Ispahan = Perfection

ispahan macaron

Okay, so having tried Pierre Herme’s Ispahan in panna cotta and granita, I’m ready to bite the bullet and try reproducing the exact dessert I had in Paris. Here’s a photo I took of the original for comparison:

ispahan macaron original

To recap, it’s two macaron shells filled with rose-flavored cream, lychees, and fresh raspberries. Because of the chilling and resting time you’ll need to start these at least a day before you plan on serving them.

The macaron shells were easy– I’ve made macarons before with reasonable success, so I just followed my usual recipe, tinting the batter pink before baking. The rose cream, on the other hand, was a multi-step process. The original recipe (which you can find here) called for making an Italian meringue (the kind where you make a sugar syrup and drizzle it into egg whites as you whip them), then beating it with a separate creme anglaise, butter, and rose syrup. Since I don’t much care for the difficulty of drizzling boiling sugar syrup at just the right speed to avoid crystallization and keep the syrup evenly distributed, I opted to make a Swiss meringue (where you heat the egg whites with sugar before whipping) instead for this step. Swiss meringue is only slightly less stable than Italian, and allows one to be sure the egg whites reach the proper temperature to kill any Salmonella bacteria. Also, Swiss meringue is generally made with less sugar than Italian (a 3:5 ratio of egg white to sugar, rather than a 1:2 ratio), and since online comments about this recipe said it was a little too sweet I went with the lower sugar option.

I did think about trying to do a shortcut with the creme anglaise as well, but decided to follow the recipe as best I could just to see how it turned out. I’ve converted the measurements to tablespoons and cups where possible, but it’s best to use a scale if you can. Here’s how it goes:

Day 1 (or early morning):

Bake macarons using this recipe and set aside. (check out my Teddy Bear Macarons post for detailed instructions). I used five egg whites, which made 24 7cm shells, enough for 12 finished desserts. In retrospect it was probably overkill, but I figured if I was going to all the trouble of this multi-step dessert, I might as well make a lot of them.

A few notes on this iteration: Careful on the food coloring, since with macaron batter you don’t have the luxury of stirring in more coloring indefinitely until you get the right shade. Overstirring will mess up your batter, so do the best you can to add the color early and give yourself more leeway. Also, the original recipe calls for you to pipe your macaron shells 7cm in diameter– since I couldn’t draw on my silicone liners and didn’t want to just eyeball things (we’re going for perfection here!) I got out a 7cm round cookie cutter, dipped it in flour, and used it to mark the circles on my silicone mats. They’re faint but perfect for my purposes. I fit six shells to each sheet pan.

ispahan macaron circles

ispahan macaron piped

As a side note, I tried two piping techniques– first, piping from the center into a spiral, but since I rarely was able to start in the exact center I ended up with some lopsided results once the batter relaxed into its final shape. The second technique, piping a big mound in the center and then using the tip of the bag to nudge the edges of the batter right to the edges of the circle, yielded much more consistent results.

Baking time for such large shells will also be increased– I baked my shells for 3 minutes at 350 degrees F with the oven door closed, then kept baking with the door ajar for another 12 minutes, rotating my baking sheets halfway through that time. The shells were done when a firm nudge on the edge didn’t make them move at all.

ispahan macaron shell

These keep well in an airtight plastic bag for a few days at least, so you can make them well ahead of time if you’d prefer to space out your prep.

Creme Anglaise component

90g whole milk (about 6 tablespoons)
70g egg yolks (about 4)
90g sugar

Whisk egg yolks and sugar thoroughly in a bowl. Bring milk to a simmer over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Temper egg mixture with the hot milk, then pour it all into the saucepan and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened. It’ll look like pudding and big bubbles will just be starting to come up to the surface. Transfer to a new bowl and set aside to cool to room temperature, covered with plastic wrap. You can speed the process along a bit by floating the bowl of creme anglaise in an ice bath.

Swiss Meringue component

75g egg whites (2-3 whites)

125g sugar

Heat egg whites and sugar over a water bath, whisking gently, until egg whites reach 140 degrees F and the sugar is dissolved and no longer grainy. Remove from water bath and whip with stand mixer on medium speed until whites reach soft peaks. Switch to medium-high speed until whites reach stiff peaks and the bowl is no longer warm to the touch.

Buttercream

Beat 375g unsalted butter (about 3 sticks plus 3 tablespoons) at room temperature until light and creamy. Beat in the room temperature creme anglaise until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure the components are fully incorporated.

Fold in 175g of the meringue by hand, then transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill completely. I’ll admit now that I totally forgot to measure out 175g of the meringue and just used all of it– it’s not all that much more and I figured it wouldn’t hurt. After folding the resulting cream was strangely airy– I guess I’m just used to making Swiss meringue buttercream, where you beat the meringue forever and it all turns out dense and smooth and creamy.

