The Boat House Edinburgh and a Lemon & Thyme Tart Recipe

As the Commonwealth Games kick off in Scotland, I’m taking you on a whirlwind trip there, just like I did last week.  Back to my roots and wonderful family.

Back to loaves of raisin bread, toasted with melted butter in the mornings.  Back to oak smoked salmon and mackerel and a great choice of New World wines.  There comes a time when French is great but we all need a change now and again, don’t we?

St Andrew's Square Edinburgh and Changing rooms at White Stuff, George Street

Scottish changes! Hot weather and er, interesting changing rooms…

I always see changes when I return to Edinburgh.  This time the weather was hot and sunny – the opposite to Paris (although we’re now making up for it!).  Even the changing rooms hidden behind wardrobe doors had changed again at White Stuff in George Street – I opted for the Irn Bru rather than the toilette scene, thank you.  The trams were finally running in the City and so that was definitely worth the trip: with free Wi-Fi, I don’t think anyone looked outside the windows, though!

Forth Road Bridge and Building of New Bridge Queensferry Scotland

Huge change was at the River Forth: the pillars were well set in for the building of the new Forth Bridge connecting Queesferry to the Kingdom of Fife.

Postcard of South Queensferry village near Edinburgh

Certain things had not changed that much: like South Queensferry.  I love this little village where the original film of the 59 Steps was filmed.  With stunning views of the Forth Railway Bridge next to the Victorian postbox and quaint crow-step gabled houses, the Seal’s Craig restaurant from my childhood was still there.  No it wasn’t!  The sign remained but it had turned into a pizzeria.  Gosh, all those happy memories of Claude, the waiter, and the chatting Minor bird at the bottom of the stairs.

Forth Railway Bridge view from the Boat House Restaurant

View from the Boat House Restaurant of the Forth Railway Bridge

But new happy memories were made, as Mum steered me towards the Boat House Restaurant.  I have found a new, wonderful address!  Precious moments, indeed. With stunning views directly opposite the Forth Railway Bridge, the other gastronomic views were on my entrée-starter-appetiser of Cullen Skink (that’s smoked haddock and potato soup) followed by a main dish of red mullet – exquisite and great value for money, including the wines (with good options by the glass).

My one upset was that I didn’t manage dessert!  On my way out, the lovely waitresses handed me a magazine featuring their Chef, Paul Steward.  And in it is his recipe for this lemon and thyme tart.  He adds caramelised pears to the recipe but, as it’s not yet pear season in France, I’m serving it plain with summer berries.

 Lemon Thyme Tart Recipe

Lemon and Thyme Tart Recipe

Recipe from Chef Paul Steward, The Boat House Restaurant and Bistro, South Queensferry, Edinburgh

For the short crust pastry:

400g plain flour
200g salted butter, cubed
1 vanilla pod
1 egg
25ml milk
75ml cold water

For the curd:

4 unwaxed lemons (zest & juice) – I used the zest of only 2 lemons
200g caster sugar
100g unsalted butter
3 large eggs
2 egg yolks
4 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves stripped off

 Pastry

Put the flour in a large bowl and add the cold cubes of butter.  Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until you have a mixture that resembles coarse breadcrumbs with no large lumps of butter remaining.  Combine the vanilla, egg, milk and water.  Add just enough of the mixture to the flour and butter to bind the dough together.  Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for 20 minutes.

Roll out the dough until it’s just thinner than a pound coin, then place in a buttered tart case and blind bake using grease proof paper and baking beans for 18 minutes at 180°C.  Remove the paper and beans and bake for a further 5 minutes or until the pastry is finished cooking.

Lemon and thyme curd

Place the juice and zest (my lemons were strong so I only used the zest of 2 lemons which was more than enough) of the lemons in a large bowl over a pot of simmering water.  Add the butter and sugar.  When the butter has melted, add the eggs and gently stir until the curd is thick and coats the back of a spoon (this took me over 10 minutes).  Add the fresh thyme and pour into the pastry case.

Lemon Thyme Tart egg yolk Recipe

I’m serving this well chilled tonight, as the weather in Paris is around 33°C!   Refreshing indeed, with a glass of something chilled.

What would you have with it?

Fireworks in Paris for Bastille Night Celebrations

Enjoy the Commonwealth Games in Scotland!

