The French Macaron and the She-Devil Pastry Chef

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SheDevil Pastry Chef Janina Farias taught the author at a one-on-one class

 

Only a few ingredients are used to make the crusty, delicate French Macaron cookie, but skill and sheer artistry determine its success.

CALEXICO — Recently the She-Devil Pastry Chef, Janina Farias, taught the author at a one-on-one class.

The incentive for placing oneself in such a precarious situation, when in the throws of trying seriously to lose weight, came from the fact that a few months ago we had traveled to France with our daughter, Naomi. While in Paris our daughter did what the Parisians do, and ordered a French Macaron from one of the many bakeries. She did not share it! She closed her eyes, and in the sparkling glow of the Seine River, she bit in and let the rich pastry crumble, then slowly melt in her mouth.

When a recent ad appeared in the local paper offering a class making these lovely treats, the author signed up. Naomi could not make it down that weekend ; tickets to a Brad Paisley concert, front section, trumped the offer – barely.

These are not the macaroon spelled with two O’s found on our American grocery store shelves. Macarons, pronounced with a long nasal “oh” at the end, are delicacies that contain actually only three ingredients: egg whites, sugar, and almond flour. What is done with these ingredients by the chef-artist is the secret. Special brands are preferred, as well.

Aging the egg whites was the most shocking step of all. Three days prior to baking, one measures out to the gram, an amount of egg whites and then sets this aside to age, rather like cheese. For this reason, one does not lick the spoon, or beater, while making the cookie. You must show self- control to the bitter end- through mixing the ingredients, letting the raw mounds of cookie dough rest to form a skin, and finally, to baking.

At one point in the baking of the macrons, Janina exclaimed excitedly, “Look, their little feet are forming!” This refers to the ragged edge around each cookie that appears about the third minute into cooking. In France they would say, pied, French for foot.

The macaron is quite a paradox actually. You gently fold ingredients, and then you violently beat them. The French term is macaronage the dough. Chef Janina, all four-foot-ten-inches of her, is a powerhouse with both techniques, chatting amicably, then silently observing her dough to catch it at just the right moment for the next step. Good things do come in small packages; both the chef and the macaron in this case were delightful.

Janina began her professional career as a baker in 2011. She had left the medical field due to a disability; she had discovered she was bipolar. She is not afraid to make this fact known, but rather hopes that her success as a chef in a career she now passionately loves will be an encouragement to others. She has openly shared her journey on Facebook.

The secrets of the French Macaron, Janina explained, comes from “a third generation French pastry chef who spoke like “theeese.” The dough is one recipe and the delicate frosting, another. They include but aren’t limited to chocolate, raspberry, passion fruit, and coconut. Generally the color of the frosting matches the color of the cookie itself, both made using gel food coloring not the watery liquid coloring most of us grew up using.

Asked if she had baked as a child, Janina responded, “Are you kidding? I probably baked because they didn’t. I never played with a little toy oven either; I played with the big one.”   One secret concerning ovens, Janina shared, was “You never put anything in a cold oven. Most things need the blast of heat for leavening to create the gas bubbles needed to raise. That’s why we preheat.”

We were able to take home three different flavored macarons at the end of the three-hour session. We ate one of each and one for good measure while in Janina’s kitchen, she works and teaches classes at her home working under the Cottage Food law that she renews each year. Once home, this novice pastry chef shared the delicacies with her spouse, and again enjoyed one of each flavor tossing any concern for weight to the wind.

The plan was to quickly take them to San Diego and give the remaining two dozen plus to Naomi to share with her colleagues at work, but we went off – forgetting the bag of macarons in the freezer. Since then, Naomi has come and gone taking the macarons with her.

Self-control is back at work, though our better half has discovered the macaron only gets better as it ages and is cold. The flavor becomes even more sophisticated and delectable. As for baking, we will schedule a baking marathon one day, or maybe, we will simply place an order with the She-Devil Pastry chef by calling 1-760-652-9666, or emailing Janina personally at info@shedevilpastry.com.

 

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