Life is a Macaron – or a Meringue?

How often have you lain in bed wide awake at 3am, cogitating your lists mentally, ready to take on the world – until slumber hits at 6am and when the alarm has the audacity to scream brightly, there is no way on earth you can drag these bones out from the cosy duvet?

How many times have you got up on the wrong side of the bed and wished you could start the day over?  It’s no use crying over spilled milk. Even if it was my favourite mug, or that one of the girls reached out in a greedy moment to grab the Nutella jar and it landed crash bang on my precious hand-painted plate by Anna Young in Hermanus, as she immortilised the moment of a Southern Right whale jumping out of the water in South Africa’s famous whale town.

Kitchen floor quiche. That’s a new one on the menu…

Before the school holidays, my savoury contribution to the end-of-term party was a quick and easy bacon-asparagus quiche. So speedy, that half of it jumped out of my burned fingers trying to juggle a large plate, foil and a schoolbag. They ended up getting the other quiche half and a huge bag of crisps. Can you imagine the children’s teacher/Maîtresse holding it up at the front of the class? “Les enfants – this is the contribution from whom?” Aha. Your Mum is Scottish? Don’t worry, dear.

C’est la vie, I know, but these scenarios have been recurring too often recently. Could it just be the change of winter to spring? Becoming another year older? Worrying about the upcoming French Presidential Elections and what the results mean for our family? Contemplating our house project? Adding and subtracting new ideas to the upcoming new book? Excited about Mad About Macarons’ 4th reprint and release of its second edition?

I’m a sensitive cookie. Big time. It can also take one short book review that says something totally grumpy and I’m up most of the night upset about it. It’s the second time I’ve read someone groaning that it’s their first ever macaron book and say, “…but the shells are all the same!” Well, please don’t get upset about it. C’est normal. You’ve got a simple recipe and a recipe that works! Why complicate things?

If anyone knows their macarons, they’ll tell you that the secret in the flavours is in the fillings. Ask Pierre Hermé. Sure, now and again you can add vanilla, coffee powder, any kind of flavouring to the shells, but keep it simple. The secret in a good macaron is that it’s the filling that packs a punch in taste. In the essential 24 hours that you need to wait before eating one, the macaron magic takes place: the filling permeates into the shell, making the centre incredibly fondant while the outside remains lightly crisp. The fragrance takes a hold of the whole macaron.

Voilà. Mini macaron lecture over. On the other hand, it’s incredibly gratifying to read so many wonderful reviews, when the sweetest souls take the trouble to share their excitement, exclaiming how they can’t believe they can make macarons at home themselves. See? It’s not as difficult as you think! What’s more, it’s fun watching these feet form as you dance in amazement in front of the oven. Then when you take that first heavenly bite, it’s love. It’s amour. It’s Paris.

I’ll leave you with this last image. It’s how I feel when even acupuncture couldn’t provide the turbo I was needing: a meringue stuck in a white chocolate mousse with rose and orange blossom. As this extra portion was left overnight, the meringue drooped.  Like macarons, humidity isn’t on their side. Fatigue isn’t on mine but I do love how it looks like some animal with its praline tongue hanging out!

As you’re reading this, I’m far away from ze kitchen. I’m on a beach and with any luck, soaking up the customary sun to accompany it, staring at that ball in the sky like a stuffed lizard. Or instead rejoicing for frogs or ducks with their ideal weather, as we play with the hotel’s grotty Scrabble set indoors as we stare at the rain skipping on the swimming pool, wondering why I booked so early and so couldn’t be at the London Book Fair. Cheers to revamped, positive thoughts and living the sweet life of a macaron.

See you next week, my friends –

bright eyed, bushy tailed and positively recharged!

Souris – it’s a French Mouse!

For the last few days we have had an unexpected visitor to the house – a visitor clearly with a sweet tooth and partying spirit. She has had an absolute ball testing out brioche flour, speculoos biscuits, praline pâtisserie chocolate, mini chocolate Easter eggs and – wait for it – ground almonds! With all my macaron ingredients stashed away in the basement, she came to the right house, this mouse.

I say ‘she’, as the French have given the mouse feminine status, la souris. I wonder why? Souris, or smile as the French also say (from the verb sourir, to smile.) Do you really think I’m smiling?

chocolate macaron mice

Chocolate mice macarons – a bit of fun decor with chocolate ganache from the books!

 

Well, yes; with extra ganache for chocolate macarons, somebody had to look on the bright side – especially as we spent part of our precious Easter weekend gutting out the basement stocks just looking for her. The poisonous route was out of the question, as was luring her with a bar of praline chocolate on an old-fashioned mouse-trap.  Much that she would go nuts for it, that’s good chocolate! Instead our clever Monsieur at the quincaillerie (I always loved that word for the Ironmonger in French class; say “can-cay-eree”) came up with a plug-in chaser that emits a silent human ultrasound but one that has mice racing out the door before they can say cheese.

