Macarons have something of that French je-ne-sais-quoi that enchants crowds around the world. I am personally addicted to macarons, so when IfOnly graciously invited us to experience one of their unique experiences we had to choose their exclusive French macaron cooking class ($110) with Simon Herfray, a French patissier well-versed in the delicate art of these hard-to-make sweets.
With Mother’s Day approaching, it is a perfect experience to gift and make some really good memories with Mom (and who knows? You might find you have a knack for cooking in the era of Seamless!)
A staple piece of the French patisserie, macarons are sweet meringue-based confections that enclose a savory filling in between two crusty and light shells. Made primarily with egg whites, sugar, and almond flour, traditional macarons are naturally gluten-free and extremely satisfying. Macarons (pronounced mah-kə-ROHN) are different to macaroons (pronounced mah-kah-ROON), a coconut-based sweet originating in Italy.
The IfOnly experience
IfOnly is a website that offers all sorts of unique experiences in several cities across the US. Their offerings in New York are quite impressive and range from fun group classes to really private and exclusive experiences. The French Macaron Class taught by a French Pastry Chef is one of the many activities available!
After you choose your experience and the desired date and time at the IfOnly website, a luminary will send your itinerary confirming the availability and everything you need to know. In our case, the class included every single supply needed to learn how to bake about a couple dozen perfectly-made macarons in three different flavors that we got to take home. Although this seems like a no-brainer, I for one was very grateful that I didn’t have to worry about any extra supplies or expenses. I’ve attended many a class where I’ve had to bring my own materials, and if I don’t like what I learn I feel that I have wasted a lot of money and my time. This way, I was able to relax and just bring myself, which is the ideal situation if you are gifting this experience to mom.
The Macaron Class: 2h30′ of French Goodness
If you have ever tried to make macarons on your own, chances are you have ended up with strange-looking shells that have nothing to do with the gracious shapes displayed at Laduree. My failed experiments ended up looking like meteorites with a Nutella filling, which were good enough for my friends to eat with gusto while they took a big laugh at my efforts. Kudos to them because they were visually appalling!
With this knowledge, I planned to attend the class to learn what I did wrong. As it turns out, it was nearly everything. My recipe was not well-balanced, my meringue was a disaster, and I was definitely using the wrong type of almond flour (it needs to be properly sifted.)
Chef Simon Herfray received us in his professional kitchen in East Harlem. Upon our arrival, he gave us a foolproof recipe that we could take home with us. No need to scribble frantically here as everything was perfectly spelled out in advance. Again, that is a +1 that helps make a memorable experience.
After dividing the attendants into three groups, we started working in our shells and fillings. The menu of the day consisted of macarons filled with lemon curd, chocolate-hazelnut ganache, and apricot jam. I could feel my stomach screaming in happiness, to be honest. The class was very relaxed, and Chef Simon instructed all the three groups step-by-step and answered our million questions about how to make meringue right and even how to fold it into the mixture to get those picture-perfect shells. As it turns out, there is a foolproof technique that nobody had ever bothered to teach me. With our pre-measured ingredients, we only needed to concentrate on understanding the process. Macarons are capricious by nature, and if you overmix or undercook them you’d better start again from scratch. Ouch.
With the pressure off, we progressed creating our brightly colored confections. Chef Simon explained to us how to make the perfect fillings, and why it was important to pair macarons up with savory ganaches, jams, or lemon curds to bring out all the crispiness in the shells. As we waited for our mixtures to get the perfect bright color and flat consistency, we started creating our fillings from scratch. It really was hard not to stick my finger and eat the whole mixture, to be honest.
After a brief recess in which our luminary cooked the macarons in his professional oven, the class reconvened for the final step: Assembling the macarons. If you think that you can just spread some Nutella inside and be done, you’re completely mistaken. Pairing up the shells and putting the filling in a way that is perfectly symmetrical should be considered a noble art. It really takes some time. To be precise, it took us about two hours and a half to complete the process with the pre-measured ingredients and Chef Simon’s tricks to speed up the drying and cooking times. In a regular kitchen, you should plan your whole weekend around the macarons as it takes about three days from the moment you start cooking to the day when you can finally eat the delicacies.
Now I understand why the price of macarons is completely justified!
All in all, it was a very fun and dynamic class. Chef Simon’s kitchen was perfectly equipped to cater to all our needs, our host was very welcoming, and we all went home giddy with happiness and about a couple dozen perfectly round macarons to flood our Insta. His kitchen was very easy to find, and it’s located not far from the 116th Street metro station, which is very convenient if you want to avoid the weekend rush hour.
If you are looking to make a last-minute gift in time for Mother’s Day, this French macaron cooking class is simply perfect. Just find the right date and surprise her with a really fun experience where you two will be able to make long-lasting memories! Open to cooks of every skill level (read here that mine is virtually non-existent), it is a really fun class that makes a perfect Saturday evening plan.
Now I’ll have to see how I can replicate some decent-looking macarons in my very humble kitchen with no countertop space! Homemade Nutella (see my recipe here), get ready to be transformed into a French delicacy!
The Details: French Macaron Class with a French Pastry Chef
Chef Simon Herfray at French ‘Encas
451 E 116th St (East Harlem / El Barrio)
Cost: $110/person (all the materials are included)
Reserve your French Macaron Cooking Class at IfOnly
Disclosure level 1: The author received NO compensation to write this post. The author received a sample class for editorial consideration. Being invited to test the class didn’t influence the decision to feature a brand nor the opinions expressed by the author. All links provided in the article are for information only and are not part of any affiliate marketing program.