Begging for Chocolate Macarons and Mendiants for Easter

How could I let this week fly past without mentioning chocolate for Easter? Or mentioning our flaring allergies with all this beautiful, budding but nose-blowing Parisian Spring blossoms? Or discovering seven (you heard me) paper fishes with cute French messages for poisson d’avril cellotaped to my back on April Fools’ Day?

It’s funny. After all the macaron-athons, I took a break from them for a couple of weeks. Then last weekend, Antoine asked for a macaron or two at 4 o’clock goûter. What? Quoi? You mean, you don’t even have any left in your freezer bank?  What’s going on?

With macaron twinges from all of us, it was time to make a batch. The family begged for chocolate; good ol’ plain chocolate macarons – even if it was tempting to add fancy salt, spices, caramel, herbs or fruit and the likes (if you’re a regular you may remember last year I made chocolate bacon macarons for April Fools’ Day.) I did it, though; I kept them plain – but thought about doing something a bit different to decorate them: I added mendiants.

chocolate easter mendiants

Mendiant means ‘beggar’ in French. As the family were begging for more chocolate macarons, this was fitting inspiration indeed – as well as the high prices in the chocolateries for these little chocolate fruit and nut bites.

Mendiants are simply disks of chocolate with at least four kinds of dried fruit and nuts, representing the robe colours of four mendicant monastic orders from the Middle Ages. Fascinating, n’est-ce pas?

Here I used dark chocolate and beautifully bumpy praline chocolate, but mendiants can be made with plain, milk or white chocolate. Use different nuts (plain or toasted) and dried fruits to add a contrast in textures and flavours. I also added broken Mikado sticks (do you have these in America?) and homemade zig-zag sticks (just by melting chocolate and zig-zagging it on baking paper, then peeling off when set) for a nest and mini Easter eggs.
Let your imagination leave your Easter Bunnies begging for more!

French mendiants or chocolate disks covered in fruits and nuts

French chocolate Mendiants: you’ll be “begging” for more…

French Chocolate Mendiants

Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Setting Time: 30 minutes

200g dark chocolate (64% cocoa solids, minimum)
Candied orange peel, cut into cubes
Raisins or dried cranberries*
Hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, almonds or pine nuts (plain or toasted)

  1. Line a perfectly flat baking sheet with baking paper (or silicone mat).
  2. Break up the chocolate in a bowl and place over a pan of simmering water over a gentle heat (bain-marie) until the chocolate has melted.
  3. Using a dessertspoon, spoon the melted chocolate onto the baking paper, pressing each one down with the back of the spoon to make a circle.
  4. Gradually decorate with the fruit and nuts using different colours and textures for toppings. Don’t worry about the chocolate hardening; you will have enough time to enjoy dressing each disk before it hardens.
  5. Leave to cool for about 30 minutes. When set, remove each mendiant carefully from the sheet with your fingers or a palette knife.

* To knock them into Adult mode for that extra je ne sais quoi, soak them in Kirsch, Chambord, Armagnac, Frangelico or any of your favourite liqueurs.

Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days (if you can wait that long!)

chocolate mendiants

Here I topped chocolate macarons with French mendiants for an Easter bonnet look.  You could do the same by decorating cupcakes, brownies, muffins, chocolate mousse, etc. with your own personal mendiant touch, or just devour them on their own. Mendiants are great for serving as mini bites or mignardises with coffee after dinner.

Happy Easter! Joyeuses Pâques !

***

French Chocolate vs British Chocolate: Becoming a Chocolate Snob at Easter Time…

Passionfruit Milk Chocolate Crème Brûlée: Walking on Mars?

Have you ever imagined what it could be like to walk on Mars? That’s what I found myself thinking as I cracked into this Passionfruit milk chocolate crème brulée. It’s incredible to think that one of the latest finds on the planet is a type of soil that’s used on Earth to grow asparagus. I wonder if I could bring some accompanying hollandaise sauce on an eventual space shuttle birthday adventure?

Could this be like walking on Mars, the red planet?

