Behind The Scenes With Pastry Chef François Payard

Abby Klausner

In 2010, François Payard organized the first annual Macaron Day in NYC, on March 20th, the first day of Spring. It is an opportunity to discover macarons in New York as bakeries across the city once again come together to promote macarons and to help raise awareness (and money) for City Harvest.

Pastry Chef François Payard

When did it all begin?

It all started 30 years ago when Francois Payard moved to New York City. After finding success as the Pastry Chef at Le Bernadin and then Restaurant Daniel, Chef Payard opened his first restaurant, Payard Patisserie and Bistro, bringing the tastes of the south of France to The Big Apple.
20 years ago, most macarons were made using fillings like buttercream or jams. That’s how Chef Payard began as well, until he realized that buttercream is fattening and impractical in warm weather. He decided to experiment with ganache and never looked back.
Experimenting with white chocolate allowed for the acidity of flavors like passion fruit and raspberry to shine through without overpowering the palate. “I like white chocolate because its acts as a binding,” the chef explains. As he increasingly worked with ganache, he was able to find the right texture and consistency.
“All of our ganache are based on three chocolates: white, milk and dark,” Chef Payard explains. “Sometimes in the summer we play with fruit based jam like a strawberry basil and use agar agar as a binding agent. But we have to be careful about the humidity with these.” It’s difficult to make the perfect macaron as humidity is a factor; it affects how long you have to cook the shells. The more humidity in the room, the longer the shell needs to cook and dry.
Each recipe must be adapted to the kind of ganache used. Dark chocolate has less cream and therefore less moisture than white or milk chocolate. The macaron subsequently needs to cook for less time and mature in the refrigerator to avoid dryness. This can be combated with a little bit of mist from a spray bottle. White chocolate, on the other hand, has the most moisture as its made with lots of cream. Chef Payard finds that white chocolate ganache leads to the best texture and consistency.

What’s the most important thing to remember when making macarons?

Maturation! While you may be tempted to dig right in after spending hours creating these Parisian delicacies, it’s imperative that you let the macarons sit overnight in the refrigerator. This allows the shells to absorb some of the moisture from the ganache, creating a cookie that crunches without crumbling. Macarons should be crisp on the outside, soft on the inside.
A helpful hint: leave some hot water at the bottom of the refrigerator to add humidity when making a batch of macarons.
“The perfect macaron is not chewy, but you take a bite and its soft and crunchy with a smooth and creamy ganache.”

What do you love about macarons?

“I love how versatile macarons can be. They can be sweet or savory. One of the best macarons that we’ve ever made was a dark chocolate truffle macaron with fresh black truffles from Périgord. It was decadent and luxurious, but I’m not sure that our market really appreciated them. I used to play a lot with flavors, but people really like the classics. Our top sellers are always vanilla bean, pistachio, salted caramel and chocolate.”

What were some of your favorite flavors to make?

“Some of my favorites have been a milk chocolate and coconut, blood orange and orange blossom, banana passion fruit, and one year we played with cold pressed herbs to create a whole garden collection like strawberry basil, lemon thyme and mint chocolate. We tried a savory macaron collection for the holidays the other year with squid ink, cream cheese andolive tapenade, foie gras and fig chutney and a blue cheese and date macaron. I wanted people to have another option for canapes during the holidays, but I think it may have been a bit too out there.”

How often do you change your flavors?

“Every month we pick a flavor that matches the season. For the spring we will make a white chocolate and peppermint macaron. Last year we made a blood orange macaron for the first day of spring. Each flavor has to be seasonal, but also a flavor that people want to eat. Sometimes things just don’t work out as well as we want them to. One year we tried a white chocolate and strawberry and it just wasn’t a strong enough fruit to overpower the white chocolate. A lot of berries without acidity don’t work as well with ganache because their flavor can’t shine, so when that happened, we created a strawberry jam to really highlight the strawberry.”

What else should we know?

Francois Payard’s factory produces about 10,000 macarons a day!

Make your own macarons!

Recipe for Francois Payard’s Chocolate Macarons:
The macaron is the most Parisian of all cookies, found most famously at the shops Ladurée, Fauchon, or Pierre Hermé. There cannot be a chocolate book by a French pastry chef without a recipe for chocolate macarons! Plus, they’re addictive: a rich ganache is sandwiched between two meringues that have a crunchy exterior shell and a chewy, moist interior. You can fill them with pistachio purée or seedless raspberry jam if you want, but my favorite will always be this chocolate classic. Unlike most macaron recipes, other than Ladurée’s, these are made with a cooked meringue. Anything with meringue is sensitive to humidity: make them on dry days preferably.
Makes about 50 macarons:

3 ½ cups (450 grams) confectioners’ sugar
4 cups (400 grams) almond flour or finely ground blanched almonds
7 tablespoons (44 grams) Dutch-process cocoa powder
9 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 cups (400 grams) sugar

4 ounces (120 grams) 50% chocolate, chopped
2 ounces (53 grams) 100% chocolate, chopped
4 ½ teaspoons (27 grams) light corn syrup
1 cup (240 grams) heavy cream
Make the macarons: Place a rack each in the upper and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F. Line 2 baking sheets with silicone baking mats. If you have enough baking sheets, double them up (this will prevent the macarons from baking too fast).
Sift together the confectioners’ sugar, almond flour, and cocoa powder over a large bowl. Stir in 4 egg whites, until the mixture is smooth and lump-free.
With a candy thermometer handy, combine the sugar and ½ cup (125 grams) water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. If sugar sticks to the sides of the pot, dip a pastry brush in water and brush the sides.
While the sugar is cooking, put the remaining 5 egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Once the sugar reaches 221°F on the candy thermometer, start beating the eggs on high speed. When the sugar reaches 250°F, pour it into the eggs in a slow stream, with the mixer running, down the inside of the bowl. Continue beating until the meringue is thick and the bottom of the bowl is cool to the touch.
With a silicone spatula, gently fold the meringue into the dry ingredients, in 4 increments. Fold until everything is well combined.
Spoon the batter in a pastry bag or resealable plastic bag, and cut a ½-inch opening in the tip or corner of the bag. Pipe the batter into quarter-size circles onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 1 inch in between each macaron. The macarons should have a uniform size. Let them sit out at room temperature for 15 minutes, until a skin forms. This will transform into a beautiful crust on the finished macarons.
Put the macarons in the oven, and turn the oven off for 5 minutes. After that time, turn it back on to 400°F, and continue baking for 8 minutes, until a crust forms and they are soft inside. Remove from the oven, and let the macarons cool in the pans.
Make the ganache: Combine both chocolates and the corn syrup in a medium bowl.
Pour the cream in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Pour over the chocolate, and whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Let the ganache cool, stirring periodically with a silicone spatula, until it reaches pipeable consistency, about 60 minutes. It should feel like a thick icing.
Assemble the macarons: Turn the silicone baking mat over, and carefully pull it away from the macarons, to free them up. Turn half of the macarons over, so that their flat side is facing up.
Spoon the ganache into a pastry bag or resealable plastic bag, and cut a ½-inch opening in the tip or corner of the bag. Pipe a nickel-size amount of ganache in the center of the macarons that are facing up. Gently press the remaining macarons over the ganache, to make small sandwiches. Try to match the size of the two halves as much as possible.
Store the macarons in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 2 months.

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