Macaroned on French Impressionists’ Island, Chatou and Macaron Pointillism

Somehow I just couldn’t write, ‘mac-arooned’. They’re not macaroons but macarons, right?

Many people think I live in Paris. I used to live there for 7 years before the children were born. It was wonderful. Another chapter. But truth be told it’s just as wonderful living outside the City of Light. It’s close enough to Paris but far enough to feel out in the country.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll give you a taste of our environs. Today let’s kick off with a walk along the River Seine in nearby Chatou. It’s only 10 minutes west from Paris in the RER commuter train (from Charles de Gaulle’s stop at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.) For me, this is just around the corner from my orthoptiste. Would you believe all this work on the computer means I now have to have vision therapy? At least there’s a progressively less blurred view en route.

boat on the Seine

Along the banks of the River Seine, Chatou

Chatou is one of the towns by the River Seine where the Impressionist painters settled down their easles and impressive palettes. Auguste Renoir took Claude Monet to discover this area and they painted together a set of pieces around the “Grenouillère” just near this spot, where Parisians would flock on the weekend to bathe in the countryside (more on that later, since this deserves a separate post.) The neighbouring towns have about 30 reproductions like this below, to mark the Impressionists’ route.

Renoir paintings on the Seine

Les Canotiers à Chatou, by Renoir (1881)

This is one of my favourite spots in Chatou: the Île des Impressionnistes. The hamlet on the Impressionists’ island was a popular hang out of artists and poets. Thankfully it was restored recently to include the original Fournaise restaurant, a museum, and a boating workshop.  One of the most famous regulars was Auguste Renoir, who was often here at the Fournaise Restaurant.

Maison Fournaise Chatou Impressionists

Maison Fournaise Chatou

Do you recognise this painting?  It’s amazing to think that the scene of Auguste Renoir’s masterpiece,”Le Déjeuner des Canotiers” is just here on that balcony.  Amongst his friends in the painting, the lady clutching the dog on the left ended up becoming Madame Renoir a few years later.

Le Déjeuner des Canotiers by Renoir (1881)

Today nothing much has changed.  The light changes dramatically, reflecting the different seasons. The restaurant is still lively and next door, you can now visit the Fournaise museum.

Maison Restaurant Fournaise Chatou

The day I took these shots, the place was deserted. It was almost spooky.  It’s as if you could hear faint laughter of a bunch of artist friends sitting around a table of fruit and wine up on that balcony.

Maison Fournaise Renoir Balcony

Renoir was watching from that balcony

I’m not an artist, although some family members may disagree when it comes to “wine tasting”. The nearest I get to playing with paints is flicking food colouring on macarons. It’s great fun. It’s best to do this once the macarons have aired and are ready to go in the oven.

What’s your impression?

Personally I think it’s dabbling with Pointillism.

spotty macarons

spotty macarons

Have you been going dotty with macarons lately?

Sweet Potato, Crab & Thai Herb Croquettes

There’s something magical about holidays.  It’s not only a precious time to reconnect with the family, unwind, stand back and gather our thoughts – but it’s also a vital break from the kitchen. There’s nothing more inspiring than eating out and discovering new flavours.

Just before Paris shut down for the holidays in August, Antoine and I headed to KGB in Paris to tickle the tastebuds.  Don’t you love the name, KGB?  When you book, there’s that inner excitement thinking that Pierce Brosnan or Roger Moore could be reserved at the next table – although I’d prefer the original James Bond via my favourite Scot, Sean Connery (even if he came up to me and complained that we’d run out of programmes during the Edinburgh Festival, as I was ushering people to their seats as a student – but that’s another story.  All is forgiven, Sean: I couldn’t have agreed more with you – I was just swooning so much I did nothing about it.)

However, KGB stands for Kitchen Galérie Bis, as it’s the bistro version of William Ledeuil’s Michelin-starred restaurant in the same street, Ze Kitchen Galérie, on rue des Grands Augustins.

