Macaron
by Alison Thompson
Publisher: Penguin, Country: AU
ISBN: 9780143204206, Year: 2010
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

Alison Thompson’s Macaron is a nicely presented book that offers 35 flavors ranging from classic to creative. However, for such a notoriously difficult petit four to make, the recipe presented is too temperamental and the information too lightweight, with little to offer in terms of troubleshooting and technique.

Full review

About the author

Australian pastry chef Alison Thompson is a professional chef and pastry chef with 15 years’ experience working in Melbourne and London, most notably at the Little Venice Cake Company in the UK. During her travels in Paris, she spent a week sampling macarons from top patisseries. She is currently the head pastry chef of Alison Louise Designer Cakes, a wedding and special occasion cake business located just outside Melbourne. Recently she started to include macaron wedding cakes and towers in her repertoire.

Main review

Alison Thompson’s Macaron is only the second book written in English exclusively about the Parisian petit four that is notoriously difficult to reproduce at home but has long been the subject of online interest among dessert-lovers. The publication situation is, however, not the same in France where several titles have been published, from lightweight books that are little more than pretty pamphlets to famous French pastry chef Pierre Hermé’s tome Macaron (in so far as a book on macarons can be considered a tome). It seems strange and disingenuous that Thompson’s introduction makes no mention of the popularity of macarons, both in the real world and online. There is a wealth of information and misinformation on the internet about the correct way to bake macarons, as well as a dizzying variety of flavors (readers could consider any of these links as starting points: Mercotte, Syrup & Tang, Tartelette, Mélanger, Lebovitz).

One can say that this book is merely an introduction and the recipes — 35 in all, plus two basic recipes for shells (vanilla and chocolate) — is a good sampling of the creative potential of macarons, and that’s absolutely right. The variety in particular is quite impressive: imaginative flavors such as Black Forest, Blackcurrant and Violet, Gingerbread-spiced, Jasmine Tea and Lime, Peanut Butter, and Mango and White Chocolate; and more classic choices such as Raspberry, Vanilla and Rose, Passionfruit, Salted Caramel, and Chocolate. In all there are seventeen ganache-based recipes, seventeen buttercream-based recipes, and one curd. It’s commendable that Thompson was able to stretch the capabilities of ganache to carry flavor. As an example, she included the classic recipe for passionfruit milk chocolate ganache using passionfruit juice in melted milk chocolate, as has been done by Pierre Hermé and other pastry chefs. The buttercream-based recipes, predictably, are the same buttercream recipe with various flavors mixed in. Each recipe page essentially becomes a recipe for the filling. It would have been interesting to give some background to the flavors included, especially those that have been made famous by Parisian pastry chefs, like salted caramel macarons. With the lack of acknowledgment of the impact macarons have had in dessert culture, it makes the book seem context-free and lacking in authority.

There isn’t any variety introduced into the recipes for shells. Each recipe has a marginal note about how you should color the shells, and that’s it. Looking at my copy of Indulge by Claire Clark (former pastry chef of The French Laundry in California) in one page there is a recipe for five varieties of macaron shells and fillings. On the internet there are several more inspired variations. In Japanese pastry chef Hisako Ogita’s I Love Macarons, released late last year (and the first US-published book exclusively about macarons), the author has several flavors of macarons crammed into one page and accomplished by the simple addition of a flavoring to the basic batter. It wouldn’t have been advanced territory for Thompson to introduce this concept.

Even as a beginner’s book, the book still doesn’t quite make the mark. It uses a simple three-ingredient recipe for macarons that requires only the beating of plain egg whites to stiff peaks and folding in an almond-sugar powder. This method can actually produce a good product, but without using sugar to stabilize the meringue, becomes very prone to overmixing. The recipe cautions us that if not mixed to a glossy and slow-moving stage, the finished macarons will not be smooth. Unfortunately, it’s often overzealous folding — achieved beyond this glossy, slow-moving stage by a few strokes — that is an equally common problem (if not more so). There’s no excuse not to use the technically slightly more advanced French or Italian meringue versions, as each recipe for buttercream requires the kitchen confidence to prepare sugar syrup boiled to a certain temperature and beaten into egg yolks. Even many of the most basic books published in France on macarons encourage the use of stabilized meringue and offer more troubleshooting help (even if not always entirely helpful). There aren’t enough helpful tips in this book for such a fastidious project for a beginner. If your macarons have no “feet”, then the book says the oven probably isn’t hot enough, but it fails to mention that the most important factor is heat coming from the bottom (crank up the heat from the top and disaster awaits). There are no instructions at all on how to remove the shells from the parchment, which can be a problem especially if the batter is overmixed. To make caramel, Thompson says, place the sugar in a saucepan and “cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar melts and turns into caramel,” which isn’t very helpful.

What’s ultimately most disappointing about Macaron is that it didn’t use the opportunity to consolidate good, sensible information about baking macarons at home and presented the subject matter too simply. This lack of information makes the book more accessible to the beginner, naturally, but for this type of patisserie what’s needed is guidance, not accessibility. As a result, the book is, at best, a good source of inspiration and recipes for fillings.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 2. No strong recommendation
Visual appeal: Attractive
Suitability as a gift: If the person is really interested
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Macaron, Alison Thompson | 2010 | AU, 3.8 out of 5 based on 8 ratings

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One Comment

  1. Posted 12 Nov 2011 at 15:19 | Permalink

    Pretty accurate. I found that the basic recipe can be modified (and greatly improved) by using 200g icing sugar (instead of her 225g) and gradually beating 35g caster sugar into the egg whites as you beat them. The meringue will be a bit firmer and you’ll get a crispier shell. The shells you get with the stock recipe tend to be quite soft, and because of that it’s difficult to judge how long to cook them for.

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