Every restaurant job is different. In one kitchen, with one pastry chef, you make chocolate mousse a hundred different ways, another person hates bananas and tropical fruit so you never use them. In one house you spend 3 hours of your prep time for service painting, baking and lifting tuiles off silpats until you have no more fingertips, and at your next job you will need to understand what and how gelatin works. There's no telling.
As pastry chefs we have books filled with recipes for components but there is no recipe for a plated dessert. Plated desserts are short stories, novellas, quizzical sentences and adventures. We take one or a few flavors, textures, perfumes, concepts and build a plate around those beginnings.
At The French Laundry we served many desserts. Even if you only ordered one, many were shuttled out to your table. We had tiny courses to whet, calm, excite, puzzle, surprise, intrigue, satisfy, warm, cool and generally delight the palate.
One such mignardise was the famous French macaron. A tiny white button of a sandwich cookie filled with a gnome sized hand-print schmear of chocolate ganache could be found in the middle.
I hated making those cookies.
I thought the flavor was almost nothing and I didn't understand why we had to make them.
To my knowledge, this was before Pierre Herme brilliantly hid foie gras, brandied cherries, olive oil ganache and rose scented buttercream within his
explicit exquisite macaron. This was before some crazy American women at a local bakery slammed the brakes on tradition and ground whole almonds (most all are made with blanched almond meal) to make such revolutionary great tasting and, gasp, seasonal! macaron, such as grapefruit and rose geranium. Not only do Miette's macaron taste delicious, they are actually made with real flavors. (Much of those fantastically colored and flavored French macaron are made with food coloring and flavor "essences.")
I do remember when Eric came back from working for Gordon Ramsey and told us that he saw beet and other radical flavored and colored macaron there in London. Blech, was all I could think.
These cookies were not only not easy to make at TFL, they were finicky and maliciously inconsistent, not to mention downright stubborn and prissy. Volatile combinations for any dessert component, and, as you can well imagine, terrifying if combined with the hands of an exacting, organized and driven pastry chef manning the wheel.
It didn't help that none of us in the kitchen could figure out how to make them and we were working with an equally temperamental still oven. (Not convection, which is the standard for pastry departments, at least in the USA.)
Luckily for all of you who know how to use the Internet, there is a thorough step-by-step tutorial on this now very famous French sandwich cookie. Fellow pastry chef Tartelette wrote the article and it's source is an online magazine called, fittingly, Desserts Magazine.
Don't delay, go there today.
Because, hey, just because I don't see what all the fuss is about, doesn't mean I'm going to keep you from the sandwich cookie love of your life. Apple of your eye. You Golden Apple of Eternal Desire, to quote Milan Kundera.
Be kept from your passion no more!
Obviously I don't hate them anymore. But until I learn how to make them again with someone who wants cookies that taste like something, I will be glad to liquidate my bank account in Paris or The Ferry Building.
I figure it's a lot like high heels. I think they're very pretty shoes, but I'm glad other people are happy wearing them so I don't have to.
~ post script: Aran was lovely enough to make me some pink peppercorn macaron when I met her in Florida. Yes, this is a beautiful example of how to change a boring component into an exciting one.