French Macarons for Hallowe’en

How many shop windows are dressed up for Hallowe’en in your neighbourhood?  No doubt there are plenty, especially if you’re in the US or UK. In France, Hallowe’en is still pretty much seen as overly commercial, so you won’t find much ghoulishness going on in shop fronts. In our local chocolateries in St Germain-en-Laye, it’s more autumnal scenes rather than witches. Just check out the chocolate pumpkin sculptures by Chocolatier genius, Patrick Roger.

Chocolatier, Patrick Roger’s Hallowe’en

As for trick ‘n’ treating, this is still fairly new here – just try and find some fancy-dress costumes. Apart from the odd standard outfit at Carrefour (our major hypermarket), there’s not much else. If I was the perfect Mum, I’d make my children’s costumes but if you know me, I’d rather stick needles in my fingers (which usually happens anyway!)

Eye spy – I see a leetle witch in ze window…

Our French neighbours are not much Hallowe’en spirited, either. I know some who pretend they’re not in (yes, I know who you are.) The poor souls must spend the evening in the dark, whispering to each other in fear of being caught by a local young witch, demanding her annual sweet ration.

White chocolate sculpture, Salon du Chocolat, Paris

Who can blame them?  The first year in our new neighbourhood it was all quiet until a group of teenagers rang (not even dressed up, but then their Mums didn’t make their costumes, poor darlings), demanding sweets as my children opened the door. I shoved on a witch’s hat and growled in grumpy French that they needed to earn their ration by singing a song or something. It’s spooky: they just took to their heels.

Wouldn’t you do the same? When we were children in Scotland, it was the done thing to have a party-piece.

So this Hallowe’en, here are some magnificent macarons as party pieces to share with you from my macaronivore friends via the website and Facebook page.

Pumpkin spiced chocolate macarons by Joshua Burgin

Here, Joshua Burgin added some pumpkin spice to the shells and also to the dark chocolate ganache for his spiced pumpkin and dark chocolate macarons.

We have many pumpkin inspired macarons.  Let’s face it, Hallowe’en without pumpkins is like a Scottish castle without ghosts. Makeitpopsweets used a spicy pumpkin filling for a touch of Hallowe’en.

Pumpkin macarons by Makeitpopsweets

Also on a pumpkin theme, Michèle Faubert, macaronivore extraordinaire, came up with pumpkin and Jamaican spice macarons, using chocolate in the shells and pumpkin spice in the filling.

Extra heat for Hallowe’en by Michèle Faubert

Here’s some cobweb macaron decor from Waverley Book’s Editor, Eleanor Abraham.

Plus perhaps all of our biggest fear and eventual nightmare: Eleanor made a beautiful batch of macarons and just as she was finished, most of them slipped off the plate she was carrying and crashed to the floor. This has to be the most horrific of Hallowe’en macarons!

Also by Michèle Faubert, feast your googly eyes on these macarons…

Just look at her ghoooooulish macaron eyes for Hallowe’en.  Booooooh!

And I suppose you’re expecting me to have a party piece too, after all that? Not too hallowe’enish, but these fangs are partial to lemon-ginger macarons.

I’m still on a liquorice macaron phase (Antoine has claimed even more after making some pink liquorice allsort macarons for Mactweets.) I added a touch of mint to the filling (recipe on p74 of the book.)  It gave that extra hint of chill to them – just what was needed.

Extra chilly with liquorice and mint

Happy Hallowe’en to you and

wishing you plenty of macarons in your goody bags!

Melting Moments (or Mini Oat Cookies)

Ouf! It’s the school holidays. Enfin!

melting moment oat biscuits or cookies

 

The children were desperately needing a break: they have worked so hard and are gradually becoming more independent. By that I don’t mean I can just leave them and they get on with it all. They still need the constant nagging and even more TLC, now that my eldest daughter has moved to Secondary School.

It’s a huge change for her – and seems even more ‘grown up’ in France, as they call it collège. One thing that hasn’t changed is their enthusiasm for Melting Moments.