When I discovered that my astrology planet Mars – named after the Roman God of War – had something to do with a fiery temper and passionate, impulsive behaviour, what could I say? It’s not me, darlings; it’s that red planet again.

One fiery implosion was in my brazen-but-bashful teens, about to burst out of my 80s flying suit like David Banner, via the Incredible Sulk – playing Mars as bass flute in The Planets by Holst with the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland. It was a low moment. I’d finally been selected First Flute (note: the older I get, the better I was) which meant playing the orchestral flute solos in concerts abroad, on BBC radio… Listen to the opening Mars theme while reading this for ambience. Why was I at the bloomin’ bottom of the flute section, trying to prop up this beast that sounded like the last of the bath water draining? Because I simply had the longest, spindly, sprawling hands to get my fingers over the damn keys! Why couldn’t I be short? Mars was playing outside but it was also calling me from within but I played on. After all, music be the food of love (dixit Shakespeare.)

passionfruit milk chocolate crème brûlée recipe

Moods can quickly change, however, when confronted with a dessert – a milk chocolatey dessert, with explosive fruit to kindle the passion in you, and topped with a crackling, caramel crust that can turn your earth upside down. How can you be mad with rage? Hm. There’s that mad word again. I wonder why the publisher chose that?

Crème Brûlée is one of my favourite recipes to use up egg yolks. (You need the whites to make macarons, in case this is your first time popping in.) Like Amélie Poulain, cracking through the carmelised sugar is one of life’s incredible thrills. Living dangerously, eh? As one of my favourite macarons is chocolate and exotic fruits (see page 89 of the book), I’ve been dying to try the sensation in a crème brûlée.

The classic recipe is on page 124 of the book but I’ve adapted it here to cope with the passionfruit juice and chocolate, cutting back on cream. I strained the seeds from the passionfruits but there’s no need if you prefer the extra crunch. Adding milk chocolate did not make it pretty for the photos, but this is from another planet. The red planet. Grrrrr.

passionfruit milk chocolate creme brûlée dessert recipe

Passionfruit Milk Chocolate Crème Brûlée

Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour
Chilling Time: 2 hours

8 egg yolks
80g caster sugar
4 passionfruits
400ml (13.5 US fl oz) cream
120g milk chocolate
4 tbsps brown sugar for caramelising

  1. Preheat oven to 110°C.
  2. Remove the pulp from the passionfruits and using the back of big spoon, press the pulp through a sieve to remove the seeds.
  3. Mix yolks and sugar until creamy, then whisk in the passionfruit pulp. Gently heat the cream and milk chocolate in a pan until warm and the chocolate has melted (don’t boil.) Pour over the egg mixture and mix thoroughly.
  4. Pour into individual ramekins and place in a bain-marie (a roasting tray filled halfway up with water will suffice) in the oven for about one hour.  Leave them to cool, then chill for 2 hours in the fridge.
  5. Before serving, dust with the brown sugar then caramelise them quickly with a blowtorch or under a hot grill.

Floating upside down on Mars and attacking the Black Hole

To finish off, I tried another version by omitting the milk chocolate in the passionfruit cream.  Instead, plop in a lump of dark chocolate just before putting each ramekin in the oven. The result? A surprising, oozing, chocolatey black hole for your guests to float into the Milky Way.

Let’s take that one again but back down to Earth’s angle. Who also loves cracking the caramel with the spoon?

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies

It’s already the second week of the mid-term school winter holidays. The children have had a ball with sleep-overs, ‘hanging out’ chez les amis (‘playing’ is now banned from our vocabulary.) On return from their friends’ homes, they described what they had for dinner and, top of the list, what was for goûter at 4pm official French snack time. They raved about their friends’ homemade cookies. You know, Mum, they made the most incredible cookies; they made them all by themselves; these cookies were the most incredible biscuits we’ve ever had: they put chocolate chips in them, M&Ms, marshmallows…

I’ve never been interested in cookies but this echoed, and echoed:
“Mum, can we ever get to make cookies one day?”