THE BOAT HOUSE RESTAURANT
22 High Street
South Queensferry
Edinburgh EH30 9PP
Tel: 0131-331 5429

Finding the Romans, Macaroons and Macarons in England

We’re just back from holiday. It’s the first time we have driven around England with the children and as buckets of rain were thrown upon us, we can safely say that we now know a few museums. Avoiding the traffic of London’s Olympics live (we couldn’t get tickets, sniff) we still enjoyed the festive buzz around the country, as each town was proudly strutting their flag and the Best of British in many shop windows.

British flags English Bakery

Windows tempted us with giant scones, carrot cakes, STP (Sticky Toffee Pudding), Bakewell tart, apple turnovers, Victoria Sponge, treacle tarts, Bath buns, giant cookies, peanut brittle, jam tarts…. the list goes on. But if anyone really knows me, I don’t eat the heavier cakes. Since moving to France, it’s something I try to avoid; I’m converted to eating lighter sweet treats and that is why the macaron is one of my perfect sweet afternoon treats: they’re gluten free, not high in calories and above all, they come in so many different flavours.

Beatrix Potter Cake Stands

So where were the macarons? We were definitely looking in the wrong places outside of London. There are many French pâtisseries in England but some didn’t even have macarons. Quoi? There were, however, macaroons…

Macaroons in England

Macaroons but where are the macarons?

This is the reason why I prefer to call ‘macaroons’ macarons. When I say ‘macarons’, it’s not to be all French chic and snooty; it’s simply so that we don’t confuse the traditional coconut based macaroon (and in this case it looks like there’s no coconut but an almond biscuit more like a giant amaretti) with the Parisian macaron with it’s fondant filling between two almond-based meringue shells with its characteristic ruffled foot.

When I met with my publisher during the trip, they explained that a couple of outlets didn’t take on the book simply since ‘macaron’ was on the cover and not ‘macaroon’.  What would you say to that?

Taking a break from it all meanwhile, we were in awe discovering the crafty engineering work left behind by the Romans, thanks to talented archeologists around Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland. At Vindolanda, nearly 4000 shoes were excavated (some of which are still high fashion today) as well as hundreds of Roman coins, jewellery and even postcards with writing – unbelievable seeing face-to-face an invitation to a party from an Officer’s wife.

Roman Ruins England

The Romans’ central heating system (left) and clever foundations of the granary (right)

Can you imagine the fortresses that lined Hadrian’s Wall – built south of the border to keep out the ‘rogue’ Scots – with many of their foundations intact which give us an insight as to how they lived? This image perhaps doesn’t look much but when you realise that these pillar stones were built underneath the stone floors, the Romans were clever engineers; on the left, this is their central heating system, as fires would be lit around these pillars to have warm floors above; on the right, this airing below the granary’s floor would ensure that rats or any other stray unwanted creatures that would threaten their food stocks were chased away easily. They also had communal latrines, complete with communal wiping brushes (if you wanted your own, you had to carry it around all day.) Luckily things have progressed since then.

Thermal Springs Bath England

The Thermal Springs at Bath

The Romans also used this crafty heating system as a sauna and steam room around the thermal springs at Bath. The actual thermal springs pool (naturally at 46°C) was sacred and only used by bathers who threw notes to the Goddess Sulis Minerva, who had healing powers. More worshipping would go on in the Temple next door, then self-body worshipping via spa treatment rooms with mud rubs, a plunge pool and a final dip in the thermally heated grand pool. Not bad for 2000 years ago, eh? We were so inspired that we couldn’t resist a day’s pampering ourselves at Titanic Spa further north.  Highly recommended for boosting your batteries.

Talking of revamping, as we followed the Romans, somehow a sweet treat or 4 o’clock goûter would always enter into our plans.

Pub Stratford England

Antoine started to stop in his tracks at the word, Pâtisserie. I love using him as an excuse. In Stratford-Upon-Avon, it was much ado about Shakespeare. A brief look at Hobson’s Pâtisserie confirmed alas there were no macarons.

Then in a just as crowded York, there was an even greedier line forming outside its celebrated institution, Betty’s Tea Rooms. Eye spy my little eye – look what was in the window!

Macarons at Betty's Tea Room York

The queue was so long and as we had a walking tour of the Secret York, we didn’t have any time to spare and join in line. After discovering some hidden churches, being drenched in the Shambles (watching a couple of ladies being filmed for a documentary), spotting sculptures of cats on some buildings to scare away the pigeons, I found more macarons at Pâtisserie Valerie.

York

Filming under the rain in the Shambles, York and a reigning macaron.

