If you’re a resident of Sydney (or maybe even Australia) then you’ve probably heard of Adriano Zumbo. For those of you that haven’t though, Zumbo is like Australia’s answer to Heston Blumenthal. Essentially, he made the humble French Macaron a household name here in Australia, opening several cafes throughout both Sydney and more recently Melbourne. His specialties include desserts and pastries, but not just your humble croissant or mousse cake, no Zumbo is famous for his experimental flavours and whacky combinations! He has always been a great favourite of mine as a chef, I think mostly because his recipes are quite complex but always look spectacular and as a result, I always want to conquer the challenge. Recently, he started a cooking school at his Rozelle premises and I was lucky to receive a class for Christmas!!
So off I went, feeling slightly nervous at the prospect of meeting a culinary icon but also at the thought of having to successfully cook macarons in front of him! Now to be honest I have made macarons many many times before and each time to a varying level of success. I have come close to perfection quite a few times, but when attempted with the same recipe a second time, I sadly fail. Whether its French meringue or Italian, these things have a mind of their own! As a result I couldn’t successfully tell you which recipe is best or even how to make them properly to guarantee success. Despite that though I (of course) keep on trying (even though every time it ends in disaster I promise myself Never Again!)
When I arrived I was directed to a room above the Rozelle Cafe (where you can watch the chefs at work while you fill your belly with delicious sweets) where I met the rest of my class. Altogether there were 12 of us, all women except for one brave man and I was quite surprised to hear that some of the group had travelled from inter-state just to take the class! There’s dedication! We received our recipe book and an apron before heading into Zumbo’s test kitchen, where the class would take place.
The room itself was quite large (particularly considering it was sort of like one mans office) and filled with all kinds of equipment. Four moveable benches were set up down the centre of the room and the ingredients were placed on a side bench. We all washed our hands before finding a place at a bench with two others who we would be working with. Co-incidentally I found my way to a bench with two lovely ladies who were also school teachers! Needless to say team teacher worked very well together throughout the day! Then it was time to meet Adriano, who I must say is very very lovely and slightly shy. But a master none-the-less. He explained that each bench would make two flavours of macarons (about 60 macarons of each flavour) and then at the end we would split them all up amongst us. We would start with each group making their fillings, requiring us to measure out the specific ingredients that we needed. It was very much like being in a real kitchen. Everything was available to us but it was up to each group to collect their specific ingredients, in the right quantities as well as with the right equipment. I really liked that actually, as it felt more independant. It wasn’t like someone had measured it all and set it all out in front of me, but more similar to a real cooking environment at home. It seemed more realistic in the end, although I think some people were a little shocked that we got free range.
Adriano instructed each group as to what flavours they would be making, with all the recipes included in our cookbooks. My group would be making Lavender Macarons and also Chocolate which excited me greatly as I have never made either of those flavours! And then it was all systems go! The kitchen tentatively started moving into a whirring pace, with everyone moving about collecting what they needed. Our group didn’t have too much to collect incidentally, as our fillings were quite simple (that and we were an excellent group if I do say so myself!) so we finished quite quickly.
Adriano then explained that whilst there were instructions in our cook books, he also wanted to show us different ways/processes to achieve the same filling so he wouldn’t necessarily be going off the written recipe. At this point I got my pen ready, I didn’t want to miss a second. He then worked with each group individually to demonstrate how to create the fillings. This part was really fun as we got to be involved but also learn how to create wonderful flavours with relative ease. Most of the recipes involved a ganache base, with additional things incorporated for variation. My favourite was the rice pudding, which (believe it or not) required the group to make a beautiful creamy rice pudding and mix it with a white chocolate ganache. All the while we also received little tips and tricks, my favourite being to keep the vanilla bean pod once the seeds are scraped, the dry it out in the oven and grind it up to a fine powder. This can then be used in recipes for a more intense flavour with hints of coffee! Adriano also reminded us that its the filling that makes a difference!
Once all the groups fillings were made we moved onto the shells. This was the bit I was most interested to see as this is where I always feel most uncertain. Adriano demonstrated how to make a beautiful vanilla shell which was actually so simple to make. I was really surprised! It was fantastic because I was able to iron out some of the uncertainties that I had about it and also see the consistency of a correct mixture (which is a lot more fluid then I have always thought). Overall I feel that what I am missing is the use of an electric thermometer for precise measure and also the non-stick mat that we used when piping it out.
Again it was time for us to take the reigns and move onto the making! We broke off into our groups and set about following our recipes. Everyone was working away in their teams, adding egg whites here and heating sugar there, it was so much fun! And then within a matter of moments we were all done and they looked great! I really couldn’t believe that we had done what we did so successfully. Sadly they still had to cook and form the foot so the proof of success was still yet to come. We left them to rest and form a skin while we sat down to lunch!
Whenever I go to these cooking classes I am always surprised at the fact that we get lunch, not to mention the beautiful food that was on offer. We had two salads (a Greek salad and a chicken pesto pasta salad) and then a choice of two Quiches. Mmm yum!! it was fantastic! I would of had more but I didn’t want to look like a piggy. There was also a beautiful coffee machine inside the kitchen which we were able to use at any stage throughout the day!
After lunch we re-entered the room to find our benches covered with beautifully cooked macarons! Everyone was so surprised by the level of success! Not one group had any dodgy ones! Fantastic! We paired the shapes up and then started to fill them all and wow, it was such a feeling of excitement for me! I finally succeeded in making proper macarons! Yes!
Each group then plated up 6 of their best for a photo opportunity and they all looked spectacular. I loved the range of colours and flavours! One of the ladies asked for a photo with Adriano, which was possibly a mistake as then we all wanted one. I was clever enough to remember my cookbook which he very nicely signed. Seriously, he was so lovely and nothing was ever a trouble!
The last part of the day was the best! We each received a box and then were let loose to collect whatever we liked and wow did we all take home a lot of macarons! Check out my box, I couldn’t close the lid!
Overall, I had the most wonderful day and would gladly do another class! I highly recommend this class to anyone who has a love for baking, trust me, you won’t be disappointed!!