Who’s King? (Or Queen?)

I love living in France. Just when the festivities are over and we grudgingly dismantle the Christmas decorations, there’s something else to celebrate: Epiphany. We do this by eating the Galette des Rois (or King Cake) which takes its name from the biblical 3 Kings. I was going to take down our traditional crêche (nativity scene) with the other decorations, but I was quite rightly told by my daughters to keep it since they hadn’t yet added the Kings and of course, Mum – we haven’t yet eaten the galette! I took a hint.

Kings at Epiphany

In French supermarkets, you begin to see them as early as Christmas time. Officially my agenda informed me that Epiphany was on Sunday 2nd January so we’ve already had quite a few before the traditional 6 January. No doubt we’ll also have quite a few more… This week the Pâtisseries around Paris have been going mad displaying them in their vitrines.

galettes des rois in Paris Pâtisseries

Normally filled with frangipane or almond cream, the galette includes a fève or trinket hidden inside. The youngest person in the group sits under the table and calls each person’s name in turn as the galette is cut without them seeing and then served out. That way there is no favouritism if the person cutting the galette sees the trinket. The person who gets the piece with the trinket inside gets to be crowned king (or queen) for the day.

cutting the galette des rois french tradition

Who’s snooping around under the table?

The Galette des Rois is so easy to make at home yourself (see my French king cake recipe here), especially as in France they sell ready-made frangipane mixes in the supermarkets and all you need to add is some water to the mix (although I add milk and a touch more almond extract.) Well, there are times when we’re allowed to cheat when the kids go back to school.

galette des rois frangipane recipe

It’s amazing just how many galettes we have consumed recently as here is just a selection of my children’s trinket collection. Don’t you just love the mini macarons? Merci, Emma 🙂

fève trinkets for galettes des rois

Hm. You guessed it. It was inspiration for some of my own macarons in the style of a galette des rois. Like all macarons, this is gluten-free.

macarons in the style of galette des rois Jill Colonna

galette style macarons with a feve inside

I simply adapted my recipe for Almond Macarons on P.38 of the book, adding 70g ground almonds, 1 tsp bitter almond extract and a good tablespoon of Kirsch (or you could use dark rum) to the macaron filling. Don’t forget to add a trinket inside. OK, the one above is a bit too visible but I was scared that folk may break their teeth 😉 I bought a couple of lovely fève collections this week from Saint Germain-en-Laye: clocks and Venetian masks to get us in the Carnaval Spirit.

Oh, and to finish off with a song, you’ll need to sing this with your crown on:

J’aime la galette savez vous comment ?

Quand elle est bien faite avec du beurre dedans, tra-la-la… !

Recharging the Christmas Batteries for 2011

Just back from a last-minute Christmas shop at Les Grands Magasins across the road from the Opéra Garnier in Paris. So pretty and festive but downright exhausting. En route, stopped by a stand to buy a couple of Santa hats for the children, just to get in the Christmas mood. Of course they wanted to wear them to post their letter to Santa but we’ve just discovered that the groovy flashing 2011 lights don’t work. Should have known better and checked the batteries first, but what do you expect for one euro and when you’re balancing shopping bags of stuff you never dreamed you’d buy?

Next time I’m going to simply ask everyone to give me their list for Père Noël. Mine is simple. A Christmas sans stresset toi?

Courrier du Pere Noel

You should have seen the chaos at the hypermarket, Carrefour, yesterday. It seemed like all of les Yvelines decided to grocery shop in between snowfalls. Let’s face it, the snow and icy weather haven’t helped us prepare as much in advance.

Two weeks ago I was upset at cancelling a macaron demo for Scottish Television. Although frustrating, I’m glad I did after seeing the alarming conditions in Scotland on French TV afterwards. Motorists were stuck during the night on the same motorway I was supposed to take to get to the studio.

Spicy Christmas Orange Blossom Macarons by Jill

Instead, we ended up eating some of the TV demo’s spiced orange blossom macarons and kept a few behind for the tasting & signing event at WHSmith Paris a few days later. I’d made 300 macarons for the occasion plus another 100 mini curry Tikka Mac’Sala macarons from the “Mad Macs” chapter (see p 100 of the book) to go with Stoeffler’s 2009 Gewürtzraminer from Alsace.

There’s nothing quite like some spicy heat when it’s snowing, n’est-ce pas?

Tikka Macsala Macarons in the Snow

Although there were some cancellations due to the snow, it was wonderful to see so many macaronivores turn out at the English bookstore in Paris, just a snowball’s throw away from Pierre Hermé’s shop in rue Cambon.

WHSmith Paris Macarons Tasting

I loved meeting and chatting macarons with so many cheery people living in Paris from Australia, India, US, UK (including people like myself who married a Frenchman!) and the French: who would have thought that they love the idea of improving their language skills through a macaron book in English! Next time you’re in Paris, say hello to Hannah for me – she put on a great event.