Why is it that I have the feeling that mice are following me around? I’ve already heard someone say that just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. In Paris, I couldn’t help popping in to one of my favourite boutiques, La Vaissellerie in Rue St-Lazare (just behind Galeries Lafayette, around the corner from Gare St Lazare.) It’s a real bazaar of porcelain serving dishes and heaps of culinary knick-knacks.

Who could resist these cheeseboard accessories? I’m still debating on the little cutlery stands, a typical French dinner table accessory. Antoine will surely think it’s mouse overload for our next dinner guests.

Who would have thought that mice were such chocolate lovers? Should somebody tell the lovely people in the boutique that they should change the cheese to a chocolate set?

Next time you’re making chocolate macarons, why not play around with any leftover ganache and make silly shapes with the piping bag? Gosh, I hope the publishers are not reading this: I should be getting on with that book manuscript.  Ahem. Truth be told, I’m going blind with too much computer. Am I becoming French by exaggerating my ailments?

How did that nursery rhyme go again? Let’s give it a new look:

One blind mouse, one blind mouse,

See how she runs, see how she runs,

She poked too much and ate chocolate by the tons,

And ended up on a mac topped in crumbs,

Did you ever see such a thing in your house,

As one blind mouse?

Begging for Chocolate Macarons and Mendiants for Easter

How could I let this week fly past without mentioning chocolate for Easter? Or mentioning our flaring allergies with all this beautiful, budding but nose-blowing Parisian Spring blossoms? Or discovering seven (you heard me) paper fishes with cute French messages for poisson d’avril cellotaped to my back on April Fools’ Day?

It’s funny. After all the macaron-athons, I took a break from them for a couple of weeks. Then last weekend, Antoine asked for a macaron or two at 4 o’clock goûter. What? Quoi? You mean, you don’t even have any left in your freezer bank?  What’s going on?

With macaron twinges from all of us, it was time to make a batch. The family begged for chocolate; good ol’ plain chocolate macarons – even if it was tempting to add fancy salt, spices, caramel, herbs or fruit and the likes (if you’re a regular you may remember last year I made chocolate bacon macarons for April Fools’ Day.) I did it, though; I kept them plain – but thought about doing something a bit different to decorate them: I added mendiants.

chocolate easter mendiants

Mendiant means ‘beggar’ in French. As the family were begging for more chocolate macarons, this was fitting inspiration indeed – as well as the high prices in the chocolateries for these little chocolate fruit and nut bites.

Mendiants are simply disks of chocolate with at least four kinds of dried fruit and nuts, representing the robe colours of four mendicant monastic orders from the Middle Ages. Fascinating, n’est-ce pas?

Here I used dark chocolate and beautifully bumpy praline chocolate, but mendiants can be made with plain, milk or white chocolate. Use different nuts (plain or toasted) and dried fruits to add a contrast in textures and flavours. I also added broken Mikado sticks (do you have these in America?) and homemade zig-zag sticks (just by melting chocolate and zig-zagging it on baking paper, then peeling off when set) for a nest and mini Easter eggs.
Let your imagination leave your Easter Bunnies begging for more!

French mendiants or chocolate disks covered in fruits and nuts

French chocolate Mendiants: you’ll be “begging” for more…

French Chocolate Mendiants

Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Setting Time: 30 minutes

200g dark chocolate (64% cocoa solids, minimum)
Candied orange peel, cut into cubes
Raisins or dried cranberries*
Hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, almonds or pine nuts (plain or toasted)

  1. Line a perfectly flat baking sheet with baking paper (or silicone mat).
  2. Break up the chocolate in a bowl and place over a pan of simmering water over a gentle heat (bain-marie) until the chocolate has melted.
  3. Using a dessertspoon, spoon the melted chocolate onto the baking paper, pressing each one down with the back of the spoon to make a circle.
  4. Gradually decorate with the fruit and nuts using different colours and textures for toppings. Don’t worry about the chocolate hardening; you will have enough time to enjoy dressing each disk before it hardens.
  5. Leave to cool for about 30 minutes. When set, remove each mendiant carefully from the sheet with your fingers or a palette knife.

* To knock them into Adult mode for that extra je ne sais quoi, soak them in Kirsch, Chambord, Armagnac, Frangelico or any of your favourite liqueurs.

Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days (if you can wait that long!)

chocolate mendiants

Here I topped chocolate macarons with French mendiants for an Easter bonnet look.  You could do the same by decorating cupcakes, brownies, muffins, chocolate mousse, etc. with your own personal mendiant touch, or just devour them on their own. Mendiants are great for serving as mini bites or mignardises with coffee after dinner.

Happy Easter! Joyeuses Pâques !

***

French Chocolate vs British Chocolate: Becoming a Chocolate Snob at Easter Time…