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!