Mad About Macarons in Croissy

The last book-signing for this year was at Didier’s bookshop in Croissy, Le Presse Book. Imagine turning up to a live band playing Christmas carols! By this time the snow had disappeared, but gosh they were brave to play for so long in that icy wind. Even Didier’s mulled wine wasn’t enough to thaw out their fingers in the end. A huge thank you to Didier and his family for such an amazing event and to L’Harmonie du Vésinet (Yves, Martial, Barbara, Xavier, Isabelle, Etienne & Sandra) for putting on a super musical ambience. I felt so proud to be a part of it all.

Xmas macaron display

It was interesting to hear that some macaronivores had already made them but wanted to give the different recipes and flavours a try. Others hadn’t made macarons before and were inspired to finally give them a go – or inspired to get their friends to try. Yay! I’m dying to hear from them via the website’s Readers’ Forum, such as Nicky, Christine, Trudy, Sheila, Rashmi, Loresa, Audrey, Domenica, Leshia, Kendra, Lakshmi, Tania, Nicolas, Thelma, Julie & Philippe (a chess author inspired by a photo on p.75 😉 ) to name just a few…. oh, and Laura who has become obsessed about making her own macarons ever since watching Masterchef Australia. Way to go, Laura! You show ‘em it’s not difficult.

It’s been rather sad that the events are now finished for the year. It doesn’t stop me from making macarons, though. With the snow falling how else could I be inspired? Here are some mini Thai Red Curry Macarons, all spiced and ready to go to a Christmas party this weekend.

Thai red christmas curry macarons by Jill

Now that I have my grocery stocks refilled, I’m quite happy to be snowed in for a few days. On second thoughts, perhaps not. We’re going to the middle of Corsica for a family Christmas!

So how else can I remain zen this Christmas? For a start, I’m NOT replacing the batteries on Rudolf. He’s been continuously played for the last SIX seasons and he is finally driving me mad – the kids, too! See Drunken Macaron-loving Rudolf (click on the link because I don’t know how else to put up a video!)

Instead, it’s time for us all to recharge our own batteries, enjoy the season with family and friends and look forward to a healthy 2011.

Happy macaron holidays to you all!

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!

It’s a Small, Small World in Paris

You think I’m referring to the fantasy boat trip in Disneyland, Paris? Listen to the music once and thereafter it constantly gnaws at your brain. Instead, I’m simply stunned that in a city of over 2 million people, somebody in Paris managed to track me down simply through my macaron madness. Le monde est petit.

Eiffel Tower view from rue Alboni, Paris

When I was taking photos for the book earlier this year, it became an obsession to find an Eiffel Tower that didn’t have a candle or pencil sharpener in it found on countless tourist stalls. I wanted something classy that resembled those found in chic Parisian Pâtisserie windows, looking like chocolate and that could be adorned with macarons. Hm. It was a tall order.

Then one glorious day in May with the real Eiffel Tower urging me in the distance, I found it on the way to my dentist. Just out of the metro station at Passy (one of the few airy metro stops that are above ground) up rue de l’Alboni, this stunning chocolately-looking Eiffel Tower just beckoned me through the window of a magasin de décoration. Frustratingly the shop was shut for lunch. So one root canal treatment later I returned for the Tour Eiffel, bumping en route into a distinguished gentleman coming out of his apartment, clutching a Pierre Hermé bag as if it was from Hermès. Well, this is the 16th.

Eiffel Tower Parisian Macarons

The Tower’s owner, Stéphane, was charmant since he was discretely trying to decipher my newly found overflowing French accent with a half-numbed mouth that was apparently having severe problems keeping up with appearances. Neither one of us noticed, however, that my credit card didn’t go through correctly.  He was too busy trying to work out what I was saying.

Content with my newly found tower for the book, the dentist must have numbed part of my brain, too.  I was totally oblivious that the tower wasn’t paid for – until recently.

A neighbour was taking a stroll in the 16th arrondissement, and of all places she stumbled on the same wee shop. She was drawn in by a doormat adorned with macarons. My friend would just love this, she told Stéphane, she’s writing a book on macarons in English, she’s Scottish….

Et voilà. Easy! Instantly pinned down like a macaronivore Corsican wife hiding out in les banlieues de Paris. One reconciled cheque, scores of Eiffel macaron photos for the book and a few dental appointments later, I have a new friend. Thankfully, he doesn’t see me as a Scot trying to avoid paying, but simply as a mad Scottish lass each time en route to the dentist who has obviously been testing a few macaron ganaches too many! Le monde est vraiment petit.

Oh, and here’s “that tune, just in case you’ve forgotten it. 🙂

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. I didn’t really understand what a blog was.
If you’d like to leave a comment, it’s not too late – show me that someone read it, at least! Jill xo

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!