Melting-moments

Why Melting Moments? Well that’s what these biscuits or cookies were called from my Brownie’s Cookbook (Were you ever a Brownie?  For those of you who think it’s just a chocolate cake, it’s the younger group that comes before Guides, as part of the Baden Powell Scout groups.) It was my first ever introduction to baking, when I also had precious moments with Mum in the kitchen and the chance to plunge my hands in sticky dough.

So I have a soft spot for these wee melt-in-the-mouth gems. They’re also one of the quickest and easiest cookies to rustle up for goûter (afternoon tea). They’re healthily full of soluble fibre using oat flour and finished off rolled in oat flakes.

Melting-moments-hands

The laugh is, they never even noticed I’d served them on a Beatrix Potter bunny plate – they were too busy devouring these mini cookies.  Ideally, there should be the standard glass of milk for the photos, but truth be told we don’t like drinking milk on its own. My eldest (now 11) is now even drinking tea!

It’s great to see that through baking, they have also gained more confidence in the kitchen. When it comes to the tasting in the end, their final masterpieces always taste better when they’ve been made by their own hands.  And ça va sans dire (it goes without saying), that making them is indeed precious melting moments together.

melting moment cranberry oat cookies

 

Recipe: Melting Moments

Adapted from the Brownie’s Cookbook (I have no idea where it disappeared to – must be in my parents’ attic.) I noted down the recipe years ago but since then have used less sugar and substituted half of the flour with oat flour.

100g butter, softened
65g caster sugar
1 small egg
1 tsp vanilla essence
75g plain flour
75g oat flour
2 tsp baking powder
oat flakes, for rolling
glacé cherries or dried cranberries for decoration

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Stir in the flour and mix well.

2. Roll walnut size pieces of the mixture into balls, and roll each one in the oat flakes.

3. Place them on baking trays covered in baking paper, flattening slightly each one with the finger, then place 1/4 glacé cherry on each (or any other candied fruit; candied orange peel is wonderful, too.)

4. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

A touch of glacé ginger is rather more adult, though.  How often have you needed that wee kick to go with your cup of tea?  Perfect for a quick break before going back in the kitchen for more fun.  Although – it has to be said -for these memorable moments, there’s nothing to beat the good old simple glacé cherry on top.

Going Macarons at the Paris Salon du Chocolat

How come I’ve never been before? It took my talented artistic American friend, Carol Gillott of ParisBreakfasts, to entice me along finally to the 2011 Salon du Chocolat in Paris. Was I too busy making macarons? Perhaps more because it’s at Porte de Versailles, an area that’s a nightmare to park and with all the exhibition halls for someone with no sense of direction, it’s like suffering an orienteering course for a sports exam when it’s not your sport. Arriving seriously late with a lame excuse of being too nice in traffic jams, she was an angel to still take me under her wing.

Who was more mad about macarons? Check out Carol’s eye-catching gear of tee-shirt and matching macaron bracelet. Not difficult to lose her – although she might tell you the opposite. Each stand visited, we were greeted with “Superb T-Shirt!” followed by more chocolate tastings, thanks to her savoir-faire.

Carol knows a thing or two about Paris fashions – not surprising, as she has the artist’s eye. Macarons are definitely à la mode (by that I don’t mean the American ice-cream on top, I’m talking trendy Parisian fashion here.)

See?  Macaron ruffled necklaces are obviously in.

Another necklace – this time just like her bracelet, plus macarons dotted around the dress.

Should I perhaps give some macarons to the French fashion creator, Jean Colonna? We could create Le Colonna macaron dress. Just an idea…

Meanwhile, looking around, it’s macarons galore – perfect for a macaron blog.

A rather foxy (get it?) macaron-shell tower in all its glory by Gregory Renard and then his Eiffel Tower of macarons…

While we’re gazing at the Paris monuments, what about l’Arc de Triomphe by Léonidas?  It’s the one time I can negotiate the traffic around it without needing a bumper or aspirin.

Eye-spy, my little eye falls on chocolate-dipped macarons by Christophe Roussel.

