Learn proper ‘macaronage’ at Ollia’s baking class

ClassOllia Macarons and Tea closes at 6 p.m. on most weeknights, but roughly once a week, the small shop on 17th Avenue bustles with activity, opening its doors after hours for a private baking class.

In the brightly lit bakery behind the storefront, David Rousseau, owner and pastry chef at Ollia, teaches participants how to make a signature French treat: the delicious but finicky macaron.

Rousseau was born in France, and it was his grandmother that first taught him to bake. “I would always watch her, and she’d always tell me to run out to the garden to get herbs,” he recalls. “In France, starting to cook at a really young age is normal. Kids will be making vinaigrette for salads at three years old.”

The first place Rousseau lived in Canada was Victoria, B.C. He moved there in December 2012 and received his formal training from a French pastry chef the following year. He eventually moved to Calgary and opened Ollia about 17 months ago. “We saw an opportunity on the Calgary market, plus my wife’s family is from Red Deer,” he explains of his decision to settle here.

The class begins at 6:30 p.m. Rousseau stresses the correct French pronunciation of “macaron” — mac-a-rohn, not mac-a-roon — explaining the difference between the meringue-based confections he makes and the soft coconut cookies they are often confused for. “If I hear anyone saying ‘macaroon,’ they’ll be in trouble,” he says.

As he demonstrates the various stages of baking macarons, Rousseau’s movements are swift and precise. He has the steps down to a science after baking what he estimates to be around 400,000 macarons over the course of his career.

The tricky process includes beating egg whites into a meringue, which is then folded into dough and piped into rounds to create the macaron shells. Rousseau explained that the batter is useless if it is over-mixed, and that Calgary’s high altitude affects both the baking time and temperature needed for the macaron shells.

Once they cool, the shells are filled with ganache, a mixture of chocolate and cream or fruit puree. Ollia’s macarons come in flavours as standard as vanilla to as wild as wasabi-sesame. Many of the participants bought this class on Jan. 20 as a Christmas present, including Kim Flanagan for her daughter Kenna, and Amy Byng for her son Jeremy. At the end of the evening of baking, they all had a box of the sweet treats to take home.

Pastry chef explains the art of crafting delicate French macarons

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