Chocolate Trail 2012 at Harbour City, HK

choctrail02
A giant macaron pièce montée

 ”Hungry” Hubby and I wanted to go to Paris this year mainly for me to do more research on pastry trends. However, we knew that it was more important  for me to visit my mom in the Philippines. She will be 85 years old this April and her memory is not what it used to be, so I didn’t want to pass any opportunity to see her while she still knew who I was.

Our flight on Cathay Pacific to the Philippines goes via Hong Kong and there was no extra charge for a longer stopover on the way back. HH has never been to HK and he was hesitant until I told him that there was a bronze statue of Bruce Lee in Harbour City.

It turns out, our timing was perfect. It was the Chocolate Trail exhibition at Harbour City, well-known chocolatiers from La Maison du Chocolate to new-to-me Paul Lafayet were showcasing their pastry.

Imagine my glee when I spied this giant macaron upon stepping out of my hotel (which was inside the mall).

choctrail01
Big mac
choctrail07
My first stop, La Maison Du chocolat

Booths like the above were scattered along the chocolate trail. All you had to do was follow the trail of picture-perfect pastry. Like below.

choctrail05
 

like the cream puff above or the eclair below. 🙂

choctrail06
Sitting on a big eclair

And macarons like this were scattered everywhere.

choctrail18
 
choctrail08
 

The main pavillon:

choctrail04
 
choctrail03
 

I was also lucky to come by a demo by Paul Lafayet about putting together a macaron piece montee.

choctrail09
 

Macarons were expensive. This half-dozen box from La Maison du Chocolate was HK$150 which was almost US$20. We were disappointed in the flavor, the chocolate filling was okay but the shell was almost non-existent.

choctrail10
choctrail10

The best macarons we tried were from Paul Lafayet. Since there was quite a few of us in our group we were able to sample more of the flavors. My favorite was the Bailey’s and the Passion Fruit. They were $HK 15 each, $USD 2 were about 1.25 inch diameter.

choctrail11
L-R: Baileys, Coffee, Chocolate
choctrail12
Pistachio, chocolate, Passion Fruit, Mandarin Orange

and a lot more…

choctrail13
Paul Lafayet Macarons

I also sampled macarons from Jean-Paul Hevin. They were a whopping HK$ 25, US$ 3.30 each and was a bit bigger than most macarons at 1.5 inches. They tasted okay but not as good as Paul Lafayet’s.

choctrail14
Jean-Paul Hevin macarons

Other pastries of note. Creme Brulee and strawberry tart, also from Paul Lafayet.

choctrail15
 

We also made the trek (okay, the train) from Kowloon to Hong Kong in search of Tai Cheong bakery (Lyndhurst terrace) egg tarts. I almost gave up when I saw the uphill road I had to take.

choctrail19
The road to egg tarts

But I thought I was already here. I braved a packed train and after a little more hike up this trail could justify eating two egg tarts.

The trek was not in vain. Fresh, hot egg tarts out the oven.

choctrail17
 

As I was enjoying a freshly-baked egg tart I was contemplating my next stop: Chickalicious cupcake outpost, Kisses.

choctrail16
Espresso, Matcha, Triple chocolate and Ferrero Rocher

I love their cupcakes, the frosting was just right and was not sweet at all! I wish cupcakes in Richmond would follow suit.

On my last day in HK, I discovered this giant structure. I’m not sure what pastry it represents, but I just have to have my picture taken with it.

choctrail20
 

Happy New Year !!!

macaronminitower
Macaron Tower

Wishing everyone a happy and prosperous 2012! Last year was definitely the year of the macarons for me, hoping this year would be just as good. 🙂

I know I have not been blogging for a while and not sure if I will be consistent in the future. The problem with me is, is that words are hard to come by if the subject does not inspire me. I do not want to write a post just because I need to keep a quota of 2 a week. The problem with that is, when I do feel inspired I end up with a very long post. 🙂

I’ll definitely start blogging more about local food here in Richmond, a ton of new restaurants opened last year. Whether they are just an iteration of each other with the same old RVA cuisine remains to be seen. 

