Le Challenge!

Some of you perhaps heard about my latest challenge last week on Facebook. Just when I needed to make 200 macarons for my first signing event in France, my oven packed in. Not typical of my old oven – reliable and German. Now if it was French … I would have just shrugged it off comme les français and said it had gone on strike.

Taken by surprise but thankful for a speedy installation of a new one (I guess that’s now my Christmas present), I suddenly felt like a total novice, armed with a thick instruction manual and with the daunting task of having to produce perfect macarons in the space of a few hours. Easy? I couldn’t even find the fan setting at first glance, like my previous oven. All the latest gadgets are so fancy, digital and downright confusing.

As if that wasn’t enough I gave myself a double challenge. Due to time constraints I had “cheated” using a carton of egg whites. They didn’t quite act like my organic, fresh-but-aged whites.

The whites whisked up very quickly, but then it came to the actual mixing stage (macaronnage). The mix was thicker than usual and so I mixed for a lot longer. The result was even thicker! As you can perhaps see from the first batch of green macarons, they’re a bit rougher. No problem. I knew I could to do better on the next batch, so decided to make a duo-colour macaron with a vibrant cheery pink colour and hide the green one underneath 😉 The rose ones were better after shaking the carton this time.

Et voilà: green tea and rose macarons were born, using Matcha Green Tea and rosewater for the buttercream. The next batch of crème de cassis & violet shells were even better. I couldn’t resist playing, though, by flickpainting the shells with dark food colouring before they went in the oven…

So what did I learn about using carton egg white?
To 1) shake the carton well before weighing it out and 2) don’t mix as much as you would normally with fresh (but aged) whites at macaronnage stage. Otherwise follow the recipe as normal.

My first step for the oven was to check that it was actually the temperature it was saying it was. I checked with an oven thermometer and all was ok. 160° was actually 160° (unlike my previous oven which was 20° hotter than the dial said it was – and so I had to adjust.)

I added a further challenge for my oven and myself! As this machine was new and supposed to be an improvement on my previous model, I took the plunge and put in 3 trays at a time on the fan setting, “multilevel” (I wanted to follow Zetta’s supportive comment on FB, but didn’t have time!) After 4-5 minutes, the feet formed. Why do I ALWAYS get such a kick out of that pied part? (No pun intended.) It never fails. But after the 8 minutes, I touched them to test the readiness and they wobbled more than usual. It would take more than another 2-4 minutes, I thought. Meanwhile, the 3rd bottom tray had mostly cracked shells while the top two were not cooked enough. In the end I accidentally kept them in for too long. After about 15 minutes they browned slightly.

What next? I’ll limit myself to two trays in future but at least I now know I can do 2 trays at a time! That will really speed things up. In the end I discovered that the top and middle shelves in the oven were the best positions for the trays and that the temperature was still best at 160°C for about 12 minutes as it says in the book for picture-perfect macarons.

Apologies if this all sounds a bit technical. It has just confirmed to me that the recipe works – even in challenging circumstances!

Now that’s a relief 😉 It just takes some experimenting with your own oven: to discover how many trays you can put in the oven at the same time, how evenly it cooks, to check if the temperature is just right and to have confidence that you can produce perfect macarons!


This blog post was published before the site was made into a blog in the  Spring 2011.  Nobody could comment.  Not even Mum.
Then again, not even Mum knew I had a blog.
If you’d like to leave a comment, it’s not too late – show me that someone read it, at least!

Wee Jaunt in Paris

15 November:

A few days’ ago, I took a wee jaunt into Paris to visit old haunts and make some new discoveries. Although we live out of the city, it takes a sheer 20 minutes to get into the centre with the RER commuter train. I do, however, love taking the car. If someone had told me when I first came here nearly 18 years ago that I’d be whizzing around the Arc de Triomphe, shouting at other drivers like a true Parisian or mustling in before other cars – like a French Flair that a rugbyman would be proud of – I would have totally freeked out.

There’s nothing to beat that buzz driving down the Champs-Elysées, trying not to accidentally jump the dangerously hidden low traffic lights as I’m watching the queues outside the Vuitton store or Ladurée. The buzz soon wears off, though, as you negotiate parking. Underground carparks may make life easier, but I grudge the outrageous ticket price to ensure Haydn string quartets and the like from speakers or that I can borrow an umbrella. That’s good macaron money!

I discovered the olde-worlde bookshop called Shakespeare & Company in the Latin Quarter, just a stone’s throw away from the Seine in front of Notre Dame Cathedral. It’s an impressive institution. Books are jam-packed to the ceiling plus there’s a real studenty ambience with tables and chairs outside next to a bookstall under the cherry trees. It’s the kind of place you could spend hours just reading and watching the Bateaux-Mouches go down the Seine.

