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Advice for Sous switching to Pastry?

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

I am not classically trained in the sweet side of things (or the savory side for that matter!) and I'll be filling in on pastry for a little bit until our cook comes back from Spain. I can do the basics easily but not with quite the deft or confidence I do in the savory kitchen. I even have a better than average knowledge of bread baking and most dessert techniques than other sous chefs I've worked with because I do practice at home somewhat, I just don't actually do it at work. I don't have the experience or polishing professionally so I am somewhat a rookie. Admittedly I am not good at the things that take a little more finesse or are quite tedious, I am however extremely organized and plan things out 4 or 5 steps ahead of time.


Any advice for someone like me? Again this is not permanent and only til our cook comes back so I think I will enjoy my brief stint. We do NOT have a legitimate pastry chef, pastry is usually divided between two prep cooks and garde manger. The main prep cook who does most of the pastry work isn't too talented but has been making the same things for years so he gets them done.


Things I will be responsible for:

Bread service (rolls and whipped Vermont cultured butter with maldon salt)

Brioche Pullman

Small cakes for functions (mostly genoise, sponges or chiffon). Also buttercreams.

Chocolate truffles and chocolate dipped strawberries for room service

A la carte desserts (5 on the menu, nothing too complicated)

Macarons (these are the thing I'm worried about!)

post #2 of 13

Don't over think things, follow the recipes and if the cooks under you can do it then you are more than capable. This, as you have said, is not a real pastry chef position if the prep can do it so......have fun and enjoy the change of pace for a bit. ;)

post #3 of 13

Your cakes are going to be your challenges.  Allow yourself three screwups on your first Genoise if you are making it the traditional way.


Other than that it seems pretty straightforward and remember to ask where the Macaron silpats are hidden.

post #4 of 13
Thread Starter 

Kuan and fablesable thanks for your input. I did find the macaron silpats! I'm wondering if a recipe utilizing an Italian meringue would give me less spread during baking? The house recipe uses a French meringue and seems to get a little too much spreading of the macaron "foot" even when our regular cook does them.



Bob, nothing personal, but you clearly don't have a clue as a home cooking enthusiast. Not a single thing you said made sense, please stop posting in the professional chef or professional chefs forums you are not adding anything constructive.

Edited by linecook854 - 4/19/15 at 9:12pm
post #5 of 13

Um, actually Bob, this is a forum for professionals only......you aren't even supposed to post here. See the message at the top of the forum.....


@linecook854, you will find using Italian Meringue is a game changer when making macarons. It's the only way I make them now. Pretty much foolproof. 

post #6 of 13

Hey hey guys lets not be too harsh on Bob as he was genuinely trying to help even if what he had to say was off. I know that a lot of people, including executive chefs, before macarons were popular, always got macarons and macaroons mixed up. It was an insane pain in my butt....lol!! People that work in our industry still get them mixed up and don't fully understand what they are or how they are made. Bob has worked a professional kitchen as a line cook so is allowed to speak in this forum.......thank you for your thoughtfulness Bob.


@Bob Hyneman...just a heads up:

Macarons (ma-ka-RHUN) are a meringue style sandwich cookie usually made with almond flour and filled with a ganache, buttercream or preserve. Origin: Italy and France

Macaroons (ma-ka-ROON) are a drop (or haystack) style flourless cookie usually made with coconut (american) formed together by a sugar egg white concoction. 



@linecook854 I would try one with the French style meringue and another with the Italian style meringue. What I have learned over the years is that it really all depends on the humidity of the atmosphere you are in. Sometimes one recipe works better than another all depending on the humidity factor. I have made both and have had to adjust my recipe base as I go due to humidity. 


Also, if you are getting spread feet on your macarons it is because your oven is too hot. If this is the case you can turn down the temp slightly as soon as the feet form or open you oven doors at regular intervals so that it keeps the temp from getting too high. 

post #7 of 13
Thread Starter 

Fablesable, just curious in what ways will high/low humidity affect macarons? I live in New England and Spring weather humidity can vary hugely day to day so I would possibly need to adjust accordingly.

post #8 of 13
In my experience, Italian Meringue is much more forgiving and reliable than French Meringue. I live in a climate with variable humidity and have never had to "adjust". I get consistent results every time. I make a LOT of macarons, and I can say it's FAR easier to use one recipe consistently. Repetition equals speed. Also, if you think you absolutely have to have a silpat to bake macarons, then you're not doing it right.

