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Francois Payard Brightens the Season with French Macarons

By Andrea Swalec | December 21, 2011 11:30am
The perfect macaron is at once crunchy and soft, Francois Payard said.
The perfect macaron is at once crunchy and soft, Francois Payard said.
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DNAinfo/Andrea Swalec

GREENWICH VILLAGE — Santa's got nothing on Payard Bakery.

Francois Payard and his staff at the West Houston Street shop are racing to meet the holiday rush, assembling as many as 16,000 macarons a day, several times their normal output.

The French pastry chef said the light, almond flour-based French confections are so delicate that the fresher they are, the better they taste.

"It all depends on how fresh they are," Payard said as he walked DNAinfo through the making of a blackberry-flavored batch of the treats in the 8,000-square-foot kitchen of Francois Payard Bakery on Tuesday afternoon. "The best macarons have to be crunchy and soft." 

In order to ensure that every macaron achieves that ideal consistency, the workers at Payard's 116 W. Houston St. counter have been trained to be sensitive to the cookies' exact texture. 

In preparation for the holidays, Francois Payard and his staff are assembling as many as 16,000 macarons a day.
In preparation for the holidays, Francois Payard and his staff are assembling as many as 16,000 macarons a day.
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DNAinfo/Andrea Swalec

"Even when you open the front door, it's bad [for the macarons]. The heat curtain dries the macaron," he said.

The recipe for macarons begins with sugar and water heated in a pan to 121 degrees, and almond flour and confectioners' sugar mixed in a separate bowl. 

The shop's almond flour is specially selected from California and is drier than other varieties available, said Payard, 46, who is originally from Nice, France. 

A little food coloring is then added. 

"I don't like the color too flashy," he said. "I think it doesn't look natural." 

Egg whites are then whipped to a precise consistency, with peaks, and added to the mixture. 

Most of Payard's macarons are mixed and dispensed onto a sheet by a machine called a depositer, which makes the sweets completely uniform, but Payard whipped up a batch completely by hand for DNAinfo.

Once the batter is mixed, Payard pours it into a bag and pipes it onto a cookie sheet, which he bangs against the counter to settle the cookie. 

"You do this so they're flat and you don't see the nipple there on the top," he said. 

The macarons are then baked for seven to eight minutes at between 350 and 380 degrees, depending on the oven. 

Once they cool, sweet filing is piped onto them and the "little sandwiches" are assembled. Payard said he likes to use more filing than other macaron makers. 

"The filing is the flavor," he said. 

Even after the macarons are assembled, they aren't ready to eat, Payard said. 

"The secret of the macaron is the maturation. You have to leave them in the fridge for 24 hours," he said. 

Any macarons that aren't eaten after the 24-hour period can be stored in a refrigerator for up to five days, said Payard, whose pastries are sold at another location on Murray Street as well as in Las Vegas, Japan and Korea. 

Payard predicts the macaron craze will be the next hot dessert. 

"Macarons are the new cupcakes," he said. "Look at where we were two years ago and where we are now."