What?! I could feel myself standing to my full height. After all the choux buns, éclairs, financiers, chocolate fondants, pancakes, crêpes – oh, and years of macarons – they’ve never actually made homemade cookies? What kind of a mum is that? Wait a minute, we have melting moments together, don’t we? Yes, but they don’t include chocolate chips.

When I mentioned the friends’ cookies, my Mum burst into hysterics. Apparently, I’m Granny’s double: Mum used to come home from a friend’s house, also raving about what she’d eaten there and my Granny would throw a wobbly. Nobody could be better than my proud, Scottish Granny. What? She served you tinned mandarines and you think that’s better than what you get here? I didn’t even realise that I demonstrated the same. Exactly the same. Thanks, Mum.

You want cookies like your friends? I’ll give you cookies.

Peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies recipe

To make it up to them, I needed inspiration from my blogging friends for cookies that used peanut butter. You see, Julie has just discovered peanut butter and her world is going nutty. Can you imagine, only now? Let’s get something straight: peanut butter is not something the French keep in their store cupboards. I hear you: I’m a Scot – but I’m more French these days for better or for worse.

I found many super peanut butter recipes from Tina of Flourtrader (including salted pretzels), from Liz of That Skinny Chick Can Bake (she revealed she’s giving up eating raw cookie dough for Lent), a secret recipe club cookie from Danielle at A Day in the Life via Manu’s Menu, and another recipe at Sweets by Sillianah (which includes jam hearts.) My problem (one of them, ahem..) is that so many recipes deal in cups; I prefer grams and, as we didn’t have time with the heart part, had no pretzels and not enough chocolate chips, we wildly adapted a mix of the recipes and came up with this.

The girls did a great job. The texture wasn’t too soft or crispy either, even though I thought the portion of flour looked too little and although we could have upped the peanut butter, I prefer how it’s subtle and gives enough crunch and saltiness. We didn’t use the electric mixer: the children wanted a hands-on approach, using good old elbow grease as holiday sport! We’re making these again: they’re melt-in-the-mouth, not too sweet, have an appealing saltiness to them, and they’re addictive. Where have I heard that before?

Another stacking game. Mum, can you stop playing so we can eat them now?

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes approx 30 cookies

125g unsalted butter, softened
70g light brown sugar
50g white sugar
1 egg
100g crunchy peanut butter
good pinch salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
115g all purpose flour
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
75g dark chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a couple of baking sheets with baking parchment.

2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugars with a good spatula until the sugar has disappeared and the mix is pale and creamy. Gradually add in the rest of the ingredients, mixing well. (The dough can be frozen at this point if you don’t use all of it.)

3. Spoon out small portions of the mixture on the baking sheets, leaving a good gap in between each as they spread out. Flatten them slightly with a fork and bake for 10 minutes until golden.

4. When cooled, transfer the cookies to a wire rack then devour.

We didn’t drink the milk but had Champomy instead 😉

Are you like my Granny? Please don’t tell me I’m alone. Besides, if it wasn’t for that attitude, I would never have tried my hands at making macarons. Just saying.

It’s Mardi from Eat. Live. Travel. Write and a Raspberry Curd Recipe

Surprise! It’s mardi. It’s Tuesday. It’s Mardi Gras, and I’m so pleased to welcome Mardi Michels. You know: The Mardi from Eat.Live.Travel.Write. I’m sure you know how famous she is in the blogosphere as well as her macaron talents from Toronto’s foodie world, making her way to Paris this summer to share in more sweet treats. No more introductions needed. Take it away, Mardi…

I am thrilled to be posting over here at Mad about Macarons, especially on this, my “fête” 😉 Well, I mean, EVERY Tuesday is my “fête” but today is extra special. So I thought I would whip up a little something to celebrate. Something that, you know, uses up the many many egg yolks that making macarons tends to leave me with. I mean, there’s only so much custard and ice cream you can make, right?