As we were headed for Thailand this summer, this was the perfect restaurant featuring fusion food at its best between Thai cooking and French cuisine. The service was just as attentive as its big brother and it was a privilege that the Executive Chef, Yariv Berrebi, invited me for a look behind the scenes in the bustling kitchen. What an impressive team they have that can produce such amazing dishes out of such a stifling small kitchen!

KGB “Zors-d’oeuvre”, cod croquette on basil béarnaise

The menu is almost like a Tapas menu in style, with the first array of amuse-bouches arriving called “zors-d’oeuvre”. I was immediately inspired with the cod croquettes with a basil béarnaise sauce and couldn’t wait to get back in ze kitchen back home to try out one of the recipes in my new cookbook, Ze Kitchen Galerie: La Cuisine de William Ledeuil.  The nearest was his Sweet Potato Croquettes, Crab and Thai Herbs with an Spicy Artichoke Condiment – although I’ve adapted it a bit, made a quick spicy basil mayonnaise instead, plus made bigger portions for a first course starter.

Crispy balls of sweet & spicy thai flavours

Sweet Potato, Crab & Thai Herb Croquettes with Spicy Basil Mayonnaise

Serves 4

Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Chilling Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: Approx 30 minutes total

Croquettes

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 lemongrass sticks
3 cloves garlic
240 g tinned crab (Ledeuil uses 200g fresh crabmeat but I didn’t have any to hand)
5 branches of fresh Thai basil, leaves only (chopped)
5 branches of fresh coriander, leaves only (chopped)
4 kaffir lime leaves
1 lime, untreated
3 tbps olive oil
salt

Coating

100g egg whites
100g flour
150g panko breadcrumbs

1.  Cut the sweet potatoes into small cubes.  Cut the bottom off the lemongrass, remove the first 2 outer hard layers and cut in 2 horizontally.  Peel the garlic and chop finely.

2.  In a heavy frying pan, heat 3 tbsp olive oil then sauté the garlic and lemongrass for a couple of minutes until fragrant.  Add the sweet potato and kaffir lime leaves and leave to sweat with the lid on for about 20 minutes.

3.  Once the sweet potato mixture is cooked, remove the lime leaves, crush the potato with a fork or masher (still over the heat to dry it a bit) and add the salt.  Take off the heat, add the crab, chopped herbs and the zest of the lime.  Mix well and leave to cool.

Mixing ourselves up before the messy palm roll

4.  Form the mixture into small balls, using the palm of your hands.  Place them on a baking tray and put them aside in the freezer for 20 minutes.  This will make it easier to work the mixture with the coating later.

5.  Prepare 3 separate bowls of egg white, flour and the panko (Japanese breadcrumbs.)

Roll in flour, egg white and panko

6.  Roll the balls successively in the flour, then egg white and finish off with the panko.  If the ‘phone rings, only pick up with these hands if urgent. 🙂

7.  Prepare the sauce: whisk up 4 tbsps of mayonnaise with 2 tsps of lime pesto (without the cheese), adding a finely chopped half red chili.

8.  Heat the fryer to 180°C and when hot, plunge the croquettes in for about 1min30 or until they are crisp and golden.  Repeat the process until all the mix is used up.

Quick sizzle in the frier

9. Drain on absorbant kitchen paper and serve.

 

Et voilà. Ready for some holiday fun in Thailand?  First Thai island adventure is coming up shortly…

 

French Poppies: A Macaron Impression

Think of French poppies and often Claude Monet’s impressionist painting comes to mind, n’est-ce pas?

Monet painted Camille and Jean strolling amongst the poppies near Argenteuil – not far from where we live.  I couldn’t stop thinking about Monet’s impression of the poppy field as we took a drive to the country recently. En route, poppies were out in all their glory – fields upon fields – to say bonjour.

There was this urge to make French poppy macarons as soon as I got back home.  I had found an intense poppy essence (arôme coquelicot), which was like tasting pure bonbons as a child.