I’m also in the quest for the perfect “adobo” – this is not the spice that I am talking about but the national Filipino dish – a stew (or braise) of soy, vinegar and garlic. There are different variations: the tostado (fried or dry) and the masarsa (saucey) and many in between. My brother was able to get me a cookbook devoted to this one subject. 🙂

On the Petites Bouchees business front. I am working on some new items. I have started with pies and tarts last year and though they have been moderately successful, the macarons took over until I’ve decided to devote 99% of the time to them towards the last quarter. 

macicecream01
macaron ice cream sandwich

I’ve also worked on my first macaron tower for a company event.

mactower1
macaron tower
 
hwdessertspread
Company event

I also made the verrines and tarts for this sweet dessert spread.

raspberryverrines
raspberry white chocolate cream verrines

In the middle of all these, I was able to take a class with the fastest rising-star of the cake world, Maggie Austin Cake who, luckily for me, is based out of DC. If you haven’t seen her jaw-dropping work, get over her website now and prepare to “ooh and ahh”. 🙂

Here is one of my roses from her fun class.

larose
la rose

And as always, I’ll still be making more macarons in different colors. I expect a bigger demand for them for the next few years. Why? Because Laduree opened in NY and has really elevated the macaron to a food-fashion accessory. 🙂

macladureecolors
Colorful macarons

Bonne Année !!!

Some blog revisions….

piepop01
More pie pops 🙂

This blog is undergoing some subtle changes. If you all haven’t noticed, I’ve trimmed down the categories and have added a top navigation bar to access some popular categories directly like the Macaron Chronicles. Displays now include a thumbnail of the first picture which will help with post identification when looking for recipes or topics.

I’m also working on the Macaron FAQ (frequently asked questions) page as a distillation of what I’ve learned through all the chronicles and also what questions readers usually email me about.  Please be patient as this will be a work-in-progress for a couple of weeks.

Also, please check out the Culinary Obsessions category at the bottom of the sidebar. This is like my featured posts and will give readers an idea as to my blog’s tagline.

I was also featured on Richmonddotcom’s “Five questions with a Foodie”, read the interview, here.

Musings of a macaron-maker

ispahan01
Rose.lychee.raspberry

I think I’ve made it no secret which creation of Pierre Hermé happens to be my favorite. I think his Ispahan fetish remains to be his most popular too. He originally developed the recipe at Ladurée with just raspberries and a rose cream. I believe he added the lychees when he already had his own pastry boutique. Ispahan is the name of a rose also known as Rose d’Isfahan. Isfahan is a province in Iran although I am not sure there is any correlation except in the name alone.

Macarons are growing in popularity in the United States. I’ve seen a definite uptick in interest here in Richmond, Va. These French confections as wedding favors appear to be a hot item nowadays and who doesn’t like delicious edible parting goodies. Though still getting confused 95% of the time with the less glamourous homonymous macaroon, I think it is slowly creeping into the consciousness of the masses, okay maybe, in the trend-conscious crowd.

Not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing. I somehow want to keep its “exclusivity” but how are we going to make money at Petites Bouchées if we don’t spread the macaron love, right?

Anyway, with its surging popularity there have been several articles of how macarons are becoming the next cupcake. There’s also been several social media quips about how making macarons are easy or how macarons aren’t all that or some elitist lambasting 95% of the blogsphere for giving macarons a bad name by making them too popular.

When I first made macarons successfully, I remember them tasting a tad too sweet. I started with Stéphane Glacier recipe and then I also looked at Gerard Mulot’s. I wanted mine to taste less of a meringue, so I lessened the confectioner’s sugar and added more almonds. Most people who has had my macarons (and are not familiar with what they are made of) couldn’t believe that they have no flour in them. But because my macarons have more almonds , they get bumpy sometimes which annoys me but taste to me is more important and so I learned to live with it.