I was thrilled as Jemma ordered books in for the shop. As she was looking through Mad About Macarons! a lovely American lady asked to take a peek, too and I was immensely flattered that she bought it from me there and then to sign it for her daughter in Tennessee. I’d love to hear how she gets on via the website! (Cindy has since been in touch via Facebook – great to hear from you! Now we’re waiting on your macaron news on the Readers’ Forum…)

Can I offer you a chocolate-caramel macaron or a shoe, anyone? Trust the French to tempt you with these luxury items in this shopfront. Does this perhaps imply that French men are now eating macarons more than women?

Galéries Lafayette’s Christmas windows are always superb. They have viewpoints for children to ooh and aah at each of their magical constructions. This year it’s a musical theme for their Show Chaud Noël.

Each time I go there a quick noisette (espresso with a dash of milk) is a must on the 6th floor to admire the view over l’Opéra and the Eiffel Tower. I couldn’t help myself and finished my afternoon with a quick visit to Lafayette Gourmet for a couple of macarons from the Dalloyau counter. Not too many, though – it was time to check out at the underground car park and get back to making them in the kitchen!

This blog post was published before the site was made into a blog in the  Spring 2011.  Nobody could comment.  Not even Mum.
Then again, not even Mum knew I had a blog.
If you’d like to leave a comment, it’s not too late – show me that someone read it, at least!

Book’s Launch at the BBC Good Food Show Scotland, October

4 November: Just come back to French routine this week after an enlightening macaron voyage home to Scotland during the school holidays. I’m surprised we even got there at all with the tense French strike delays.

Packed to the eyeballs with as-much-as-you-dare-with-Ryanair, my children’s job was to guard our boxes of macarons like the Crown Jewels from menacing backpack crushers. They were motivated: these macarons were for the book’s launch at the BBC Good Food Show. From the airport we stepped on it (or as the French say, “we pushed on the mushroom”) to Glasgow’s Exhibition Centre, plein d’emotion.

macaron tasters, BBC Good Food Show Scotland 2010

It’s not difficult to de-stress completely with chatty sing-song-accented Glaswegians around you. “That was a wee ball o’ heaven!” sang this lovely woman who had never even heard of a macaron (or Parisian macaroon). Living near Paris, you honestly think everybody knows about macarons. But, like many, she had discovered them at the show and I’m sure it wasn’t her last, either. It was also surprising just how many youngsters wanted confirmation that they were gluten free and so happily tasted away. We met so many lovely people over the two days and I do hope they’ll keep in touch via the website. We want to know how they get on making macarons! Chele surprised us with a lovely post on her blog and I met a few macaron addicts that had discovered macarons on trips to Paris. They’re going to make their own macarons since have realized just what an expensive habit macaron-tasting can be and how frustratingly difficult it is to find them north of the border.

As I was travelling, I was fortunate that Waverley Books had organized macaron reinforcements. They came in the form of beautiful mini tasters from the Editor, Eleanor, who is hooked and just loves making them, too. The others were by Dave McCormack at Sucré Coeur (don’t you just love that name?) who had made them from the recipes in the book first time around. He already had them to perfection with their typical glossy crispy outer shell with the characteristic ruffled foot and melt-in-the-mouth fondant centre. As the saying goes, Chapeau to you, Monsieur! They’ll be making even more from Mad About Macarons! for tastings at the Country Living Show (SECC, Glasgow 18-21 November).

Liquorice, white chocolate and mint mad about macarons

Hallowe’en Liquorice Macarons with Radio Headphones…

I couldn’t resist the temptation of Hallowe’en with these liquorice and white chocolate macarons. I added an extra touch of mint to the ganache plus a good square of soft liquorice in the middle that gave an extra chilling shiver down the spine and brushed them off with silver food dusting. These were for the Fred MacAuley show on BBC Radio Scotland, who kindly invited me in for a wee chat about macaroons or macarons on his Foodie Tuesday programme.

I have learned a lesson, however. I’ve been so obsessed by these little French delicacies that getting into the mini savoury macs are perhaps not the best way of introducing macarons to unsuspecting first-time macaron tasters. Leave them for later. They do like them but Jill, next time just stick to the all-time macaron classics like vanilla, pistachio or rose!

This very first blog post was published before the site was made into a blog in the  Spring 2011.  Nobody could comment.  Not even Mum.
Then again, not even Mum knew I had a blog.
If you’d like to leave a comment, it’s not too late – show me that someone read it, at least!