Spreading Chocolate Hazelnut Macarons with Ganache, Nutella or I’m a Hazelnut?

There have been a few disgruntled faces at Nutella recently. In the Autumn, Casino supermarkets in France brought out their own version of the famous hazelnut spread, called ‘Je suis noisette’. Casino claim their spread is better in that they don’t use palm oil and so it’s more ecologically friendly. What’s wrong with a bit of competition? Nutella naturally went nuts but the campaign is still going strong.

“I am hazelnut, the first spread without palm oil”, says the jar

If anyone knows me, however, I am not a Nutella fan. There, I’ve said it. My children are fans, though. They also tried this new spread, and bingo! They love it. Replacing the palm oil with sunflower oil, cocoa butter and coconut oil is surprisingly alike in both texture and flavour. They also love Nutella but recently they’ve been adding the Je suis noisette version to the shopping list, saying that it tastes more chocolatey. Well, then.

What would you prefer inside?

However, on a macaron note, I know many people who simply use Nutella spread as a quick macaron filling instead of making their own ganache. Believe me, it’s not the same.  No, no, no. I even tried using it as part of my macaron demonstration at the Aye Write Festival last year as I was cooking in a library from a suitcase since I had to adapt without a kitchen. But there’s no comparison. Using a spread is far less intense in chocolate and, above all, makes the overall macaron far too sweet. Somehow the chemistry doesn’t work with the spread and, unlike a chocolate ganache, it doesn’t permeate properly into the shell for that vital 24 hours thus making the macaron too dry and chewy.

For the sake of about 30 minutes, I do encourage you to make that extra effort and make your own chocolate-hazelnut filling. Just use ground hazelnuts in a classic dark chocolate ganache…

There, I’ve said it again. And for Nutella or other chocolate spread fans, if you spread the word, I think it’s time for me to run away. Yes, I think I’ll run to Scotland and hide in the hills with a box of these macarons.

On return, I promise a new wave of recipes… what would you like to see?

It’s Springtime in Paris with Sunny Lemon Macarons!

It has been a long haul this chilly winter. In fact, I think it has rained since October, making it the longest hiver – more than I’ve ever known after living in Paris for 20 years, 3 months and 3 weeks. It’s my birthday today so I’m particularly 40-something sensitive in counting the years. It’s not the age, it’s the mileage, eh?
Although in France, we should be saying kilometres, rather than miles…

Ouf! Spring has sprung in Paris, enfin. What a pleasure it is to watch the first wasp of the year, buzzing amongst the tulips in the park and hearing the birds’ chattering singsongs in the morning and evening. And the sun… oh, the glorious sun; *bows*. Did we ever tell you just how much we missed you? With the sudden arrival of Printemps yellows and a family goûter this weekend, there was no question as to what macaron flavour needed whipping-up.

No sooner had the sun popped out, it took fright and hid behind a mass of stormy clouds – just as I was piping out the macaron batter into little rounds. Quoi? A hail storm? These hailstones look small but they’ve already melted in my palms!

Time to whip up some bright yellow lemon macarons

It had to be sunny yellow. If you’ve followed this blog back when the book first came out at the BBC Good Food Show, I made mimosa macarons just for you on le macaron blog, for something different. This time, it was simply good old plain – tart-yet-sweet – lemon. Nothing fancy; just tasty and agonisingly addictive.

A sweet golden ray of sunshine?

You know that euphoric feeling when you inhale the first sweet air of Spring? It was a magical sky on Sunday, not a cloud in sight – exactly as the weather is today. It’s that end-of-the-tunnel, feeling of relief with a natural energy boost that no supplements or extra fruit can really bring, is it? Now that is a lovely wee wink from la lune, n’est-ce pas?

Sun and the moon in Paris – ‘Macaron-style’!

Speaking earlier of miles vs kilometres, I’m seriously thinking of posting something about grams vs ounces. Does it really upset you when I – and other Europeans – post recipes in grams? Let’s be Frank, even if I’m still sticking to the name, Jill. More seriously, how many of you own digital scales? Tell me what you think.

Bonne semaine et vive le printemps!

P.S. The recipe for lemon meringue macarons is on page 41 of Mad About Macarons!

White Asparagus French Clafoutis

When the asparagus season finally pokes its head out to say bonjour, it’s time to get totally asparagused. Hearing the calls of ‘Aspergez-vous!’ at our local market just outside Paris, I do what I’m told and end up buying so much asparagus that I could open a shop with all the elastic bands they’re bound in.

Weigh-laden with our usual favourites from Monsieur Dee’s poultry stall, I couldn’t help swooning over impressively fat, fresh white asparagus spears which are first to arrive pride of place from sun-kissed Provence.

It’s time to snap these asparagus stems. Snapping asparagus is easy when they’re fresh: they should be firm, have compact heads and not look dry at the stems. Just snap them where they break naturally, about 1/3 from the bottom. Ideally, eat asparagus fresh on the day, otherwise store white asparagus in the fridge for up to 4 days in a humid kitchen towel, heads upwards.

I love tossing fresh white asparagus in sage butter and serving simply with a crunchy baguette, but this is a warmer starter to welcome this chilly Spring. I discovered the recipe in a magazine last year featuring Eric Fréchon, chef at Le Bristol, Paris. But could I find the magazine that I’d painstakingly placed in a ‘safe place’ for this season? No (don’t laugh, Mum). Luckily, I jotted it down and see he’s written a book on Clafoutis.

Macaron lovers will be glad to note that it uses up FOUR egg yolks, but don’t be fooled: this is such a light way to start a meal – and it’s gluten free, too.

White Asparagus Clafoutis Recipe

Serves 4-6

Recipe Adapted by Eric Frechon, Author of Clafoutis.

Preparation Time: 40 minutes
Cooking Time: 35 minutes

1 bundle white asparagus (500 g /1 lb)
3 eggs
4 egg yolks
10 g (4 tsp) cornflour

300 ml /10 fl oz single cream
100 g /3 oz fresh parmesan, grated
Seasoning
Handful of pine nuts (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C. Wash the asparagus spears and snap them 2/3rds of the way down, where they break naturally. Peel them as close as possible to the spear heads. Keep the peelings!

2. Cut the asparagus in 3, reserving the spear heads.

3. Fill a large pan with water and bring to the boil with the asparagus peelings, adding a tablespoon of sugar (to reduce the bitterness).
When bubbling, remove the peelings and cook only the spears for 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon.

4. Using the same cooking water, drop in the rest of the asparagus chunks and cook for 7 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, prepare the clafoutis batter: mix the eggs, cornflour, cream, grated parmesan and season with salt and pepper.

6. Drain the asparagus chunks and, using a hand blender or food processor, mix the asparagus and cream together.

7. Pour into a non-stick tart dish and decorate with the asparagus spears. I like to sprinkle over some lightly toasted pine nuts for a crunchy texture.

8. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes until golden.

 Note: If making individual versions, pour into 6 silicone briochette moulds and bake for only 20 minutes. Turn them out directly on guests’ plates for a posh but simple starter.

Enjoy this asparagus clafoutis either warm or hot from the oven and serve with a glass of chilled Pinot Blanc from the Alsace.

Cheers!

Now it’s your turn to snap them this Spring and become totally asparagused!

 Aspergez-vous!