Being in business selling macarons can be very stressful. If your customer is a big fan of this petite sweet you are constantly being compared to the greatest patisseries of Paris. I’ve had great feedback of how my macarons taste better than Ladurée’s or are comparable. But I’ve also had to deal with negative comments. It’s all part of the business, you can’t please everyone. Macarons are prone to being mishandled once they leave your hands. For example, leave them out in 90F weather in your car & your buttercream might morph into something else. But you never tell a customer they have not stored it right, just make sure that you give them proper information when they take their macarons home.

I’m the first to admit that my macarons can never be better or comparable to Pierre Hermé’s simply because the man is one-of-a-kind, effing brilliant. But even he has had problems with customer satisfaction. He said he was frustrated about customers complaining about the buttercream fillings because they eat them straight out of the refrigerator so he had slowly gotten away from buttercream and had been developing rich, luxurious ganaches that never crystallize too much when refrigerated. His macarons are built with a science of their own.
But the biggest reason why my macarons can never achieve the exalted stature of Herme’s is in the almonds. Valencia almonds to be exact. I have made them both with my regular blanched variety and with the Valencia almonds I brought back from France. Big difference. The shells are fuller and are so perfectly round with the latter. Valencia almonds can be ground very fine without being greasy. Phooey for me, right?

So instead of crying about it, it’s best to work with what you have and make your macaron your own. My standard chocolate macaron does not taste like a macaron at all because the shell never gets too crisp with cocoa powder. I have adjusted it so it’ll have the crisp shell but when I got a new batch of cocoa powder – same brand – it all changed again. How do I fight that? I don’t, I continue to make it and it may get a tip or get too thick but it still remains to be my second most popular flavor.

For me, it is better to get a tip from undermixing because you can flatten it with a wet finger but if you overmix it, there is no coming back from that and your batter will spread unevenly when piped and be very flat.

Macarons are finicky. Unless you work in a climate-controlled room and have control of all your ingredient sources, you can never predict how they’ll turn out. But the more you make them – the more you’ll understand them and you can make adjustments accordingly. Right now I am using the French Meringue method more than the Italian Meringue, but that may change eventually as I get busier and conservation becomes an issue.
 

ispahan02
 

My macaron posts are the most popular on this blog and I am working on a redesign to make it easier to navigate, which will include videos and different experiments. I’m also working on a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page on macarons. I have received dozens of emails with macaron questions and most of them are the same problems with a little variation mostly to deal with humidity in other countries. Though most of the answers are scattered across different posts, I think it’s time to put them all in a comprehensive format which I can add to as more queries come in. It’s hard for me to go through all those emails again, but if you would leave a question for me in the comment section, please do so and I would use this to build my FAQ page. Also what part of the video would you want me to focus on, 90% of me thinks it’s macaronage. Thanks!

Also check out MACTWEETS, a wonderful monthly event hosted by Deeba of Passionate about Baking and Jamie of Life’s a Feast, there’s a spicy roundup of lovely macaron creations from around the globe.

Continue reading

Gift ideas for the holidays!

 

christmacs small
Macaron gift boxes

 

Sorry for the lack of posts, I have been cooking but it’s mostly dishes that really have no recipes – you know the kind that you make up along as you go. ;). Anyway, just want to help the great folks here in Richmond put together their Christmas list.

         For a short-time period, I’ll be offering macarons in half-dozen for $9.00, these make perfect (and yummy) gifts for co-workers. These will be available starting the first week of December.

        The usual dozen for $18.00 and 2-dozen for $35 is also available but now you will have a choice to have an assortment of 3 or more flavors.

        Please email veronica AT petitesbouchees DOT com if interested.

        And if you are wondering how to display a dozen macarons for a holiday table, a compote dish makes the perfect vessel.

maccup
Macarons in a cup

 

 

 

 

The holidays start this weekend with Halloween!

halloweentreats
Halloween Treat box

This weekend, October 30th will be the last weekend for the St. Stephen’s Farmer’s market. I will be having a few of this Halloween boxes made up for sale. It contains an assortment of 6 macarons and will sell for $9.00.