Then a tasting over at Arnaud Larher‘s stand, even if the taster macaron bits were so near yet so far behind the counter.  Pain d’épice (gingerbread) and orange. What a gorgeous filling texture, although I didn’t really get the orange, sorry.  Hm – what’s that electric green colouring for pistachio? Never mind, it’s delicious!

Quite the chocolate treat from Arnaud Larher: these are chocomacs. They’re not macarons but chocolates in the shape of macarons. Now when you see macaron molds, you understand it’s not to make macarons but chocolate-shaped macarons.

There’s also a Professional Salon du Chocolat downstairs, including packaging, equipment and all kinds of tricks for the trade. This macaron-making machine might be rather bulky for the kitchen, n’est-ce pas? It also looks rather complicated but worth it if you need to make macarons in their thousands daily. Give me the simple piping bag any day.

Meanwhile, time to check out the World Chocolate Masters 2011. It’s serious business between the top chocolatiers strutting their stuff until something catches my eye in the audience. I should really learn to concentrate.

Imagine this blissful scene: somebody is just sitting with their arms out, holding these miniature macaron beauties.  Of course, I asked if I could try just one since I LOVE macarons. Wouldn’t you do the same on seeing this sight?

This was a Grand Marnier mini macaron, with a macaron shell on top of the most exquisite chocolate by Spruengli in Switzerland. What lovely people!

Then came Sébastien Bouillet. He’s a pâtisserie legend in Lyon and his speciality?

The Macalyon.  It’s a salted caramel macaron dipped completely in 70% dark chocolate.  Only €6.80 for a box of four…

It was with his Macalyon that I was inspired with this bitter chocolate macaron for the book, but only dipping it in half. Then Christophe Roussel also does it. What do you think? Personally I prefer seeing a macaron’s feet, rather than hiding it all. Although…

Chocolate macaron from my book, “Mad About Macarons”

 

My chocolate! Is that the time already? Now if I was really Smart, I could get in this nifty Salon du Chocolat special edition car and whisk myself home, weaving in front of the crazy drivers, just in time for school pick-up. It’s sweet but macarons were missing on it, don’t you think?

If you’re in Paris, then do check it out: the Salon du Chocolat is still open until Monday 24 October!

It’s guaranteed you’ll have a smashing time!

Ah. Just as well I’d made more chocolate macarons back home for dessert. All this chocolate is making me crave more.  I wonder why?

Pink Macarons for Breast Cancer Awareness

Who could resist this month’s MacTweet challenge?  To support this month’s Breast Cancer Awareness in the USA, MacTweets proposed a in the pink theme for macarons.  If you haven’t already seen Jamie and Deeba’s site, MacTweets, and you’re making macarons like crazy, then I strongly urge you to join in the fun each month.  It’s totally inspiring.  It also gives you an excuse to make macarons or a particular flavour, should you so happen to be lost for choice.  Believe me, as a macaron addict, you can become overwhelmed with choices at times!

Pinktoberish for your macarons, girls?

When this image of Doris Day flashed up on MacTweets, I had a rush of nostalgia. It’s one of the rare occasions I was allowed to stay up late to watch films such as Pillow Talk when I was still proudly displaying milk teeth. Doris just made everything dazzingly right.

At the local rose boutique in St Germain-en-Laye

What’s not right, however, is that in this day and age, we still need to raise awareness about breast cancer. It continues to kill and a cure needs to be found.  God knows how many of our lives have been affected by cancer. More thorns arrived in our lives at home last month, when news of an old friend was taken away by this creepy disease, leaving her two children behind. She was only 46. Last year it was my aunt who not only left us, but Suffered. You couldn’t even wish that on your worst enemy.

Fortunately, I know of friends who have had some form of breast cancer, but they have ended up happy stories simply since it was caught early via regular check-ups.

Back to the pink. I nearly always have a stock of rose macarons in my freezer macaron bank, as plain rose (or pétales de rose as Ladurée calls it ;-)) is one of our favourites.  But for Mactweets, as before, I wanted to come up with something new – or at least presented differently.

