whole Ispahan entremet…my tummy was pretty close to screaming – Enough!!

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I was able to take four macarons home to the "Hungry" hubby to try. I tried to take him the Ispahan Entremet but it did not survive in my purse as Mickael said it wouldn’t. 😦

And of course , the class will not be complete without a picture with the man himself and his brilliant assistant Mickael. πŸ˜€

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59 thoughts on “Meeting the Picasso of Pastry

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  5. realy you are a master my dream to meat you and to learn from you .i remember 1996 i do trining with you when you work in fochon paris.
    my name .mohammed mujahed executive pastry chef in riyadh inter continental hotel
    chef pierre herme .me and my team we wish you all the beast

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