at the table

Macarons, Minimalist
Salads and Artisan Bagels
32 SRQ / FEBRUARY 2013
at the table
acacrons are the chink
in my pastry armor. It's
with resolute convic-
tion that I've applied
my palette to the vitals of Paris' arrondisse-
ments, and with invariable consistency I'm
enticed by the pastel charm and signature fla-
vor that is the pistache classic.
Le Macaron on St. Armand's Circle concocts
a masterful pistachio macaron, the essence of
which is imported from the Lenôtre pastry
school in France. "It's the same recipe and
ingredients that we used in Paris," says chef
Didier Saba. "If you go to the Champs Elysees,
you will find the same thing. It’s very expen-
sive, but that’s why it’s good.” Saba says he
ships everything in to ensure the ingredient's
consistency with his expectations.
Didier and his wife Audrey demonstrate
how they assemble the dainty treats. One
batch makes 160 macarons, and the process is
split up by shell and filling, with the latter com-
ing first since it sits overnight before applica-
tion. The filling is made from Sicilian pista-
chios, almond and pistachio paste imported
from France, eggs, butter and a dab of kirsch, a
colorless fruit brandy made from cherries.
These are mixed until heated to roughly 65
degrees Celsius, then refrigerated overnight.
The shell is where the expert's touch sepa-
rates consistency and quality from humdrum
efforts. At this stage, the alchemy of the mac-
aron hangs in a subtle balance requiring preci-
sion, and every variable plays a factor. “It
depends on the weather outside, on the humid-
ity, if a gust of wind comes through the
kitchen," says Didier. “If you keep the macarons
out too long before you put it in the oven, it’s
not good. Every time, the macarons change.”
The nuances in the ingredients can have an
altering effect as well; the shell is simply pre-
pared with white eggs, blanched almond butter
and confectioner sugar, but even the butter,
which is shipped from California, can vary by
season and throw of the intended balance. “He’s
a perfectionist," says Audrey. "He has to be very
careful of the products he chooses. They’re so
delicate and difficult to make." Didier reevalu-
ates his recipe every three months.
The batter for the macaron shells is whirled
by hand onto sheets for the rotating oven,
where baked 25 minutes at 150 degrees. Didier
says his secret is applying a swab of water to
the sheet just under each dollop, so when heat-
ed, humidity is applied to the interior of the
shell. Once out of the oven and briefly cooled,
the filling is sandwiched between shells by
hand, and a new batch is born. "It has to be
first crispy but soft on," says Audrey. "When
you have the softness, you have the filling. It’s
a different flavor and texture. Then, you have
the creaminess from the paste, and you have
an explosion of flavor from the macaron."
Minimalist Salads
Over a decade ago, Chef Stefano Sasso of
Cafe Epicure ferried the Italian's insalata, or
salad, philosophy to produce a minimalist
alignment of pairings. A sit down with Sasso
illuminates the greens and why, counter to
popular salad belief, less is more.
“The ingredients are the first part of every-
thing you do. When you use good quality food,
you don’t have to play too much. Others think
by putting more ingredients, the plate
becomes tastier. It’s not that way. If you eat a
good piece of beef or fish, you don’t need to
FEBRUARY 2013 / SRQ 33
I use the Boston lettuce that goes with the
tuna salad; you see the flavor isn't that
strong. It doesn’t influence the other flavors
on the salad. That’s why we use the tuna. It’s
stronger and brings the flavor out."
In the United States, bread and salad is a
common meal, often with a substantial dress-
ing, but in Italy, insalata isn't a stand-alone.
"We eat salads, but we eat salads much more
with pastas. They look for a main course with
it, and at lunchtime, they don’t eat as heavy.
They will eat the carbs early to work it off,
and they’ll eat the protein at night.” A curso-
ry glance through Sasso's menu reveals only
two to three salads, depending on season,
paired with poultry or seafood and almost
exclusively with faint dressing of olive oil,
white balsamic or some kind of vinaigrette.
“When you put some heavy dressing in the
salad, you’re messing up the flavor of the
greens. I look for lighter food. It’s basically
how we eat in Italy.”