Then in the foreign food section at our supermarket last week, Basset’s Liquorice Allsorts literally jumped out at me. When I grabbed a bag crammed in the edge of the shelf, the whole box of about 50 packets landed at my feet.

This had to be a sign: of course, they have tons of pink colours in their liquorice treats! I added another of the children’s favourites – Haribo’s liquorice bootlace coils. Put the two together and you’re in aniseed playground.

Using the recipe in the book for liquorice macarons (p74), I changed the colour of the shells for some pink fun – topping it off with a bit of liquorice in the middle of the filling (ok, I added one whopping great big reglisse wheel in that big mac for the photo!) Add a touch more ganache on top of the dry liquorice, so that it penetrates completely into both of the shells for the perfect chew.

liquorice-allsorts-pink-macarons

Antoine adores the rose macarons – also with some different flavour combinations (rose-matcha, rose-chocolate, rose-raspberryrose-geranium) but when he ate these pink liquorice ones next day, I was made to promise that I’d make liquorice macarons more often…Ooh. I can sense we’re going to have more egg yolk recipes up on the site!

It’s all about being on the right side of the seesaw

So, remember to get annual check-ups and keep abreast of your body. Take regular exercise; being active is one of the best things you can do to stay healthy and keep cancer at bay.

Pinkiliquorice macarons

There are a number of other factors to stay healthy, as outlined clearly by the American Cancer Societysuch as eat a varied diet and vary the colours, too.  That doesn’t mean vary the colour of your sweets or candies.  Green veg just weren’t too ideal for macarons – although after taking these shots, it did get me thinking…

Remember, macarons are not only gluten free but they are less than 100 calories each for this size.

Thanks to Jamie and Deeba for hosting the Mactweets Mac Attack Challenge this month and for such an important cause.  Sorry I didn’t add the special ribbon – truth be told, I couldn’t find any! For information about breast cancer early detection, see the Breast Cancer Awareness Month Website.

May the rest of your October be totally pinkilicious and ladies, don’t forget to get your regular check-up.  It’s all too easy to think of your children first and not yourself.

SO THINK PINK!

mactweets

Corsican Stuffed Courgettes-Zucchini with Mint

Mamma Mia! When Manu asked me to guest post, my adoration for Italy kicked in again.  I adore all the tempting treats that Manu serves us on her Menu and especially all of the beautifully authentic Italian delicacies, complete with her famous step-by-step immaculate instructions and gorgeous photos. For those that follow le blog, you’ll remember that Manu shared her Genovese Ericine Sicilian speciality for the egg yolk recipe series.

What could I serve on her guest menu that would be authentic from France? To help me pick something, Manu and I have a number of things in common: we both followed our hearts to another land with another language and settled into another culture.  I came to France from Scotland and although it’s not far compared with Manu, the culture difference was pretty mind-boggling.  I didn’t just marry a Frenchman; I married a Corsican.

The island of Corsica has been in and out of so many hands in history but although it’s closer to Italy than France, geographically – it is politically part of France. Their culture is a real mix of Italian and French.  I could go on but basically the Corsicans and the Scots have plenty in common when it comes to their feelings of independence!

One of Corsica’s popular dishes is stuffed courgettes. They come alive with the taste of the Corsican speciality cheese, Brocciu, which is made from unpasturised goat’s or ewe’s milk. Either way, it’s fresh and fabulously creamy – a bit like Italian ricotta but it’s not. It’s just brocciu (pronounced ‘broach‘.)

 This is so simple and a favourite when we visit my husband’s family in their remote mountain village.  I have a few family recipes for this classic but each one is different: this one is my own adaptation since the best ones I have tasted on the island use mint rather than parsley or basil.

Corsican Stuffed Courgettes (Zucchini) with Mint

Serves 4

Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 45 minutes

8 glossy courgettes (zucchini)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
2 slices mixed grain bread (or plain if you prefer), mixed to breadcrumbs
250g fresh Corsican Brocciu cheese or tub of ricotta
20g parmesan, finely grated
1 egg yolk
 2 tbsps pine nuts

1.  Drop the courgettes into a large pot of salted boiling water and leave them to soften for 5 minutes.  Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool while preparing the other ingredients. Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Have you heard the latest Corsican scoop?

