Sunday, March 14, 2010

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Sweet Tartelette Workshops

I found out about Helen Dujardin of's workshops from Seattle BonVivant. She tweeted about them a couple of months ago. There were two workshops with limited availability so I quickly signed up for both. One was a Photography workshop and the other a macaron making workshop.

Photography Workshop:
The Friday before the workshop and the day we were heading to Vegas for WPPI, I found out we were to bring our own food to shoot for the workshop, not something I had planned on needing to do and to be honest, I'm not sure I would have signed up had I known that. The workshop was on the following Tuesday and we didn't get back from Vegas until about 2 am on Tuesday. Luckily the workshop wasn't until 10:00 AM so I was able to sleep in a bit. I decided to go to Bakery Nouveau for my food shooting items. I've heard great things about this bakery, except for the fact that they don't allow photography in their bakery. I looked for the prettiest pastry they had and decided on the Phoenix and also picked up another not as pretty pasty and a latte. The workshop was in downtown Seattle so on top of that I also paid for parking at Pacific Place.

There was a bit of technical difficulties with the presentation, but eventually things got rolling and helen gave a nice presentation and showed us some of her work that has been in magazines and cookbooks. She's a fan of back lighting, something I rarely, if ever use. I'm a front/side lighter myself. She got some great results from back lighting though so I may try working with that more often. She stressed how you don't need a fancy pro-level camera to get good shots. What is most important is lighting. She showed several great shots she had taken with an entry level Canon XTI that were in magazines to prove her point. She also encouraged using a tripod if there's not enough light to allow you to hand-hold the camera. I don't think anyone had brought a tripod.

The area we were in had huge windows with some great light. It was a cloudy day so the light wasn't too harsh and if it were, there were light curtains that could be closed to diffuse the light if needed. There was plenty of space for people to spread out and take pictures near the windows. I shared a space with two other people around the corner from everyone else. There was a long marble table near the window that I thought was the perfect space to set up. I forgot to bring a reflector, but Brenda was happy to share hers. I really need to get myself some small reflectors for shooting food.

Helen shows some magazines that she has photos published in.
Helen Dujardin
This is the Phoenix (triple layer mousse) from Bakery Nouveau
Phoenix from Bakery Nouveau
Valentina, who I shared a photo workspace with
Work Space Valentina Shoots on the Floor
I used the flowers that were on the table for styling a couple of shots.
Do Si Dos Bundt Cake

Macaron Workshop:
The following day was the macaron making workshop at the same location. We were asked to bring a few items to share like mixers, bowls, scales, aprons, etc which I didn't mind. We were also provided with a few items to keep. We each were handed a paper bag that contained a small container of powdered food coloring (I got green), a plastic piping bag, an 807 tip for our pastry bags and a nice little cardboard box for our finished macarons.

I've never made macarons before and I'm actually not sure I've ever even had one. I thought I had at least once a long time ago but I may have been thinking about something else because they weren't the texture or taste that I had remembered.

It seems these are difficult to make if you've never done it before and I can see why. There are lots of little tricks and things you have to do just right or they won't come out right. A few of the tips I learned from Helen are:
- Use aged eggs (separate eggs 48 hours in advance)
- weigh your ingredients instead of using measuring cups, it's more accurate
- use powdered food coloring instead of liquid
- whipped egg whites should be VERY firm
- consistency of batter should not be too thin. If it's too thin, you've folded too much. Should drop off spoon after about 8-10 seconds.
- after piping the batter onto wax paper or Silpat, tap the cookie sheet to flatten more and let sit for about 30 minutes before baking.
- They are better after sitting in the fridge 24-48 hours.

I know that's a lot of tips but I thought they were good tips and they might help someone who has never made them before.

We paired up with someone to make our own batches of macarons. I actually had 2 people on my team. Unfortunately they both had to leave before they were done. I was happy to share them with Jackie and Charity, who were photographing the event and didn't make any of their own.

Here's the recipe from Helen that we used for the workshop.

90 gr egg whites (roughly 3 egg whites after aging)
25 gr to 50gr (2 Tb to 1/4 cup) granulated sugar
200 gr ( 1.5 cups + 2Tb) powdered sugar
110 gr almonds ( 3/4 cup) (we used almond flour)
1 tablespoon powdered food coloring (optional)

Prep the eggs: 48 hrs in advance, separate the whites from the yolks and place the whites in a super clean bowl. Leave at room temp, uncovered or loosely covered with a towel at least 24 hrs. Refrigerate after that if desired. You can use eggs that have been "aging" for up to 5 days.

Prepare the macarons:
Place the powdered sugar and almonds in a food processor and give them a good pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Sift a couple of time to remove bits and pieces. Regrind if necessary. You can also use a coffee grinder for the nuts. Once your nuts and powdered sugar are mixed together, add the color if using and rub the mixture in between your fingertips to break the bigger pieces. Sift if desired.

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, (think bubble bath foam) gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue (think shaving cream). Do not over beat your meringue or it will be too dry.

Add the nuts and powdered sugar to the meringue, give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that falls back on itself after counting to 10. Give quick strokes at first to break the mass and slow down. The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809) with the batter and pipe small rounds (1.5 inches in diameter) onto parchment paper or silicone mats lined baking sheets. Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to harden their shells a bit.

If using convection: preheat the oven to 280F. If using regular electric or gas, preheat the oven to 300F - 310F. When ready, bake for 18 to 20 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool.

We didn't make the filling, it was pre-made before hand for us. The recipe for the chocolate ganache we used for the filling was just 1 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate and 3/4 cup heavy cream. I think using Nutella would be a great idea for filling.

Helen Pipes Taking Notes
Piping Macarons
Filling Macarons Stacking Macarons
Stack of Macarons

More photos from these workshops can be found on my Workshops w/ Helen Flickr set.

Also check out these blog posts from other attendees:

Jackie Writes
Giovanna Strifles

Also check out this cute little video by Luuvuh Hoang:

The Green Macaron from LuuvuH on Vimeo.


  1. The picture of the Phoenix is just perfect. Simple. Straightforward. Well lit and well focused. Staight to the point = I want one!!
    Actually, I only got more into backlit shot this year after working on a shoot where it was my only option. Kind of trial by fire and I think the adrenaline rush made me want to explore it a bit more at home. Still tricky at times. I am still a left side light prefered kinda gal (works better for me as a right handed person).
    It was great meeting you Paula! Thanks for sharing a bit of you with us those couple of days!

  2. Thanks Paula--I'm glad to see our macarons went to good homes, and even happier to see they seemed to turn out fairly well? Were those actual feet I saw?