As the poppy flavour was so sweet – and it’s still the rhubarb season – I added a touch of rhubarb compôte.  A classic is to pair poppy with strawberry, but the rhubarb just gave that tiny touch of tartness that brought out all the memories of poppy coquelicot sweeties.

Some poppy macarons with a touch of rhubarb

As you can understand, I’m not allowed to publish my macaron recipes on the site.  So, to make the filling, grab a copy of the book and use the recipe for orange blossom macarons on p.77.  Simply replace 5 tbsps orange flower water with rhubarb compôte and use 1 tsp of the poppy extract and follow the rest of the recipe as in the book.

french poppy macarons by the Seine by Jill @ Mad About Macarons

 

And what better way to eat them?  Sitting in a poppy field with Parisian poppy macarons in a basket, served with a chilled bottle of fizz: fizzy water – or what about Macaron Prosecco?

There’s perhaps some things missing:  the easel, paints and Monet’s pipe.  Let the dream live on: wear a panama hat. That way we can take our hats off to all Dads out there and wish you all a very Happy Fathers’ Day on Sunday.

Cheers to your good health!


Egg Yolk Recipe Series

I am so proud to welcome my talented guest, Nami from Just One Cookbook.  Just in case you missed it, see what she has prepared for us, using 4 egg yolks: a gorgeous recipe for Crème Caramel, or Japanese Purin.   This has to be the best crème caramel I’ve ever seen.  Thank you Nami for sharing this with us!

Visit to Pain de Sucre Pâtisserie in Paris with ParisPâtisseries

Join us on our mad macaron adventure at Pain de Sucre Pâtisserie in Paris.  I recently went with Adam Wayda of Paris Patisseries fame, to watch them making macarons using their new macaron-making machine.  Please don’t forget that this is on a large scale (about 2000 macarons a day) and don’t let that put you off making them yourselves at home.  Remember, they are a lot easier than you think!

Pain de Sucre making macarons Part I

Pain de Sucre making macarons Part II

I’m so inspired by Adam’s photography and so many of my blogger friends’ photos, I’m trying to work on enlarging my own just now, as they are all too small on the site (you’re right, Thoma ;-)).  This last photo is blown up but have no idea how it will look on your screens (possibly too big?)  By next week, I’ll have it sussed – I hope.

Bonne semaine and macaron making!

If you go down to the woods today

School holidays are wonderful.  The kids love them.  Who wouldn’t?  Before the Easter holidays, however, I did my usual secret panic attack: how was I going to keep my dynamic girls occupied for two whole weeks? Sure, we live half an hour away from Paris with SO much to do.  But sometimes, we just don’t feel like going to the big city. On a gorgeous day we’d rather not be in traffic jams, or metros, or trains; we’d much rather be with nature.  The garden was depressing, though.  It was shouting at me to look after it after such a long winter. The easiest option was to run away.

So, the three of us grabbed some rubber gloves and bags, and ran off to the forest…

This tree looked like it was looking at us!

Did you know that The Three Bears was a Scottish fairytale?  There were no berries in sight yet, though.  We were here to forage stinging nettles for our supper.

The forest of Saint Germain-en-Laye has a regal feel to it.  The forest is also part of the grounds of the Château of St Germain-en-Laye. It’s spooky to think that Louis XIV could have been hiding behind that tree, targeting some game for a royal dinner.

The nettles were far too small, lucky for them

Last year, we picked bags and bags during the Easter holidays: but this time, the nettles were far too small.  They were still stinging, though.  Just after I snapped this photo, Lucie jumped up screaming, “I’m stung, I”m stung!  Whah!”, and so Mum had to find some dock leaves quickly to calm her before getting home.  So, the project this year fell completely flat.  But it didn’t stop the children having a good run around and to play spook.

Pick the higher leaves and don’t forget the gloves!

