Going Macarons at the Paris Salon du Chocolat

How come I’ve never been before? It took my talented artistic American friend, Carol Gillott of ParisBreakfasts, to entice me along finally to the 2011 Salon du Chocolat in Paris. Was I too busy making macarons? Perhaps more because it’s at Porte de Versailles, an area that’s a nightmare to park and with all the exhibition halls for someone with no sense of direction, it’s like suffering an orienteering course for a sports exam when it’s not your sport. Arriving seriously late with a lame excuse of being too nice in traffic jams, she was an angel to still take me under her wing.

Who was more mad about macarons? Check out Carol’s eye-catching gear of tee-shirt and matching macaron bracelet. Not difficult to lose her – although she might tell you the opposite. Each stand visited, we were greeted with “Superb T-Shirt!” followed by more chocolate tastings, thanks to her savoir-faire.

Carol knows a thing or two about Paris fashions – not surprising, as she has the artist’s eye. Macarons are definitely à la mode (by that I don’t mean the American ice-cream on top, I’m talking trendy Parisian fashion here.)

See?  Macaron ruffled necklaces are obviously in.

Another necklace – this time just like her bracelet, plus macarons dotted around the dress.

Should I perhaps give some macarons to the French fashion creator, Jean Colonna? We could create Le Colonna macaron dress. Just an idea…

Meanwhile, looking around, it’s macarons galore – perfect for a macaron blog.

A rather foxy (get it?) macaron-shell tower in all its glory by Gregory Renard and then his Eiffel Tower of macarons…

While we’re gazing at the Paris monuments, what about l’Arc de Triomphe by Léonidas?  It’s the one time I can negotiate the traffic around it without needing a bumper or aspirin.

Eye-spy, my little eye falls on chocolate-dipped macarons by Christophe Roussel.

Then a tasting over at Arnaud Larher‘s stand, even if the taster macaron bits were so near yet so far behind the counter.  Pain d’épice (gingerbread) and orange. What a gorgeous filling texture, although I didn’t really get the orange, sorry.  Hm – what’s that electric green colouring for pistachio? Never mind, it’s delicious!

Quite the chocolate treat from Arnaud Larher: these are chocomacs. They’re not macarons but chocolates in the shape of macarons. Now when you see macaron molds, you understand it’s not to make macarons but chocolate-shaped macarons.

There’s also a Professional Salon du Chocolat downstairs, including packaging, equipment and all kinds of tricks for the trade. This macaron-making machine might be rather bulky for the kitchen, n’est-ce pas? It also looks rather complicated but worth it if you need to make macarons in their thousands daily. Give me the simple piping bag any day.

Meanwhile, time to check out the World Chocolate Masters 2011. It’s serious business between the top chocolatiers strutting their stuff until something catches my eye in the audience. I should really learn to concentrate.

Imagine this blissful scene: somebody is just sitting with their arms out, holding these miniature macaron beauties.  Of course, I asked if I could try just one since I LOVE macarons. Wouldn’t you do the same on seeing this sight?

This was a Grand Marnier mini macaron, with a macaron shell on top of the most exquisite chocolate by Spruengli in Switzerland. What lovely people!

Then came Sébastien Bouillet. He’s a pâtisserie legend in Lyon and his speciality?

The Macalyon.  It’s a salted caramel macaron dipped completely in 70% dark chocolate.  Only €6.80 for a box of four…

It was with his Macalyon that I was inspired with this bitter chocolate macaron for the book, but only dipping it in half. Then Christophe Roussel also does it. What do you think? Personally I prefer seeing a macaron’s feet, rather than hiding it all. Although…

Chocolate macaron from my book, “Mad About Macarons”

 

My chocolate! Is that the time already? Now if I was really Smart, I could get in this nifty Salon du Chocolat special edition car and whisk myself home, weaving in front of the crazy drivers, just in time for school pick-up. It’s sweet but macarons were missing on it, don’t you think?

If you’re in Paris, then do check it out: the Salon du Chocolat is still open until Monday 24 October!

It’s guaranteed you’ll have a smashing time!

Ah. Just as well I’d made more chocolate macarons back home for dessert. All this chocolate is making me crave more.  I wonder why?

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!