Pooja Dhingra flipped for macarons in Paris and brought their delicateness back home to Mumbai. Today, she is teaching Indians how they can easily bake at home, with her book.
Pooja Dhingra hadn’t even heard of a macaron when she went to study pastry making in the Mecca of the culinary world — France’s premiere Le Cordon Blue school. That was after she had completed a hospitality course in Switzerland.
“My best friend — she’s French — said you must try a macaron. And I was like ‘what is it?’”. The shocked friend took her to Pierre Herme, one of the world’s best patisseries “which looked more like a boutique and had a long queue of people standing and waiting outside to get in”.
Her first bite into a passion fruit and milk chocolate macaron had her hooked. Soon it became her favourite pastry store in Paris.
Once back in Mumbai she started experimenting in her home kitchen, and is credited with bringing macarons to Mumbai from France. “No one had done it before in Mumbai and initially everyone was like ‘Oh! it’s a biscuit’,’ says Pooja.
She had to battle Mumbai’s humidity, which made these delicate French desserts crumble. That was in 2009, and Pooja was barely 23.
Her mum was already selling her bakes from the home kitchen, her father was in the restaurant business and her brother had set up his own restaurant. Now she’s ruling Mumbai’s baked goodies scene with three stores of her Le 15 patisserie, a central kitchen, and a studio where she teaches. Bollywood biggies like Deepika Padukone, Salman Khan, Sonam Kapoor, Lara Dutta and even the Ambanis are eating out of her hands.
Pooja agrees that the home-baking scene has been propelled by social media, and the ability to share and show off what you’ve baked at home.
But she underlines the happiness factor in baking. “I started baking when I was seven years old, but it was very difficult to find ingredients back then. Now people’s minds and palates have opened up; so have the flavours. They want to experiment. Moreover, you associate baking with happiness. It conjures images of birthdays and weddings. When I tell people I’m a pastry chef, they smile at me,” says Pooja.
She was recently in Bangalore’s Foodhall to launch her book The Big Book of Treats (Penguin India, Rs. 699), which lists over 110 recipes, most of which contain less than seven ingredients, and about seven steps to making them, she says. “I always wanted to write a book that speaks to us in India. When I would hunt for recipes online, I wouldn’t get some of the ingredients here and I couldn’t find the conversions (of measurements). Over the last four years I was able to understand what people liked to bake at home.
The Indian kitchen comes with its difficulties — a lot of them don’t like to use eggs or don’t have proper ovens. So my recipes also cater to them.”
A good baker needs patience and precision, insists Pooja. “Instinct doesn’t work in baking. People who like to cook usually don’t like to bake.”
Here is a Macaron recipe
Dark chocolate ganache macaron
Powered sugar: 100 gm
Almond powder: 100 gm
Egg whites: 70g
Castor sugar: 65gm
Liquid food colouring: 1tsp
Whisk the powdered sugar and almond powder so that there are no lumps. Beat the egg whites and once they start to froth, add in the castor sugar until you get peaks. Mix the stiff egg white meringue and food colouring with the powdered sugar and almond powder.
Use a spatula to mix till the batter flows freely. Pipe this batter on to a baking tray lined with parchment paper, in circles around one-inch wide, evenly spaced, one-inch apart. Set the tray aside for 30 minutes. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes at 165 degrees C
Cool completely before removing it from the baking sheet
Chocolate ganache filling
Dark chocolate chopped: 150 gm
Cream: 90 gm
Sugar: 15 gm
Place the chopped dark chocolate in a stainless steel bowl.
Heat the cream in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Immediately pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and allow it to stand for five minutes. Stir with whisk till smooth and add the butter. Let it cool.
Pair similar-sized macarons together. Pipe the ganache onto one shell from each pair.
Do not over fill it or it will ooze. Gently press the shells together and store in airtight container.