Friday, July 16, 2010

R.I.P. Greenpoint Food Market

First, I would like to state that in the 2 months since writing a post about Simon, he has still NEVER baked for me (making macarons does not count). If you see him this weekend, or any point afterward, I give you permission to embarrass him about it.

RIP Greenpoint Food Market.

We learned about the Greenpoint Food Market through other artisan food vendors. We were so excited when we got our first confirmation email from Joann saying that we have a spot at the next event. Unfortunately, the GFM was laid to rest after a New York Times article exposed that many of the vendors were producing out of their home kitchens and without other permits.

When Macaron Parlour started, many people asked us why we rented a kitchen when Simon has a beautiful kitchen in his home. We tried explaining that it was illegal and we were trying to do the right thing. They said that no one was going to check so we might as well save ourselves the money. The only way we stopped all those questions is by saying that a commercial kitchen had a bigger oven so we could bake in half the time and have more time to devote to developing flavors. They liked the idea of new flavors.

It's crazy to me that in a city with so many resources and so many restaurants, it's so difficult to find a commercial kitchen. I have been doing research on commercial kitchens for the past two years and there really aren't very many kitchens that go out of their way put a listing on Craigslist saying they have space to rent. It's even harder to find a rentable kitchen that has space dedicated solely to pastry. The ones that are available have ridiculous rates ($375 per shift?!?!) and an 8 hour shift hardly seems like enough to get done. Simon cold called half a dozen places and we were lucky to find a kitchen within our budget that had adequate space, equipment, and a great location. But wow, if we were any poorer, we wouldn't have had such luck. It took all the spare money we had between us to make Macaron Parlour a proper legal identity. Even after being in business for 3 months, we still haven't recovered all of our initial investment.

I loved the idea of the GFM. I spent 3 years working in one industry, but fantasizing about baking. I just wasn't ready to make that jump. I wasn't sure if I had a viable product - if it was worth throwing away a steady paycheck for one that varies from week to week. The GFM was a great in-between location that could help you decide whether you should give up that desk job in exchange for a life making cookies, or jellies, or macarons. Everyone should be allowed the opportunity to dream a little and to see if that dream could become a reality.

I hope the GFM comes back in September and that the community kitchen they're banking on comes to life.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Not Quite Paris

Personally, I love slightly burnt food. When I bake bread, I want it to come out dark. I even toast my baguettes an extra bit to get that extra crisp crust. One time, my baguette caught on fire, but I ate most of it anyway (just scraped off the really burnt parts). At my first job at a cafe, I had a tendency to bake the croissants dark for the extra flakiness. I just like the crunch and the extra flavor. I've also been told that burnt food really isn't good for me, but I can't help it! (Ok, I don't like flat cookies that are burnt. They just taste bad.)

Over the past two years, I've come to understand that while my preference is unusual here, it's the norm in Europe. It appears that over there, they also like their breads, pastries, and even caramels a few shades darker than we do here. When I was learning how to make macarons in Paris, I was scolded for having shells that weren't rock hard. The chef instructor took a paring knife and slowly sawed through a "perfect" macaron to show me how dry and crumbly the inside is supposed to be. It was basically like a crouton. He explained that after being sandwiched with the filling, macarons should get some of their moisture from the filling and the rest from sitting for up to 2 days in a 80% humidity refrigerator. That's why Pierre Herme's macarons have a really unusual texture, which makes them incomparable to what we have here.

When I first came back, I did this. I baked my shells until they were rock hard, filled them, and let them sit in a fridge with a warm bowl of water (aka, the poor way of having a high humidity fridge). After the shells started to soften up, I mailed them out to my friends to generally good feedback. However, it's always hard to tell if the feedback is good b/c they want more or if they genuinely mean it.

Baking it through brought out more flavor, but the shells never seemed as soft as the macarons I've had in NY. After I finally thought about it, it seemed really counterproductive to bake macarons into burnt disks so that I could rehydrate them over the course of a few days. It was also an awkward conversation trying to explain the random bowl of water living in my fridge.

So when Macaron Parlour started, we changed strategy. I decided to toss that whole step and let them retain their natural moisture. If you break open a cooled shell, you can see that it's still got a little bit of softness in there. When I started mailing these out to my friends, the feedback seemed more authentic. They said that the shells are so much better and they enjoyed the cookies more. There's a little bit of sacrifice in the flavor of the shells in order to have something that better suits the American palate. That's when I realized that catering to this market, we can't use the same techniques our counterparts have in Europe. That's why everyone compares macarons here to the ones in Paris, but they never seem to live up to the comparison.

When it comes to comparing NY macarons to Paris macarons, but I would say that there's no way to compare the two b/c we're serving people used to different types of products.

Sometimes I wish more places served slightly burnt bread, but oh well...I guess I can use that as an excuse to take a vacation to Europe soon.