A few days’ ago, however, the children were at school and I was just sick of the computer.  The sun was out in all its glory and so I returned as goldilocks to the forest.  This time the nettles were perfect: beautifully tall and with plenty newer leaves to pick at the top.  Why do you pick them at the top?  They are less bitter than the tougher leaves and most importantly, you don’t want nettles that could have been sprayed by foxes or dogs on their walks, for example. 😉  Also ensure you never pick nettles next to the roadside, as they risk being sprayed by herbicides.  You want them as pure as possible, as nature intended.

As I was picking them, a shocked passer-by asked, “Vous cherchez.. les orties?” When I explained I was picking them for supper, he took to his heels.  Did he think I was making up some magic potion, or something? Anyway, walking out of the forest, you arrive in the castle grounds.  At the end of this avenue, you have a look-out to La Defense with the Eiffel Tower in the background.  The weather is so glorious, that everyone is hiding on benches in the shade.

Back home, still armed with the gloves, it was time to give them a good wash and soak. I had heard that nettles are good for you, but on reading up on their health benefits, they contain a high amount of iron and many other vital vitamins and minerals, including magnesium. OK, my excuse for eating dark chocolate for magnesium can perhaps be substituted this week for nettles.

Back to keeping the children occupied: while I blanched the clean nettles in boiling water for a couple of minutes (to take away the sting), the children were having fun making some fresh pasta.

They love making pasta so much, there is always a fight who gets to turn the handle.

I was wanting to make some nettle ravioli with Corsican brocciu cheese.  That’s for the next time.  The quickest solution was to whiz together the blanched nettles with garlic, parmesan, olive oil and toasted pine nuts for some stinging nettle pesto (see recipe for nettle pesto).

This has to be my favourite dish in the world in the Springtime.  It’s also THE dish I love to serve when we can finally sit outside for dinner.  Sun shining, glass of wine in hand, plate of fresh tagliatelle and pesto? Forget everything else in the world!

Serve with deep fried nettle leaves

Now, I wonder if you were expecting a stinging nettle macaron?  OK, I may be mad about macarons, but I’m not blooming crazy, either!  Although, perhaps it’s not a bad idea…

A Dose of Good Chocolate – A Taste of France

We’ve started eating our chocolates early this year for Easter.  I mean, we have NO patience.  Who am I kidding?  Stop.  What’s with the Royal “We”?  OK, it’s me.

I’m a squirrel with little stocks of good quality chocolate, hiding conveniently well behind the tea tin until reached upon for a quick, quiet, knee quivering nibble.  After all, it’s good for you and full of magnesium, right? I’m a firm believer that your body tells you when it needs something.  Right now I’m feeling tired and run down with a flickering eye.  When the chemist explained my eye was reacting to a lack of magnesium I took the box of supplements but deep down I was thinking, “I just need more chocolate!”

Anyone for a milk chocolate poussin?

Walking past our local Chocolateries, seeing their beautiful windows decorated for Easter, I have been stocking up on my private “little” stocks.

A hen or the traditional French Easter bells?

In the UK children hunt for Easter Eggs which have been left by the Easter Bunny.  In France, it’s the bells chimes that have come from the Vatican in Rome so that’s why you also see chocolate bells on display here, too.  My children somehow manage to get the bells, the bunnies, the eggs, the hens and the chocolate fish.  And that’s when they’re in France.  This week we’re in Scotland visiting family and I know that when we come back our suitcases will be laden with British chocolate.  I’m not complaining BUT…

A frozen chocolate cream egg from Picard

Since coming to France, my tastes have changed.  Chocolate is definitely one of them.  The chocolate I grew up with in Scotland is just not the same any more.  Last year I bought myself a Cadbury’s Creme Egg for old times’ sake.  Jings.  I bit into it and my teeth hurt.  It was far too sweet!  The quantity of cacao in the Easter eggs is just so little that there’s more sugar in them than anything else.  My children still love them but it’s not until you have some chocolate from the likes of Pascal le Gac that you realise the difference.

