In a narrow kitchen a wall away from Hakkasan’s woks and steamer baskets, Monica Delgadillo is holding class. She’s got a pot going on an electric burner, bringing a mix of water and superfine sugar to exactly 245 degrees. Egg whites are spinning in a stand mixer, and a large bowl of almond flour and powdered sugar sits to the side, the base for the jasmine macarons we’re making today.
Delgadillo is Hakkasan Las Vegas’ pastry chef and thus charged with crafting the Cantonese restaurant’s robust dessert menu, combining Asian flavors with classic techniques for a lineup of surprisingly luxurious sweets. You won’t find a fortune cookie inside the MGM Grand eatery’s famed black and blue cage, but you will find seven standard and seasonal flavors of macarons, from salted caramel and blood orange to apple cider and passion fruit. The pastry staff makes about 600 cookies daily, and when guests order the macarons for dessert, an assortment comes in a bamboo basket over cocoa nibs, a colorful arrangement that tastes as good as it looks.
But the macarons don’t make themselves. Today, I’m serving as Delgadillo’s sous chef, adding sugar to the now-frothy egg whites then following along as she slowly mixes in the warm syrup. While a glistening meringue builds, we add more egg whites to the almond flour, using our hands to form the mix into a thick paste. When the meringue is cooled slightly, Delgadillo folds it in with strong, steady strokes. Making pastry is a serious upper body workout, she says.
Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Delgadillo got her first taste of dessert work in San Francisco at age 13, helping out in the mom-and-pop pastry shop where her mother worked.
“I just fell in love with the science of sugar,” says Delgadillo, who eventually attended the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, training in various Bay Area kitchens before going on to work as pastry chef at Michael Mina’s Nobhill at MGM Grand. When that restaurant closed, she landed the job at Hakkasan, where she’s getting to know ingredients like dragon fruit, sesame and rambutan, and starting to make the pastry menu her own.
Our batter goes into pastry bags, and side by side we pipe out the pure white macarons onto a Silpat-lined baking sheet. Delgadillo’s are perfectly flat and indentically sized, finished with a deliberate swirl and a jasmine tea pearl. Mine range in size and have unfortunate little peaks that I can’t seem to smooth out. The pastry chef grabs the pan and taps it firmly on the counter. Voila! Smooth cookies.
Before we bake the macarons, they’re set out to dry for 30-40 minutes, then it’s into the oven for 22 more at low temperature, around 245 degrees. If we’ve done a good job, they’ll rise straight up on tiny “feet,” perfect for filling with chocolate ganache and a sprinkle of jasmine tea. The final product is a delicate little sandwich, so pretty I almost can’t believe I had a hand in its creation.
Of course, Delgadillo is far from a one-dessert pony. She says the most popular pastry is sesame crème brulee with yuzu ice cream, and rattles off other seasonal scoops like chocolate orange and pumpkin. The yellow curry is already sold out. “We make small enough batches that we can always try something new.”
Before I leave, Delgadillo wants to plate up one of her newest creations. She calls it a passion fruit panna cotta, but it’s so much more—light, creamy custard topped with rehydrated red basil seeds, guava pearls, Asian pear, mandarin wedges, dehydrated blood orange slices and pop rocks alongside a crescent of blood orange ice cream.
“I wanted to give them something they would remember,” the pastry chef says of this bright, citrusy dessert. “When people are looking for traditional Cantonese cuisine, they’re really looking for fruit. I’m trying to make it a little sexier than a slice on a plate.”
Hakkasan MGM Grand, 891-7888. Sunday-Thursday, 5- 11 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 5 p.m.-midnight.
Recipe: Jasmine Macarons
This recipe will make about 80 of Hakkasan's delicious macaroons, but it requires use of the metric system. Apologies.
426 grams almond flour
426 grams powder sugar
166 grams egg whites
182 grams egg whites
40 grams granulated superfine sugar
475 grams granulated superfine sugar
316 grams tap water
1. Place almond meal and powder sugar in a large bowl and mix them together. Sift them twice. (Do not use the larger pieces that are left in the sifter.)
2. Pour the first amount of egg whites (about 166 grams) into the almond mix, and work it together until it forms a paste. Put a piece of plastic wrap on top of the almond paste until firm.
3. With a stand or hand mixer, start to whip up the egg whites for the meringue (about 182 grams) at a medium speed until they increase in volume, about five minutes.
4. Slowly add the sugar (about 40 grams) to the whipped egg white. Increase the mixer speed gradually.
5. In a small sauce pot, combine the syrup sugar and water. Wipe the sides of the pot with a wet cloth to make sure there is no sugar stuck (which will cause your sugar to crystalize).
6. Cook the sugar to 245 degrees F.
7. Take sugar off the heat, decrease the speed of the mixer, and slowly pour the syrup into the whipped egg whites.
8. Once all the sugar has been added, increase the speed once more, until the meringue has cooled down to room temperature.
9. Fold the meringue into the almond paste in three additions, folding until the macarons mixture is soft and runs like slow lava.
10. Put the batter into piping bags and pipe out half-dollar-sized macarons, swirling at the end so they stay flat.
11. Allow macarons to dry for approximately 30 minutes, then bake for 22 minutes at 245 degrees F in a convection oven on low.
Filling: Jasmine Ganache
To save time, you can buy any creamy paste, like Nutella, frostings, peanut butter or almond butter, and substitute that as filling.
185 grams heavy cream
30 grams honey
15 grams jasmine tea (any kind of tea bags)
260 grams milk chocolate
50 grams butter (cut in small cubes)
1. Heat heavy cream and honey in a sauce pot until it comes to a boil, then add the dry tea (or other dry flavors). Remove from heat and cover with plastic wrap.
2. Let this steep for 30 minutes. This will lock in the flavors
3. After the 30 minutes, strain flavored cream and discard the tea.
4. Put the chocolate in a large bowl, and bring the heavy cream to a boil again. Slowly pour the cream into the chocolate, mixing slowly with a spatula until all chocolate melts
5. With the same spatula, add the butter cubes two pieces at a time and mix until they are melted.
6. Store the mixture in a container covered with plastic wrap. (This will stop the ganache from forming a skin.) Leave out for 1 hour, or until the ganache cools down to room temperature.
7. Put the ganache in piping bags and fill your macarons.
Prep Time: 50 minutes, including drying time
Cook Time: 22 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 22 minutes
Yield: Approximately 80 Macarons
Temperature: 245 F (convection oven fan on speed low)