2. Trim off the ends then halve each of them lengthwise.  Using a small spoon (I love to use a grapefruit spoon as it has more control), hollow out the flesh leaving a shell about 1cm thick.  Chop up the removed courgette pulp.

3.  Fry the chopped courgette pulp in some olive oil over a medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly or until the courgettes are no longer giving off any more liquid.  Add the garlic and mint and continue to stir over the heat for another couple of minutes.  Set aside to cool and season with salt and pepper.

4. Using a blender, blitz the bread into crumbs.  In a bowl, mix the cheeses, egg yolk, pine nuts, breadcrumbs and add the cooked courgette mixture.

5.  Dry the courgette shells with kitchen paper then stuff each one generously.  Place them in a single layer on an oiled baking dish.

6. Bake for about 40 minutes, until browned.

Serve hot on their own and a chilled glass of white Patrimonio Corsican wine just sets the mood. I love Vermentino – do you?

This post was published as part of my guest post over at Manu’s Menu and so comments were closed in favour of posting on Manu’s site. One year on, comments are now open and so please don’t be shy – show me that somebody’s reading this and even better, try out the recipe!

Macaroned on French Impressionists’ Island, Chatou and Macaron Pointillism

Somehow I just couldn’t write, ‘mac-arooned’. They’re not macaroons but macarons, right?

Many people think I live in Paris. I used to live there for 7 years before the children were born. It was wonderful. Another chapter. But truth be told it’s just as wonderful living outside the City of Light. It’s close enough to Paris but far enough to feel out in the country.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll give you a taste of our environs. Today let’s kick off with a walk along the River Seine in nearby Chatou. It’s only 10 minutes west from Paris in the RER commuter train (from Charles de Gaulle’s stop at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.) For me, this is just around the corner from my orthoptiste. Would you believe all this work on the computer means I now have to have vision therapy? At least there’s a progressively less blurred view en route.

boat on the Seine

Along the banks of the River Seine, Chatou

Chatou is one of the towns by the River Seine where the Impressionist painters settled down their easles and impressive palettes. Auguste Renoir took Claude Monet to discover this area and they painted together a set of pieces around the “Grenouillère” just near this spot, where Parisians would flock on the weekend to bathe in the countryside (more on that later, since this deserves a separate post.) The neighbouring towns have about 30 reproductions like this below, to mark the Impressionists’ route.

Renoir paintings on the Seine

Les Canotiers à Chatou, by Renoir (1881)

This is one of my favourite spots in Chatou: the Île des Impressionnistes. The hamlet on the Impressionists’ island was a popular hang out of artists and poets. Thankfully it was restored recently to include the original Fournaise restaurant, a museum, and a boating workshop.  One of the most famous regulars was Auguste Renoir, who was often here at the Fournaise Restaurant.

Maison Fournaise Chatou Impressionists

Maison Fournaise Chatou

Do you recognise this painting?  It’s amazing to think that the scene of Auguste Renoir’s masterpiece,”Le Déjeuner des Canotiers” is just here on that balcony.  Amongst his friends in the painting, the lady clutching the dog on the left ended up becoming Madame Renoir a few years later.

Le Déjeuner des Canotiers by Renoir (1881)

Today nothing much has changed.  The light changes dramatically, reflecting the different seasons. The restaurant is still lively and next door, you can now visit the Fournaise museum.

Maison Restaurant Fournaise Chatou

The day I took these shots, the place was deserted. It was almost spooky.  It’s as if you could hear faint laughter of a bunch of artist friends sitting around a table of fruit and wine up on that balcony.

Maison Fournaise Renoir Balcony

Renoir was watching from that balcony

I’m not an artist, although some family members may disagree when it comes to “wine tasting”. The nearest I get to playing with paints is flicking food colouring on macarons. It’s great fun. It’s best to do this once the macarons have aired and are ready to go in the oven.

What’s your impression?

Personally I think it’s dabbling with Pointillism.

spotty macarons

spotty macarons

Have you been going dotty with macarons lately?