Break open the shell and you get a chocolate praline egg

For a start, their chocolate egg is a real egg shell filled with the most intense dark praline chocolate…

Pascal le Gac Chocolatier

Pascal le Gac is reputed to be one of the 9 best chocolateries in France.  When I popped in to his chocolate shop in St Germain-en-Laye the other day to get a few bags of friture (the sea-shell/ fish chocolate shapes) and mini Easter eggs (and a few of their exquisite macarons too, just for more “research” ;-)), the chocolate aromas wafting out of the bag into the car were just incroyable.

Licking the chocolate shop windows

You just don’t get that with a giant mass-market commercial Chocolate Easter Egg, n’est-ce pas?  Call me a chocolate snob but it’s true.  Did you know that to go window shopping in France is called “Lécher les vitrines“?  It’s so poetically put and realistic in this case!  Lécher is the verb to lick…

So, when you’re making your chocolate macarons, my friends, please ensure that you use good quality cooking/pâtisserie chocolate.  At least 64% cocoa solids does the trick.  You’ll really taste the difference and even the chocolate. 😉

Dark chocolate macaron anyone?

Hm.  Did I mention Royal earlier? Don’t forget that if you are making special themed macarons for the Royal Wedding on 29 April, then please send me your photos to jill(at)madaboutmacarons(dot)com.  I’ll be showcasing your macarons to share our decoration ideas (could be colour themed) and flavour ideas (could be a typical British flavour).  Come on, get creative, folks!  Let’s have some fun…

Wishing you all a very Happy Easter, full of wonderfully intense, knee-quivering chocolate!

Paris Pâtisseries and Perfect Macarons

I think I upset some friends on Facebook.  I “rubbed it in”, as it were.  Well, yes I did and I’m sorry.  Sorry because now I’m going to talk about it yet again: eating pastries in Paris.

These last few days I’ve taken a break from baking.  The weather has been surprisingly summery after such a LONG winter that for once, it seemed wrong to stay in the kitchen.  So there was nothing else for it but to take the short ride into Paris for a taste of some pastries and macarons. Would I do it on my own?  Of course not.  The pastry binge was with one of the most serious pastry tasters I know.  Here he is in action:

Adam from ParisPâtisseries.com

My gourmet friend, Adam Wayda, has finally arrived from the US to spend the next few months in Paris, tasting his way around the best pâtisseries in the City of Light. You probably already know him from ParisPatisseries.com fame.  Tasting pastries with the reviewer himself was seriously fun.  I mean, this was my breakfast and lunch: for Adam, he had already a head start beforehand! How does he do it? Fat pants, he says.

Genin’s luxury boutique is more like a chocolate museum

This was my first time at Jacques Genin’s chocolaterie in rue de Turenne and I was so glad that Adam had suggested it.  The luxury chocolate boutique is full of the most incredible sculptures that are showcased like museum pieces.  Time for a seat and a taste of Monsieur Genin’s Ephemère: a mix of chocolate mousse and passionfruit on a charlotte base, while Adam attacked a caramel éclair. Would he stick it under his nose like a moustache first? Just take a look at that hot chocolate. It’s not for the faint hearted.

What did Adam think of the caramel éclair?

We couldn’t leave without getting a few of Mr Genin’s legendary caramels.  Adam persuaded me (it didn’t take much convincing) to try the mango/passion fruit caramels and the caramels au gingembre.  True, at 110€ a kilo, one or two is fine.  But you know me, that’s inspiration enough to make some at home à la Jilly.  In the meantime,  why not add some ground ginger and finely chopped glacé ginger to a crème au beurre salé?