I recently made Meyer lemon macarons filled with a blackberry jam and Meyer lemon curd which, in itself, is a great way to use up the yolks – fill the macs with them! But as I was making that lemon curd, I wondered how well another type of curd would do. Like, raspberry curd. We have a lot of raspberries in our freezer that I froze in the summer begging to be used so I figured I would give it a shot. Once I had the curd figured out, I needed a vessel for it – and not macarons! Not everyone is as “Mad about Macarons” as Jill and I! For me, raspberry is a match made in heaven for dark chocolate so I came up with the idea of a chocolate tart shell filled with raspberry curd and topped with fresh raspberries and a drizzle of melted dark chocolate. I can’t totally take all the credit for this idea – we used to have a bakery called “The Queen of Tarts” at the end of our street (dangerous!) which sold the dearest little individual-sized tarts and they used to feature all manner of fillings. I was a huge fan of their chocolate tart shells so was pleased to figure out one that closely resembled the ones which sadly only exist in my memory now….

The chocolate tart dough is taken from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table (pp 500-501). As I am cooking and baking my way through this book, I knew it would be a sure bet. If you don’t own this book (why not?) it’s a basic sweet tart dough recipe where you substitute half the powdered sugar for cocoa powder. Her recipe makes one large 9″ tart shell, I halved the recipe to make four individual 4″ tarts.

The curd was a little bit of experimentation but I like the way this one came out in the end.

Raspberry Curd

(enough for four 4″ individual tarts) inspired by the McCormick Meyer lemon curd that I used in my macarons

Ingredients
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup raspberry purée *
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, very cold

Method

  1. Mix egg yolks, sugar and raspberry purée in heavy saucepan with a wire whisk until well blended and smooth.
  2. Continue to whisk as you cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the curd is thick and will coat the back of a wooden spoon.
  3. Remove saucepan from the heat and whisk the butter in, one piece at a time. Once all the butter is combined in the curd, transfer the mixture to another bowl.
  4. Cover the mix with plastic wrap, making sure the wrap touches the surface of the curd and cool to room temperature.

* for the raspberry purée, I blend fresh or defrosted frozen raspberries with an immersion (stick) blender then pass the mix through a metal sieve to remove the seeds.

Once the curd is at room temperature, you’ll fill the tart shells and place them in the fridge, covering them loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerating overnight. The following day, you can decorate the tarts with fresh raspberries and drizzles of melted dark chocolate.

The result? A dessert that’s not too sweet which means you can drizzle as much chocolate on top of the tarts as you like. The curd is a different flavour from jam – more tart, less sweet which works in a rich dessert like this! I love that not only the filling but also the tart shell used up my always-lurking-in-my-fridge-yolks – it’s a macaron maker’s dream dessert!

Mardi is a full-time French teacher at the elementary-school level in Toronto. She blogs at eat. live. travel. write. where she documents her culinary adventures (more than macarons, though sometimes you wouldn’t know it) near and far. She’s a serious Francophile who spends as much time in Paris as she can. This summer, she’ll be there again, organising a foodie trip in partnership with Le Dolci Studio (Toronto) – where she teaches macaron classes – and La Cuisine Paris. Check out all the delicious details here.

Thank you so much, Mardi, for guest posting today and for sharing your yolky raspberry curd with us. These chocolatey tarts look absolutely delicious. Good luck with your foodie trip to Paris this summer – it’s a great way for anyone to learn more about the City of Light and its sweet life. It will be a huge success! Don’t forget to check out many more recipes like this on Mardi’s blog and follow her at Eat.Live.Travel.Write.

White Chocolate Mousse with a Valentine’s Touch

How often have you heard of perfectly competent cooks and bakers saying that they’re too scared to attempt making macarons? Have they got cold feet or something?

Cold feet? Macaron feet, happy feet and a warm heart

When they do finally attempt making them, I love how so many of them post excited messages on the Facebook page. You know the one that appears the most? “My macarons have feet!” You’ve no idea how much I want to dance too, knowing that some of that feel-good-macaron-feet pleasure has been spread.

