Macarons—those delicate, multi-hued French sandwich cookies available in flavors such as caramel, passionfruit and pistachio—have taken New York by storm over the past few years, threatening to displace the cupcake as the city’s favorite sweet indulgence. Once as rare as a clean and tidy pigeon, the colorful snacks can now be found in shops all around the island of Manhattan, and beyond. But making them at home may seem daunting; any baking task involving a piping bag is sure to intimidate. But Simon Herfray is here to help.
The French-born, classically trained pastry chef is the head of French’Encas, a dessert catering company and personal chef service. Since last January, he’s led small, hands-on French pastry classes out of the kitchen of Bosie Bakery, a Second Avenue pastry shop owned by Herfray’s friend Damien Hergott. During informative two-to-three hour classes, Herfray instructs home cooks on the finer points of buttery French desserts such as éclairs, madeleines and profiteroles, and, in his most popular class, those trendy macarons.
“I’ve always liked teaching,” Herfray explained recently in the empty Bosie Bakery kitchen as he waited for a class to arrive. “And the classes worked very well right away. I started them last January, and by February I was leading four classes a month.”
Herfray was born in Nantes, in France’s northwest Brittany region. At the age of 15, he opted to forgo high school and instead pursue a “stage,” or apprenticeship, an option available to all French students. He spent five years of intensive training learning both classic French pastry as well as bread baking, and graduated with masters in both pursuits. Since completing his education, the 28-year-old Herfray has worked in restaurant kitchens in England and Australia. After moving to New York in 2009, he held a string of jobs in restaurants including Manhattan’s Le Cirque and Peter Luger Steakhouse and Bacchus in Brooklyn.
Over the past few years, Herfray noted, he’s seen an incredible upsurge of interest in professional cooking. But, he said, the profession is not one for the faint of heart.
“I loved baking right away,” he said. “And to do this job, you need to love it. If you just like it...well, do it at home. And that’s wonderful. But to do this professionally, it’s a very tough job.”
As his class of 10 students—three couples, and a mother with her three grown daughters—filed into the kitchen, Herfray got down to business, whipping egg whites, mixing almond flour dough and preparing fillings for the macarons. When asked what they knew about the cookies, the group admitted not much. “They’re delicious,” one student piped up, and the rest agreed heartily.
It was a point they’d get to test at the end of the evening, when they walked out of the kitchen and into the warm night, each with a box of 21 macarons—seven raspberry, seven chocolate, and seven hazelnut—that they’d made themselves.
Simon Herfray leads six baking classes per month in the kitchen of Bosie Bakery, at 2132 Second Avenue. For class schedule and additional details, visit frenchencas.com.