I will also be a member of several online stores with very convenient pickup locations in RVA – details soon.

With the holidays around the corner, I will have almost all my macaron flavors available for tasting at this weekend’s farmer’s market.

See you there!

halloweentreats02
delectable treats

 

 

 

 

 

 

Random thoughts about macarons and other sweet stuff

chocraspmac02
Chocolate Macarons with Raspberries

Just finished making my macarons for this weekend’s Farmer’s market. While making my crunchy chocolate souffle flavor, I had some leftover macaron batter that wouldn’t exactly fit on a full tray so I decided to experiment with bigger macarons.

The above macaron is about 7cm and made with the Italian Meringue. Normally, for this method, you just put the macarons straight into the oven without drying the tops, but for this size I dried it for about 20 minutes and baked it at 310F convection for about 20 minutes. I piped chocolate ganache in the middle, and I do wish now that I put some raspberries in the middle too, because that was a whole lot of ganache.

Now to answer some of your questions that I’ve received from emails and comments on my Macaron Chronicles.

When you live in a humid country like Singapore, Philippines or Malaysia

Macarons do have a difficult time drying in humid conditions. Air conditioning helps but most households do not have this. You can try using an electric fan but that is not always the solution. I tried making macarons in Baguio and had the weirdest experience with the macaron shells never really drying even if they were under a ceiling fan. And Baguio is hardly a humid city,but sometimes cold and wet is worse than hot and humid. When I notice too much moisture in my macaron batter I extend the cooking time by 1 minute. Sometimes it is also the eggs. If the chicken is free-range and eats grass there tend to be more moisture in its albumen.

Air-pockets

If overmixing is ruled out, this is usually undercooked macarons or sometimes the nut particles may not be fine enough. If you cannot grind your almonds finely you can probably increase your nuts. But really, even the best of us gets this sometimes and as long as they’re not too big and your macaron doesn’t look hollow, they should be fine.

Wrinkly tops

Nuts are too oily or the egg-whites are too wet. Not everyone has a commercial nut grinder. What you can do is break up the nuts part-way, add your confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar) and continue grinding. I usually get the wrinkled top with my chocolate macarons that uses cocoa powder because of the oil content in the cocoa. Chocolate macarons made with cocoa powder taste more like a brownie than a macaron.

Baking multiple-trays in the oven

I bake a maximum of three trays in the oven without changing the temperature. I use convection. Remember the more trays you bake the more humid it gets in the oven.

chocraspmac01
Big Mac

Pocket Pies

Since I started baking professionally, I’ve stopped buying every kitchen gadget I see, however when I spotted a picture of a miniature pie on twitter made with this pie-cutter from William’s Sonoma, I couldn’t help myself.

pocketpie
Pocket Apple Pie

What do you all think?

I was dubious at first if I was even going to get enough filling in  it, but I did and it was the perfect size. In the future though, I don’t think I’ll use the lattice-cut for fruit pies. As pretty as it may look, it’s hard keeping the juices in.

One note about the cutter. The lattice was hard to cut out directly. I used the regular cutter and then took the dough and pressed it on the lattice-cutter to get the pretty design out.

A Pumpkin Dessert

Made this yummy and healthy sweet dessert yesterday. My friend’s Aunt brought an asian pumpkin, I think it’s a kabocha squash.

japsquashcoco
Pumpkin and Coconut Milk

 

Wash the pumpkin, cut it into pieces and remove the hard knots that stick out from the skin. Lay it on a pot, pour a can of coconut milk {around 14 oz}, 130 grams of palm sugar, 2 tablespoons white sugar. Really you can just sugar to taste. Add a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and simmer undisturbed until soft, around 15 minutes. I prefer my pumpkin with a little bite and not too soft. You can substitute brown sugar for the palm sugar.

This is absolutely delicious and healthy too! 🙂