It may be chilly with sub-zero temperatures outside Paris, but this warms the heart no end. This week some of you asked how to pipe out macaron hearts. It’s easy peasy. Just imagine you’re making a ‘V’ shape in 2 lines. Do it quite quickly: push down a bit more mixture at first at the top of each line and taper off coming down.  As the mixture spreads out slightly on the baking sheet you’ll see it come together.

How to make macaron hearts

Instead of filling the macaron hearts, they’re also handy as a garnish for desserts.

For a romantic dessert, try this Hermé-style simplistic version of rose mascarpone cream served on a giant rose macaron and topped with fragrant raspberries (recipe on p.109 in the book.) There’s only one problem: many of you are lucky enough to have red fruits in season just now but here there are no blooming raspberries around due to these Siberian winds – or at least worth buying them at an extraordinary cost and with no flavour. So I attempted something different.

raspberry rose macaron dessert

With the snow initially as inspiration, I remembered the Merveilleux pâtisserie from Un Dimanche à Paris with Mardi of EatLiveTravelWrite. It was basically a meringue coated with cream, infused with rose and orange flower water (although I didn’t really taste it enough), and rolled in white chocolate. Although I’m not the biggest fan of white chocolate, I chose it because it didn’t just look pretty but it was also deliciously light. Besides, I adore rose and orange blossom.

So with all this in mind, I’ve come up with a light, fragrant, snowy mousse for you that’s not too sweet: it’s a quick and easy gluten free dessert.

What is it about rose that makes it so Valentine friendly?  I adore this addition of the orange blossom. Heating the white chocolate in the pan with a little of the cream makes melting it so much easier – especially if you’re unsure of the quality of your chocolate. The meringue crunch comes from the macaron heart and the dosage of orange blossom and rose counteracts the sweetness of the chocolate and is just enough to send your Valentine into a billowy, romantic cloud. Accompany this with glass of chilled Muscat.

white chocolate mousse

White Chocolate Mousse with Rose and Orange Blossom

Serves 4 big glasses or 8 mini portions

Preparation: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 5 minutes
Chilling Time: At least 20 minutes

300ml whipping cream
120g white chocolate (+ 20g grated for decoration)
1 tbsp rose water
1/2 tbsp orange flower water
1 egg white

1. Place a mixing bowl in the freezer for 10 minutes (I just put it outside – brrr!)

2. Meanwhile, break 120g of the white chocolate into a saucepan and heat very  gently together with 50ml of the cream, rose and orange flower waters. As soon as it’s melted (after about 5 minutes), set aside to cool slightly.

2. Using an electric beater, whisk the rest of the cream with the egg white to medium-firm peaks. Gradually pour in the melted chocolate mixture and continue whisking until completely mixed together.

3. Pour into individual serving glasses and sprinkle on the grated white chocolate. Set aside in the fridge until needed.

Halve the quantities if you’re serving just for a romantic couple but this does keep easily until the next day in the fridge.

You could also serve this with macarons; if you don’t have cold feet!

white chocolate mousse

Update: I’m so thrilled to see my recipe tried, tested and approved by Gourmantine’s Blog in her marathon to find the best chocolate mousse:

Well, I think anyone thinking this way should be sent a pot of this white chocolate treat by wonderful Jill Colonna, and I am most certain they will have an epiphany.

When I first saw this recipe posted on her fabulous blog “Mad about Macarons” (and I tell you, her macarons are truly to die for..), I couldn’t wait to make it, and chocolate mousse marathon seemed more than appropriate for it.

To be honest, the dark chocolate loving judge panel put the final fight for the best of the best title between recipes essentially out of dark chocolate, but this wonder was considered a champion in it’s own category and does deserve a special mention…Just for the record, it tastes better than it looks…this one is definitely going to the top of my all time favorites.”

Poached Coffee Vanilla Pears with Mocha Macarons

I’m sure we’re not alone with these poached coffee vanilla pears. How many times have you looked for a sophisticated dessert but it has to be super light, perhaps gluten free, but above all – simple but effective?