@Fablesable, our friend Bob is not a professional pastry chef, so no, he doesn't get to post here. I appreciate that this forum is for pros in that we're not inundated with amateur baking questions and the ubiquitous "is a pastry career right for me?" question that seems to pop up every month or so. So tired of that. We shouldn't have to educate someone on the difference between a macaron and a macaroon in a pro forum! There are other forums on ChefTalk dedicated to amateurs and hobbyists; they can post there. Please, let's keep this forum for the pro pastry chefs as intended.
Edited by chefpeon - 4/20/15 at 10:36am
post #9 of 13

@linecook854 I am fairly certain that your kitchen has the recipe that works for your environment; experimented with and written down for your regular cooks to be able to make them. So just follow that recipe and you should do well. 


French macaron is made with the french meringue method and is the most commonly used in macaron recipes because it results in the correct texture and taste for a macaron. It is more reliable method as long as you use the right technique and follow a proven recipe.


The Italian meringue method might produce a more stable meringue because it uses a hot sugar syrup in place of dried sugar, however the downside is that it results in macarons that are too sweet and harder to bake correctly. Some bakers will use this technique as they claim it to be more reliable than the french however it will not produce the EXACT flavour and texture of a french macaron. As you are adding an extra step in the process of making the macaron with the sugar syrup, you must use extra caution as a newbie as pouring the hot syrup too fast will cook the eggs and ruin the meringue.


The swiss meringue method is less commonly used however it is beneficial for bakers who cannot master the french or italian meringue. Although it is time consuming as it relies on whipping the meringue while it heats over a double boiler. This can be a bit of a challenge to the under experienced. This one is so hardly used that it is not worth the explaining and does not give you the french macaron texture nor flavour you are looking for.


So the French meringue method is the one that is most recommended as you are the most successful at baking an authentic French macaron. French macarons are a lighter, more delicate cookie-like texture that melts in your mouth.....and it is tastier too. I have used both methods however, I stay true to my French training on this one and stick with the french method with my own macarons in my bakery. I like the authenticity of the flavour and texture. I did have to work out a few kinks to my recipe overtime I went into a new environment as the three things that affect a macaron the most are heat, heat consistency and humidity.


With the humidity you need to let the macarons sit on the tray after piping them out until they form a dry to the touch surface, this can take 20 minutes to and hour and a half all depending on the humidity of your environment. I find that if you have an air conditioned kitchen and you do these in the morning.... a fairly humid environment outside will not affect them greatly. The dry to the surface top allows a true dome crust to form as it locks in the moisture that is necessary to get the soft cookie interior, smooth bottom and proper feet. The heat in your oven can also affect the feet so make sure that it is a constant heat, not a HOT one, and place your trays in the middle of the rack, turning halfway through.


Hope this helps you ;)


@chefpeon I hear what you are saying and agree somewhat however, there are a lot of bakers on this forum who are not technically "pastry chefs or cooks" and a lot of private or professional chefs,  sous or line cooks that technically are not "pastry chefs or cooks". These people do not necessarily carry the proper title however it does not mean that they do not have the experience doing pastry as this thread clearly points out......most kitchens will put regular line folk in the supposed 'pastry kitchen' and so they end up having some of the relevant experience. Don't get me wrong, it can be a bane of our existence to deal with people who are not trained like us but I have learned to embrace it and teach rather than justify. I respect your position on the matter. :) 


PS: Although my little icon says Professional Pastry chef, I am a certified culinary chef, a certified pastry chef and journeywoman baker......so we cannot judge a book by its title or cover.

post #10 of 13
@Fablesable, I see what you're saying, and I think any professional culinarian should be able to post in the pro forum. Line cooks, bakers, caterers.....anyone who is employed in the industry. There are many pros that monitor the Baking forum and will answer amateur questions there. Again, I think the pro forum should be reserved for pros.

And I completely disagree with you regarding most everything you have said about French meringue/Italian meringue. Using Italian meringue makes it no sweeter than French, I have no idea where you
get that information from. And with Italian meringue, it absolutely provides the desired texture. The most famous Macaron baker in France, Pierre Herme, uses the Italian Meringue method. When you are making hundreds/thousands of macarons on a daily/weekly basis, you need a reliable and stable meringue that gives you consistent results. There is no room for unnecessary headaches in a professional kitchen, wouldn't you agree?
post #11 of 13

@chefpeon I absolutely agree with you about unnecessary headaches....lol!! I also understand about the disagreement between methods and taste as it is more of a preference thing than anything. I get my information from my 30 some odd years experience (I still cannot believe its been that freakin long.....where does time go??) in the kitchens and my training, living and working overseas in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Britain, Germany, Turkey, the Middle East, Northern Africa, South America, Asia and India. Also I have made and tasted all of the ways to make a macaron so that I could form a valid opinion towards what I liked from one to the other......but that is just me. 


