Not too long ago, I sat down to a Refuel table with some fellow Vancouver food bloggers, where two small plates of decadent sweets – also known as mignardises – were presented to us.
The sweets are the work of Paul Croteau, a pastry chef at Refuel, who also runs the pastry program at Campagnolo Restaurant, which is the production kitchen for Paul’s debut high-end confectionery, PC Confections.
My inner child was forced to hold back from devouring all the sweets in one continuous motion as Paul began the tour, complete with his Quebec French accent and bits of broken English.
“Our main confection is the macaron, we have seven flavours right now, and we’re going to have more” he began. With, “a sweet breakfast this morning… [your] front plate from left to right, it’s a good balance, it will not destroy your palate”
The first, a passion fruit jelly, he explained how it was made and as we tasted the first light jelly bite silence found room along with several
smiles. “The passion fruit is very bright, you can see the flavour go through all the sugar. Next is the raspberry jelly. It tastes more like a jam… but its pretty good. They come together in the packaging, nice accompaniment to each.”
Nougat was next, “basically egg white with cooked honey and then we add cooked sugar. …it’s hard and soft in texture, with hazelnut, almond, pistachio, cocoa nibs, and covered with chocolate.…to protect the nougat”
Onward to the almond Florentine square – served untraditionally on a sweet dough with a subtle candied grapefruit flavour. He said, “I think it’s my favourite!”
Crackles of parchment unwrapping in the room revealed next, “The little candy is a soft salted caramel, like a caramel but very very soft and very buttery. It’s almost same amount of sugar and butter. And we add cream a little bit. It’s salty a little bit, so it comes through very nice”
We finished the first plate with the grignotines, “…hazelnut caramelized, with salt, and then covered with chocolate, and finished with cocoa powder. It’s very nice when you watch a movie you can eat them instead of popcorn, I like to do that – sometimes.” He smiled and we laughed.
My sugar buzz began to peak, but I forged on with pleasure to the next plate of macarons – French almond meringue sandwich cookies with seasonal flavoured ganache fillings. From vanilla
pistachio, to salted caramel, to chocolate, the light heaven bites of macaron crumble at first in your mouth and then simply melt away. “The
finish should always have a nice sheen to it, and be soft inside with a light crumbly soft texture outside. That’s the sign of a good quality macaron,” he said and I believe him because he makes up to 1000 of them each week!
What makes Macarons so tricky? Pretty much everything. First the egg whites need to be a little bit old. It’s easier to whisk a good strong meringue. Then, this technique…the temperature of the oven, how long you have to cook them, and then the packaging [or they break]. …So it’s a long process.
Why are they more popular out west now? They are so popular in Paris. In New York they started maybe 5 years ago, in Montréal started maybe two to three years ago. Everyone loves macarons. They are delicate, very nice texture and flavour of it. I hope that in Vancouver we are going to have the same trend.
What is your favourite macaron? The caramel one. I love doing the ganache but its too sweet for me. Yesterday I was cutting [almond] Florentines in the squares and I ate all the edges; and as I was wrapping the caramels, I ate a few of them too! So I go for run too.
A sweet guy with a sweet job, check out Paul Croteau’s PC Confections coming soon to 1020 Main Street.