The coffee macaron caught my attention and before it could say try me, disappointment struck. Humbugs! It was more like a dry – really dry – cookie. No wonder some people say they’ve tried a macaron and they didn’t like it.  Gosh, these poor folks need to try a good one and see what all the fuss is about.

What do you think? Perhaps they need to make them at home instead (hint, hint.)

So my British macaronivore friends, I’m still hunting down macarons outside of London. Where did I miss? And be totally honest now: do you call them macaroons or macarons?


Update: See my article on Macarons vs Macaroons

How to Make Macarons like the French, Aye Write Glasgow UK

What happened to this week? It has been a real macaronathon and it’s not even over yet.  On Tuesday it’s la Fête du Macaron in Paris and so it will be ‘my duty’ to taste some for you. In the meantime, let me give you a taster of last weekend’s macaron event at the Aye Write Book Festival in Glasgow.

It’s the first time I’ve been asked to demonstrate how to make macarons in a library – and the Mitchell Library to boot. My macaron kitchen was in a suitcase but somehow the oven was missing, so preparation was key with “Here are some I made earlier.” It’s just as well I’d prepared more than needed. Have you ever tried to transport 3 pastry boxes of fragile macaron shells through security at Beauvais Airport?

Demonstration Macaron Making Book Festival UK

That could be another service Mr O’Leary can offer to RyanAir passengers when booking online: Will you be transporting Parisian Macarons? Then tick the box for another €30. As this wasn’t a service this time, these 3 boxes went through the stuttering security conveyer belt, then jolted back in again just for an extra look. When they eventually came out, the boxes were upside down and many macarons were smashed. I’m surprised they didn’t confiscate the ones that were intact!

Talking macarons at Glasgow Book Festival UK

It’s a ‘macaron’, so no confusion with this coconut macaroon bar

The event was chaired by the lovely Elizabeth McMeekin of the Herald and Times Newspaper Group. She knew how to put everyone at ease and how to deal with a chatterbox like myself, by keeping the session to one hour!  A huge thanks to Waverley Books for organising the event, Eleanor Abraham (the Editor) for the photos, and such a friendly audience. When you return to Glasgow after being so long in Paris, you really appreciate how the Glaswegians are so helpful, chatty with their sing-song accents and down-to-earth.

With a low table, one way to help the audience see properly was to whisk in the air! Whisk your egg whites to stiff but glossy peaks…

Elizabeth asked if you needed to be an experienced baker to make macarons. Well, assuming you cook or bake a little, it’s easy. Even my Dad made macarons and he buys his cakes! (Sorry, Dad, but it’s true…) His came out perfect first time around just by following the recipe to the letter. It was a proud moment!

Then the actual process which makes a macaron a macaron with a foot…macaronnage!

macaronage technique – easier than you think!

Have I always made them perfectly? No. When I came home after a macaron lesson in a pâtisserie, suddenly my oven wasn’t like the professionals and there were many cracked macarons that ended up crushed in desserts. My children referred to the ‘best mistakes’ once as les caves à l’orange due to huge hollows and asked for them again recently. Could I really make my blunder again? I’m not sure, but one thing is certain: your oven is often the biggest culprit. As le blog only started up after the launch of the book, I don’t have any of it documented here. But the lessons learned from all the experiments in the kitchen were learned quickly and the results of making perfect macarons at home are simply written in the book.

The fun moment: out with the piping bag, then leaving the little rounds to air while answering questions from the audience. There’s one that is still foxing me: can you bake macarons in an AGA? Well, I’m sure you can but you’ll definitely need an oven thermometer to check the heat. I need to find someone who has one so I can try it myself. Have you ever tried them in an AGA? I’m dying to hear from anyone who has given them a go using one.

Q&A plus TASTING TIME! Fresh macarons versus macs left to do their magic after 24 hours.

Tasting time!  After assembling the fresh ones, the audience were eager to try. It’s important to taste the difference between ones just made and those that are left for 24 hours. It’s definitely worth the wait. Macaron magic takes place when the filling and its flavour permeates into the shell, making the special fondant centre, the meringue like crunch on the outside… I can now feel one coming on, can you?

One of the hardest questions: what’s your favourite macaron?  I’ll leave you with a peek of one of them: white chocolate, pistachio and wasabi. If you love wasabi, you’ll love it with pistachio.

Pistachio, white chocolate and wasabi macarons (recipe p.63)

Happy Macaron Day to you all on 20th March. Och, who am I kidding?
Every day is macaron day in my book! 🙂