Forgotten Legumes, Old Crosnes & a Beetroot Macaron

It has been yet another chilly, damp week outside Paris. A trip to the local market at St Germain-en-Laye quickly brightened up the spirits, though, fuelling the kitchen with inspirational seasonal produce. My favourite vegetable stall is run by someone who not only knows his radishes but he could possibly be moonlighting as The Barber of Seville.

Forgotten vegetables

Remembering our roots at the local French market

The French call many of these root vegetables, les légumes oubliés. Forgotten perhaps since they skipped a generation as grandmothers were glad to no longer serve up what they lived on during the war? One thing is for sure: parsnips (panais), Jerusalem artichokes (topinambours) and rutabagas are back “in” on the dining table. I love standing in the market’s queues, discussing how to cook the various produce. One kind woman gave me the following wee tip.

Crosnes or Chinese Artichokes

No, this is not Hallowe’en. These may look creepy at first glance but they are crosnes or Chinese artichokes (in Italy they’re called Queen’s potatoes). As the name suggests their sweet taste is not unlike an artichoke and a light version of a potato. Armed with a scrubbing brush under running water, I tackled the hardest part of cleaning them energetically to remove the outer skin, then snipped off the ends.

Cooked Crosnes

One of the best ways to prepare Crosnes is to simply toss them in butter over a high heat with a couple of chopped shallots for a few minutes. Then add just enough chicken stock to cover, simmer for 15 minutes until the stock has reduced but there’s still enough sauce to cover them. Season to taste et voilà. They are delicious served as a side dish for fish, chicken, meat or game.

Horseradish

This odd looking fellow is horseradish. Before coming to France, I thought horseradish was a sauce you found in jars 😉 but this fresh raifort certainly packs a punch! So what better way to use it than in a macaron! Here’s one I made earlier: a beetroot (or beet) and horseradish mini macaron that can be served with an apéritif or if you’re feeling on the wild side, serve it with the starter…

Beetroot & Horseradish macaron

Beetroot & Horseradish Macaron

I was left with just enough beetroot to make a chocolate-beet macaron or one of my favourite cakes: a dark chocolate and beetroot cake. That was a tough decision to make until I discovered that I was low on stock on aged egg whites. So the compromise?

Chocolate praline macarons with chocolate-beet fondants

Chocolate praline macarons (using the egg white reference chart at the end of the book when you come up short) with a praline ganache, using the full quantities. That way, there’s tons of extra ganache for that extra gooey praline sensation…

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… !

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!