Genin’s boutique was wonderful but he didn’t have any macarons.  So Adam suggested a wee stroll up to rue Rambuteau to drop in for some macarons at Pain de Sucre.

macarons from Pain de Sucre patisserie Paris

macarons from Pain de Sucre, Paris

This is what was left from my doggy bag: chocolate mint, caramel au beurre salé, morello cherry-pistachio and chocolate-passionfruit.  My first taste was his Fleurs de Sureau (Elderflower) macarons.  Absolutely delicious.  Cassis/Blackcurrant was excellent, too.  The chocolate mint was just so refreshing with a dark chocolate button in the middle.  Although it was hard and I had to take it out and eat it at the end, it was full of flavour. In fact, all of Monsieur Mathray’s macarons are just bursting with flavour at Pain de Sucre.

That’s what I adore in a macaron. But as you can see, the shells are not quite perfect.  Some were coarse, some had cracks and some not perfectly round.  But does that REALLY matter? Even Monsieur Mathray isn’t worried about absolute perfection.  Some of his macarons may have a slightly bumpy shell (or “homestyle charm” as Adam calls it) but the taste is just fantastic.

Pain de Sucre’s refreshing chocolate-mint macaron

On the other hand, there are also many famous Parisian macarons that LOOK absolutely perfect but if you were given a blind tasting (i.e. not influenced by its colour or fancy name associated with it), it’s often difficult to tell the exact flavour you’re eating.

Beautiful macarons…

Many readers are excited when they get their macarons perfect first time.  That’s brilliant! Even my Dad made fabulous macarons recently for the first time ever and he doesn’t even BAKE for goodness sake!  But I’ve been amazed at some readers who make macarons for the very first time and are expecting complete and utter perfection.  They worry when they have a slight crack or feet that are not big enough.  Please, don’t be so hard on yourself! It will come …

Giant macarons in a luxury pastry shop

There are macarons – expensive macarons –  in many great pastry shops in and around Paris that have been making them for years and they’re sometimes not quite “perfect”: not the perfect looking shell or perhaps a perfect shell but not enough flavour.  They are made by professionals with the right equipment with fancy ovens.  Professionals have access to liquid egg whites in cartons that do act differently.  Many use macaron-making machines.  We’re making them at home in our own kitchens, often with ovens that are so-so.

There’s no end of macaron flavours

Just remind yourself of this and have confidence that the next time you’ll get it right, once you’ve ensured you’ve done everything in the recipe and followed the tips in the book.  Have you checked the oven’s exact temperature with an oven thermometer?  Did you whisk your egg whites enough to stiff but still glossy peaks? Feet not good enough?  Then leave your macarons out to dry a bit longer before baking them.  Some people say they don’t need aged whites or they don’t need to dry out their macarons.  Great.  But again, we’re baking them in our own home kitchen and not as a professional baker. We can get perfect macaron results each time but if you have the odd crack now and again, don’t worry. It could also just be your egg whites – are they organic? These are best. If you’re going to the trouble of making macarons, don’t skimp on so-so ingredients.

Making macarons is not a competition: it’s about having fun, being creative and above all, enjoying them! There’s nothing quite like getting that rush of excitement when the feet form in the oven and you can think up your own flavours, bringing out the artist in you.  To be able to say “I did that”.  I mean, have you done the macaron dance out of sheer excitement with these things? The proof in the pudding, though, is the taste.

OK “I did that” and admit I did the macaron dance…

Talking of being creative…. for all macaronivores who are fans of the forthcoming Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate, I’m looking to showcase YOUR inspired macaron creations for a Special Royal Macaron Procession on Le Blog on 29 April.  It’s not a competition.  Just a fun post to share our macaron ideas; it could be a typically British inspired flavour or on a decorative flag theme of red, white and blue.  Please send me your photos to jill(at)madaboutmacarons(dot)com and I’ll add them to LeBlog.  Have fun!  But wait…

pineapple curd egg yolk recipe

1st guest post and new series for egg yolk recipes with pineapple curd

Before you go, just a word for anyone who missed our first Blog Post from Erin, author of BigFatBaker.com.  She is kicking off a brand new series of egg yolk recipes on the site with her organic pineapple curd.  Just perfect for all those egg yolks left for making macarons!