EAT Treat yourself to your own favorite flavor
macaron at Le Macaron, 382 Saint Armands Cr.,
Sarasota, 941-552-8872. Enjoy the philosophy behind
the crafted salads at Cafe Epicure, 1298 N. Palm Ave.,
Sarasota, 941-366-5648. Remember the process of
baking the artisan bagels at Jim’s Small Batch
Bakery, 2336 Gulf Gate Dr., Sarasota, 941-922-2253.
put too many
things." Sasso buys
his products by cre-
ating relationships
with local farmers
and fish houses; he
can interact with
them, and they
know what he's
looking for to
achieve the desired
taste. "I’m interested in keeping things simple,
and I don’t mix light ingredients. That’s why peo-
ple come back, because the food is not so heavy.”
A challenge in Florida is that we don't have
the full four seasons, and the imminent
effect of the weather on the robustness of
ingredients means Sasso had to alter his
approach. Sasso says he tries to stay in the
same parameter that he learned back in Italy,
however the flavor potency is lighter there.
“Every lettuce has a different flavor. Lets say
Try it
34 SRQ / FEBRUARY 2013
Artisan Bagel
James Plocharsky, owner of Jim's Small Batch
Bakery in Gulf Gate, is an artisan breadmaker,
and on Saturdays, he rolls out a fresh batch of
sourdough bagels made to order by the dozen.
The way he learned to make bread at
Johnson and Wales in the mid ‘80s is not the
way bread is being made now, he says. "They
were adding sugar, oil or butter to the dough
to enrich it. Nowadays with the modern arti-
san methods, they evoke much of the flavor so
that you don’t have to add sugar or fat." The
bagels begin in a five-gallon bucket with a
sourdough mother starter that has to be fed
every three days. "You either feed it or throw
it away. That’s the minimum time cycle the
yeast needs to replicate and grow. If it doesn't
get a refreshment of nutrients in the flour, it
kills itself by becoming too acidic." The com-
posite encourages good bacteria, and the yeast
expels waste that is flavor.
We are preparing a batch and half that
makes 60 bagels, and ironically, the American
Plocharsky uses a hodgepodge measuring
approach that's majority metric. He's ready-
ing the allotted ingredients, first the wet then
the dry in the industrial mixer: 1.5 kilos of
water, 2 percent of the dough weight in olive
oil, three kilos of flower, instant yeast and a
pour of non-diastatic malted barley syrup for
flavor. He turns on the mixer and explains the
protein levels of flour, and that his mentor
felt unbleached bread flower at 11 percent
gluten made better bread than high-gluten
flower. After the gluten has developed and
the flour is hydrated, he pours 84 grams of
salt because it works against the flourishing
of the protein. The dough is finished mixing
when it passes the "window pane test:" it's
translucent when stretched.
Plocharsky rolls the dough into 60 four-
ounce bulbs and incorporates my help to
round the dough into balls that are smooth.
We first work Mr. Miyagi-style with wax-on
wax-off movements, and he shows me how to
pull the dough for it to stick to the table and
remain tight. As we're stretching the dough
and placing it in pans, I can feel the yeast get-
ting lighter. "This working is activating the
at the table
gluten, making it stretchy. In 20 minutes, it
relaxes and that’s when we put the hole in."
When the doughy bagels float in cold water,
they're ready to sit in the refrigerator overnight
where the yeast becomes dormant. “Long, cold,
slow fermentation is one of the secrets to arti-
san bread. That allows sourdough variations to
develop better tasting profile, because the bac-
teria prefers that environment."
The next day, while the oven is heating to 500
degrees, a pot of water with food-grade lye is
boiled stovetop, and the bagels are poached for
45 seconds on each side. "The acid reacts with
the starches in the dough and gelatinizes in the
oven to create a shiny surface and crispier
crust." Plocharsky tops his bagels with the
desired ingredients before baking them six at a
time for 8 to 10 minutes. “Being a living thing,
when the dough is ready to bake, you have to
bake it or you lose it." He wants the bread to rise
75 percent before it hits the oven where he will
account for oven spring and fill out to its final
form. They're swooped out piping hot when fin-
ished, separated from the baking sheet by hand
and served to customers fresh. Ẳ

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