Macarons with the Master…Adriano Zumbo

ImageIf 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.

 

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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. 

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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.

ImageAgain 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!

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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!

ImageAfter 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! 

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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!

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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!

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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!!

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Death by Croquembouche

ImageI have a slightly unhealthy obsession with conquering the Croquembouche. I think it all started about a year ago when I first saw the challenge set on one of my favourite cooking shows, Masterchef. Since that time I’ve had about four attempts at the French Wedding Cake, each with varying levels of success and often resulting in burnt fingers and a few tears (this is probably one of the only recipes that angers/frustrates/delights me to the point of crying!). I’ve always used the same recipe (Adriano Zumbo’s Masterchef challenge recipe, which has now “officially” been removed from their website but a similar one exists here http://tvnz.co.nz/masterchef-australia/croquembouche-3069656) and every single time I always promise myself never ever to attempt it again…and yet here we are!

So about a month ago I received a Croquembouche cone for my birthday, which undoubtably was a sign that I would just have to attempt to make it one final time (as if!) and I of course decided that the most perfect occasion would be Christmas Dinner. On the four previous occasions that I’ve made it, I had progressively gotten better. The very first attempt resulted in very large choux buns of all different sizes served on a plate (I was too exhausted after the process of making the buns that I couldn’t be bothered to make the toffee or put them together). The next two attempts did have more consistency in bun size and shape and even included the toffee. The tower however, was still slightly unattainable without the proper cone, collapsing into a heap on my second attempt and leaning like the tower of Pisa in the third. My fourth attempt (made for my boyfriends birthday) was my best so far where I came up with the genius idea of using a bowl lined in cling wrap as my mould. Unfortunately I forgot that hot toffee melts plastic but after a few disasters I managed to get a tower shape, slightly uneven but with spun toffee. It was all very impressive! For this attempt though I was very determined. Success would finally be mine, I could just feel it!

So on Christmas eve I set about baking my choux buns. In previous attempts I’ve noticed that once filled and refrigerated, the buns go soggy quite quickly so to counteract this I planned to bake the buns a day ahead, and construct the tower the day of. I really took my time making sure that each batch were evenly cooked through, and completely dried out. I’ve previously had issues where the buns didn’t dry out completely, but read somewhere that you should cook for 10mins at a higher temperature, before turning your oven down for the remaining time. This seemed to work very well, and I managed to turn out perfectly cooked, coloured choux buns that had a nice hollow sound when tapped on the base (thats a sign that they are cooked through). I also saw, on another cooking show, that once removed from the oven, the buns should have a small “x” cut into the base. ImageThis has two purposes; the first is to allow the heat/steam to escape from each bun, preventing them from going soggy and secondly to provide a hole to pipe the custard into later. Once this process was complete and the buns were cool I put them into an airtight container, readying myself for the great build the next day!

So I must admit that on this occasion I cheated on the custard (or creme patissiere if you want to be technically correct) and bought an extra thick store bought one, which worked really well for a time pressed and egg-short me! I also enlisted my sister to help me build the great structure, which was probably wise as she kept me sane throughout the process. Now this was the first time that I had ever used the actual cone to help me build it and if I’ve learnt one thing its INVEST IN A CONE!! It was so much faster and easier and less stressful then I’d ever envisaged. I really don’t know why I didn’t do it the first time. After some research though, I’ve read a few websites that make their own cone shape using baking paper and also use chocolate instead of toffee for a bit of a modern twist. While I’ve never personally tried either of these options they both sound worthwhile with much less risk of being burnt. ImageAfter about 15mins though, we had our tower and now for the moment of truth, turning it out! With all my fingers crossed I prayed to the gods of baking and did the magic flip, hearing the beautiful “clunck” sound of the croquembouche detaching itself from the mould! As I lifted it away I was presented with a perfectly shaped Croquembouche and about time too!! It was possibly, one of my proudest baking moments.

Now this dessert wasn’t to be eaten for a few hours so I turned it back into the cone and transported it to my Aunties house where I made one of my most amateur decisions ever….not to refrigerate the Croquembouche. So here’s another lesson I learnt on Christmas day, you must refrigerate the Croquembouche!!! Sadly for me it was all too little, too late. When it finally came time to serve up, I turned out what was once my perfectly formed Croquembouche only to have it all collapse before my eyes! To say I was devastated was an understatement. In the end though I was consoled with two thoughts; one that it would still taste just as good and two that I had already taken a picture of its success. I must say though, that it still did taste really good. So with all that said and done, here are the things that I’ve learnt when it comes to making a Croquembouche. Hopefully someone out there will learn something from my mistakes and create a beautiful, flawless Croquembouche, first time around!Image

The Do’s and Don’ts:

1. If you’re not confident with a piping bag then make a template of circles on a sheet that you place underneath your baking paper so that all of your buns are the same size

2. Do cook your buns at 200 degrees C for the first 10 mins then turn your oven down to 180 degrees C

3. Do cook your buns all the way through, even if this is longer then the recommended cooking time. They should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom and will be quite coloured. This is a good sign!

4. Do cut an “x” in the base of each bun with a sharp knife and cool completely

5. It’s ok to use store bought custard, just make sure you use one thats “extra thick”

6. Do invest in a Cone or make your own using baking paper. Spray the cone lightly with cooking spray and DO NOT use cling wrap

7. Make and serve your Croquembouche at or around the same time and in the interval REFRIGERATE!! Even if its a cool day!

And finally,

8. Do try again if it doesn’t work the first time. It’s a challenge after all!!

Happy Baking xx