The macaron,the symbol of French patisserie

The macaron, the symbol of French patisserie

In recent years, gourmets of all stripes have fallen hard for the soft delights of macarons. Bridor, a French maker of quality bread, Viennese pastries and patisseries for professionals, embarked on this sweet adventure in 2012. With gusto.

A matter of fact

At the start of 2012, Bridor, long recognised as a specialist provider of premium breads and Viennese pastries, decided to enhance its offering with patisserie products by buying a production site in Pont-de-l’Isère near Valence in SE France. Having already formed a close relationship with Lenôtre in 1997, it was only natural for the two houses to work hand in hand to create macaron recipes. “We had already developed a range of individual breads and petits fours with Lenôtre, so it seemed right that they help us get our macaron project off the ground. We set up a genuine partnership” explained Bruno Rousseau, CEO of Bridor. “Until last summer, our macarons were made in the Lenôtre facilities in Plaisir [a suburb of Paris]. But once our needs exceeded their capacity, we moved production to our facility in Pont-de-l’Isère. This has allowed us to manage our own production in the past few months and thus better target the international market. We want to establish ourselves as a reference in quality macarons using Lenôtre recipes” said Pascal Schneider-Maunoury, head of marketing at Bridor.

But what looks simple on paper requires dedication in practice: thus several Lenôtre pastry chefs regularly visited Bridor’s new facility, in particular Alain Blanchard who spent two whole months on site to help the teams get started. The plan was to train staff on how to work with meringue and to establish the quality and consistency of the recipes. For Pont-de-l’Isère is more workshop than factory. There are no automated production lines; macarons are closed by hand. It is meticulous work, to put it lightly. At present the macarons come in seven flavours: salted butter caramel, lemon, coffee, pistachio, raspberry, chocolate and vanilla.
But clearly the aim is to widen the range in 2016. “That’s the advantage of having our own production facilities, we can add flavours such as praline, strawberry or orange. We want to stick with conventional flavours even as we broaden our range” added Mr Schneider-Maunoury. French meringue IS patisserie Most macaron makers use Italian meringue stiffened using hot syrup which is easier to work with. But at Bridor, ease of use gives way to quality and the decision was taken early on to make macarons with French meringue. Fabrice Prochasson, Best French Craftsman (Cook) in 1996 and Lenôtre licensing director, oversaw the process of creating the Lenôtre Professional macaron recipes for Bridor. This is how he described the making of a fine macaron disc: “Egg whites are whisked into stiff peaks with some sugar then condensed with the rest of the sugar to bring some shine. Equal amounts of icing sugar and ground almond, which together form marzipan, are then added. Some raw egg whites then go into the mixture to soften it slightly and bind it, along with a natural colourant to give the finished product its final colour. The mixture is then lightly whisked just enough to obtain a smooth and slightly foamy texture without disturbing the egg whites. Once the final mixture is piped onto a baking sheet, the discs are left out in the open to harden a little.” Once baked, the discs are refrigerated to allow them to regain their moisture, just as fine wine or cheese is matured. They are then filled with butter cream, ganache or gelled fruit compote. So much for the easy part. But what are the keys to success? “The decisive factor when making macarons is getting the baking time and temperature right so that the natural colour doesn’t change. The edge of the macaron, known as the foot, must also rise slightly, as with a soufflé. But sometimes the feet get puffy during baking and the macarons are no longer round. To avoid this, macarons must always be baked on a flat double tray in a preheated oven. This isn’t easy when large quantities are involved but it is indispensable. In the end, several details have to be taken into account. The specifications therefore have to be followed to the letter” explained Mr Prochasson. For the elegance of a macaron lies in this balancing act so hard to pull off: a slightly firm and crunchy outer layer that yields to a melt-in-the-mouth filling.

You shall know them by their ingredients “Gaston Lenôtre always worked with Gerbet macaron recipes based on ground almond and French meringue, which is what makes them so tasty.
We’ve stuck to these principles for the A Professional Lenôtre Recipe macarons made by Bridor” said Mr Prochasson. Only the finest almonds make the cut: perfectly blanched so as to obtain an even colour with no trace of brown, they are freshly ground without heating to preserve their subtle flavours. The egg whites are taken from eggs laid by young hens raised in France. Once laid, they are quickly clarified to prevent the yolks from seeping into the whites, which would reduce the stiffness of the latter when whisked. Lastly, only natural colourants are used to give such tasty tones to these addictive delights.
The proof is in the overseeing Once deep-frozen, all the macaron batches made in Pont-de-l’Isère are sent directly to Lenôtre in Plaisir to undergo strict quality control. Weight, texture, colour, creaminess: nothing is overlooked. Macarons that pass with flying colours are then released for shipment to all corners of the globe. As an additional measure, Lenôtre inspectors visit the production facility once a month to check the weighing, the quality of egg whites and meringues, and cooking times and temperatures. Evidently nothing is left to chance here. And success was not long in coming.
“Last September we held tasting trials among 240 consumers, half in Paris and the other half in Brittany. Participants blind tasted the macarons of six major manufacturers and consistently ranked us at the top on the basis of appearance and taste. We are very happy with these results” enthused Mr Schneider-Maunoury. What was most liked about the macarons? In contrast to others, Bridor macarons were not judged too sweet. No doubt this was due to their perfect proportions, both inside and out, and to the improved butter cream enhanced with French custard to make it fluffier and lighter without compromising on gourmet taste. And for the finished product to both be crunchy and melt in the mouth, it must be defrosted in the proper manner: once taken out of their boxes, but still shrink-wrapped, the macarons must be put in the fridge for four hours. Any less and the filling won’t, well, melt in the mouth. A period of 15-30 minutes at room temperature is then necessary for them to “stretch out” and regain their soft composure; eaten too cold, a macaron won’t taste or feel like a macaron should. And that would be tantamount to treason against the reigning queen of French patisserie.

By Leslie Gogois