Pierre Herme is not the MOST famous macaron maker out there however, he does have an incredibly impressive CV! Pierre actually worked for the one of the oldest running macaron bakeries called Laduree where he helped with the expansion of the place and was under contract not to open his own place using the information he obtained during his time there. So when he opened his own place he formulated his own version of macarons using the Italian meringue method. This does not mean his is the be all and end all of macarons. He has had to fine tune his recipes over the yeas as a result of customers complaints. Just so we are clear.....he does NOT make French macarons.......he is a french pastry chef making Italian macarons. There-in lies the difference. Laduree makes a true French macaron.


Just because one makes it one way or the other does not make it any less appealing or wrong.....it is all on individual taste. A French macaron is made the french way and an Italian macaron is made the italian way. You can no more tell Laduree that their way is a headache, unreliable and unstable than you can Pierre Herme. It is all up to the baker themselves and what they want as an outcome. If you read back on my post above I do differentiate between a french macaron and an italian one. ;)


I see that you are from Port Townsend. I have family on Whitbey Island and did some time in White Rock, BC. Love that part of the world! I will have to pop in the next I am on my visiting rounds with family and check out your fabulous pastries. I find it much tastier when others have made the pastry for me.....hehe

post #12 of 13

@Fablesable, I too have an equal amount of time spent as a professional but I'm not as well traveled. I will say, however, I've been tasked with making macarons in almost every establishment I've worked in, large, very large and small. I have made hundreds/thousands of them weekly/daily. At the beginning of my career, I really struggled with macaron consistency using the French method. Because French meringue is less stable, the longer it sits in the bowl before piping, the more deflated it becomes. You have to work fast, and when you're the only one piping out hundreds of them, the latter pans come out less desirable than the former ones. One of my mentors, who was trained in Europe, finally came to my rescue and showed me Herme's recipe using the Italian method, and I've never gone back to using the French method because it's just not practical when doing large batches. If you're going to survive in a professional kitchen, the mantra is, "work smart, not hard". When I use Herme's Italian method, it maintains its consistency in the bowl giving me time to pipe them with no difference in quality from the first pan to the last, and that's pretty important. 


I'm all about giving real-world advice to people in real-world situations. The difference between a "French Macaron" and an "Italian Macaron", really, is hardly discernible, and honestly, only

professionals and macaron connoisseurs could probably tell the difference if at all. I'm not about to tell someone who is asking for help how to do it the hard way; I'm going to tell them how to

do it the smart way, the quality way, the consistent way, and the less head-achey way. Herme is the type of pastry chef that doesn't leave well enough alone and he strives to be original without sacrificing and even improving on quality. I've had Macarons from Laduree, thanks to some friends who brought some back from their visit to France, and I can tell you honestly, I thought they

were great, but no better than Herme's using the Italian method. 


I have sworn by Italian meringue and its reliability in all aspects from buttercream to macarons, and I will relay that "secret" to anyone I'm mentoring or teaching. If I thought for one second that

doing it the French way resulted in superior quality despite the headache, I would do it, because I'm all about quality. I won't sacrifice quality for a shortcut. I don't think anybody should. I am very grateful to my European mentor for saving my bacon so many years ago. His advice was valuable, saved me a lot of grief, and I'm carrying it forward.

post #13 of 13

@chefpeon That is wonderful you had such a great mentor. I hope you would never think that I would say your macarons are not quality simply because you use the Italian meringue method. I was just relaying, such as yourself, that first our OP member check his recipe and see what he is working with as that is the recipe that has been converted to use in their kitchen for their restaurant. If it is a French method then this is what that means and if it is the Italian method then this is what it means. I am quite sure that your macarons taste lovely and that you use the recipe that you do because you feel it works best for you. What one perceives as hard or easy is ultimately up to that individual. I make mine the French meringue method as I like making them by feeling my batter when folding and also the end result. I also make 100's at a time but I have learned to pipe a way that gets all the batter on quickly and efficiently. This is in no way belittling any other method.....it's just my way. I do not believe there is a more superior quality or way of doing it but each person's own practiced time and talent put into the method and recipe they are using. I am sure we will hear from our OP as to how they fare in the pastry kitchen and how they got along with the macaron making. ;)

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