Fighting against time, temperature and chemistry, Hans Baang pried open the oven door, examining the partially-baked macarons against the wash of chocolate-scented heat that flooded the tiny kitchen. Not too dry, not too fluffy. No cracks, no air bubbles — yet.
Macarons are temperamental, he said – and easily ruined.
“It’s not your regular cookie, it’s not your regular cake,” said Baang. “You have to do it a certain way.”
Baang ended a 15-year career as a banker to become a baker, whipping up treats for local sugar seekers at Long Island City bakery Little Oven.
While dishing out a multitude of decadent desserts, the shop is most renowned for its macarons – a French, meringue-based cookie crafted from a mixture of sugar syrup, egg whites, powdered sugar and almond flour and sandwiched together with flavored ganache, crème or jam.
The bakery was opened in March of 2011 by owner Anna-Marie Farrier. Baang, in tandem with shop manager Kyra, runs most of the store’s day-to-day business – everything from making desserts to running the register.
On a Thursday morning, inside the bakery’s kitchen, Baang prepared to make Little Oven’s dark chocolate macarons. As the sugar syrup reached a steady boil, Baang pulled already separated egg whites from the refrigerator. The KitchenAid mixer spun as Baang slowly poured the sugar syrup over the egg whites, creating a frothy, thick cream. Combining a pound of powdered sugar and pound of almond flour, Baang sifted 45 grams of cocoa powder over the mixture. He folded the cream into the dry ingredients, stirring the batter with 50 even strokes.
Baang piped half-dollar sized dollops of the macaron mixture along a wax-paper-lined cookie sheet as Felicia Carter radio wafted from his iPad into the sugary air. He popped the tray into the oven and smiled.
“Baking should be fun,” he said. “Whether you’re just starting out or doing it professionally, there should always be an element of fun.”
Baang lives just a 15-minute subway ride away from Little Oven in Woodside – a world apart from his homeland of the Philippines, where after a 15-year-long career as a banker, he swapped money for honey and became a professional pastry chef. His interest in baking began as a side business, making cookies in his spare time and selling them to friends and co-workers.
He moved to Seattle in 2006, switching coasts several years later to assist with the opening of Queens eatery Payag. Last year, Baang craved more out of his culinary career and became a full-time pastry chef, joining the staff at Little Oven.
Baang even blogs about his gastronomic adventures under the online pen name “The Sugar Hippie.”
Now most of the bakery’s items are created by Baang, reinvented from recipes he learned while in cooking school. Partial to simple desserts like tarts and pies, Baang enjoys experimenting with Earl Grey tea-infused madeleines and peach-cardamom flavored macarons.
Between checking the trays of dark chocolate macarons baking in the oven, Baang topped freshly made cupcakes with pale pink rose-buttercream icing, laced with rose extract and rose syrup.
Fourteen minutes had passed since the macarons went into the oven— the total time needed for them to rise and form properly. Cautiously, Bang removed the tray, setting it on a rack to cool. With one steady hand, he inspected a single cookie, removing it seamlessly from the wax paper.
“Perfect,” he said.