Now that we’ve had our fill of Christmas puddings, pumpkin pies, yule logs, mince pies, fruit cakes and chocolates in all forms, who’s ready to start all over again to bring in the New Year with yet more gastronomic pleasures? Count me in, as long as it’s slightly lighter this time.

Light Desserts vs Heavy Rich Holiday Puddings

When entertaining the French, it took me a few years to work out that menus need to be planned carefully; if I’m serving a large main course after an amuse-bouche (something small to tickle the tastebuds before the meal) then starter/hors-d’oeuvres – and then it’s followed with an ambitious taste-of-the-regions cheese board – it can be difficult keeping up when a heavy finale to the meal is served. I used to love doing that and soon learned the hard way. With a thud.

The French could have a crise cardiaque (heart attack) if they see a large pudding arrive, piled high on their plate and since they’re polite, they wade through it and suffer in silence. I’m now the same. Have you ever had that feeling of just being so stuffed that you’re kicking-yourself-for-being-so-greedy uncomfortable?

poached coffee vanilla pear dessert with mocha macarons

French Chef Inspiration

For light dessert inspiration, I pounced straight away on Anne-Sophie Pic’s French cookbook, Recettes Pour Recevoir. The Michelin-starred chef has put together her cooking lessons for ideal recipes aimed at entertaining. Claudia, aka Journey of an Italian Cook, talked more about Anne-Sophie Pic’s career last week and shares her tomato chutney.)

Anne-Sophie Pic’s dessert for a poached pear in vanilla and blackcurrant with a coffee fondant seemed a perfectly light and chic end to a meal. What really caught me eye, though, is that it would be beautifully peared (couldn’t help myself, sorry) with macarons.

My first try with the cassis macaron – terrible photo!

Developing the Recipe

That would definitely keep my French friends happy. But I can’t just copy a recipe from a cookbook. I had to make my own version that’s easy to make at home. So, I inversed the flavours: the fondant au café and vanilla tuile was replaced by a tutti-frutti blackcurrant macaron (see p.83 of Mad About Macarons!) and the blackcurrant poaching sauce was replaced by a coffee sauce. My first try. Shame about the presentation! However, dead easy and the dessert was now totally gluten-free.

What I love about macarons is that they can be made a few days in advance (or even frozen and taken out the freezer 1 hour before serving at room temperature) so you can stay zen while preparing the rest of the meal.

Not only can you serve these poached coffee vanilla pears as a double bill with chocolate-coffee macarons, but if you have left-over chocolate ganache from your macarons, then warm it gently and offer it as a triple whammy with the pear and vanilla-coffee syrup.

Poached coffee vanilla pear gluten free dessert

Poached coffee vanilla pear dessert

By serving a light dessert like this, nobody feels the need to stuff themselves more than they wish. The paradox is that when you do serve them on a large platter in the middle of the table, I’ve noticed that guests tend to eat much more than they were intending. But hey, that’s their problem. I’m no longer responsible for their hidden macaronivore tendencies…


Poached Coffee Vanilla Pears

Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 20+20 minutes

150g sugar
1 litre water
1 vanilla pod, cut lengthways
2 tbsps coffee granules
4 large firm pears

  1. Boil the sugar with the water, vanilla and coffee in a heavy based casserole dish or saucepan. Once boiling, turn down the heat.
  2. Peel the pears and cut them in half horizontally. Place them in the syrup and poach them gently with lid on for 20 minutes.
  3. Drain the pears, set aside and chill.
  4. Boil up the coffee syrup for about 20 minutes until concentrated and thickened.

I usually place the left over coffee syrup in a jam jar, sealed in the fridge. Over the next few days, just heat it gently and pour over ice cream.

Serve with chocolate-mocha macarons (simply add 2 tbps of granulated coffee to the heating cream while making your classic chocolate ganache. Recipe on page 47 of Mad About Macarons!) Or infuse the bruised seeds from 4 cardamom pods to the coffee poaching liquid, remove, and serve with chocolate, cardamom & ginger macarons (see page 56 of Mad About Macarons!)

Indulge…

poached coffee vanilla pears