You may be asking, why does the recipe have you make more Swiss meringue than is necessary? Darned if I know– the original recipe actually had me making twice as much meringue as necessary, so here I reduced the recipe proportionally just to make it a little less wasteful. It’s not like the smaller amount is too small to fit in a stand mixer or anything, either–it just makes no sense to me. Go ahead and use all of your meringue if you like.

ispahan macarons cream

Day 2 (or late afternoon, to give the buttercream time to chill):

Rose Cream

Buttercream (see above)
45g unsalted cold butter (about 3 tablespoons)
4g rose extract (about a teaspoon)
40g rose syrup (about 2 tablespoons)

With mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the chilled buttercream with the additional cold butter to make it light and creamy again. It’ll take a while– at first it’ll look curdled, then it’ll look like it’s separating out into a disaster, but eventually it’ll all come together. At this point I had no idea why I’d needed to fold in the meringue so carefully before, but whatever, maybe it’s an important step. I will note that the original recipe calls for 90g of butter rather than 45g, but I thought the buttercream was plenty buttery (possibly due to the lower sugar content of the meringue) so I reduced the amount of butter. Also I didn’t have any more non-frozen butter on hand, so it was really just a matter of convenience that happened to work out well…

ispahan macaron curdle

When the cream is smooth and homogeneous, add the rose syrup and rose extract and beat thoroughly. If you can’t find rose extract (which I couldn’t), just keep adding rose syrup until you like the flavor. I don’t think it’s possible to overbeat this one. Transfer to a large piping bag and plan on using it immediately (though if your kitchen is particularly warm and your rose cream looks droopy, feel free to chuck the filled piping bag into the refrigerator for a few minutes).

Ispahan macaron cream

This recipe makes at least 1/2 cup more rose cream than is needed to fill 12 dessert-sized macarons. Since (just like with the meringue) the original recipe called for me to use only part of the buttercream rather than the entire 850g the buttercream recipe makes, I’m glad I increased the rose cream ingredients to let me use all of the buttercream instead of just separating out the 450g originally called for. The measurements above reflect the amounts for the full 850g.

To assemble macarons:

Rinse and drain 4 half-pint containers of raspberries, then pat with paper towels until completely dry.

Drain 1 can of lychees (reserving lychee syrup) and cut each lychee into small pieces. Again, pat with paper towels until completely dry.

Lightly spray the undersides of all of the macaron shells with leftover lychee syrup (I also added just a bit of rose syrup to my spray bottle to add flavor)– this should be a fine mist, just to help the shells soften overnight.

Pipe a large blob of rose cream in the middle of a macaron shell, leaving about 3/4 inch clear all the way around. Arrange raspberries along the circumference of the shell, just touching the outer edge of the rose cream– I used 8-9 raspberries per shell. Add diced lychee to the center (about 1 lychee worth), pressing down slightly into the cream.

ispahan macaron insides

Pipe a bit more cream over the top of the lychees, then add another shell on top. Repeat for all shells.

Let these sit in the fridge for a few hours or overnight so the shells have time to soften. These will keep for about two days before they start to deterioriate (the edges of the shell dry out and the centers get soggy). Before serving, garnish with a single raspberry and (if you can find them unsprayed) a rose petal. Pierre Herme puts a tiny “dewdrop” of glucose on the rose petal, and I couldn’t resist copying it with the food-grade glycerine I had on hand.

ispahan macaron trio

Aren’t they gorgeous?

Notes:

1. The rose cream in the original dessert is white and the cream I made was pink– that’s because my rose syrup is bright red while I have to assume that the stuff Pierre Herme uses is clear. While I would’ve preferred white just for the visual contrast, the flavor is still fine.

2. Seriously, the proportions for the rose cream components make no sense at all. If I’d gone with the original amounts I’d have had over a cup of leftover meringue and twice as much buttercream as necessary for the finished rose cream. I guess it’s always nice to have extra buttercream on hand, but this is going too far.

3. Buy more raspberries than you think you need– I bought five containers (one extra just to be sure) that looked great from the outside, and I barely had enough non-moldy berries to finish off my macarons. Also, while 1 can of lychees yields about 14 individual fruits, which is just about enough for 12 desserts, you might want to consider getting another can if you really like lychees, or if you’re concerned about running short.

4. Don’t be alarmed by the rampant butteriness of the buttercream before you add the rose syrup to make the rose cream– the syrup adds enough sweetness, even with the added butter in this step, to make the flavors balance out. I was worried when I first tasted my buttercream but it all worked out in the next step. Also, I do think that the Italian meringue’s proportion of sugar to egg white could’ve made the finished dessert too sweet. Stick with the 3:5 sugar-to-egg ratio on the meringue.

5. The multi-step rose cream is tasty and incredibly silky on the tongue, but a heck of a lot of trouble. Honestly, if I were to make this again I’d just make a standard Swiss meringue buttercream, or perhaps a French buttercream if I really needed the flavor of egg yolks in there. Or even my favorite cooked-flour frosting, which isn’t as silky but is still excellent.

So, final thoughts? These turned out delicious, beautiful, and pretty much exactly like what I remember having in Paris. They were absolutely worth making, and I can see myself making variations for future events (though I don’t think I can ever beat the genius of the original flavor combination). I hope this post has been a useful guide for anyone wanting to make this fabulous dessert!

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