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Pistachio-Strawberry Panna Cotta with Macaron Kisses

Continuing to follow the sun this summer, we stopped for breath in the French Alps.  Walking in the clean, mountain air was the best answer to liberate us from any of the year’s accumulating cobwebs.  Next time I’ll take a bike (although I need to practice on flat ground first) but in the meantime we did plenty of cyclist watching, hypnotically driving behind previous marks on the road left by red-spotted or yellow-tunic supporters during past Tour de France mountain races.

French Alps le Col du Galibier

As we were perched in Montgenèvre, Italy was just next door.  Italian temptation rang like the tinkling of neighbouring church bells at noon and so we popped over for a sweet few hours.  We headed East on the stunning Turin road for the Roman town of Susa in Piedmont, a peaceful sleepy town definitely worth visiting.

Italian countryside around Susa near French Alps

This ‘pasticceria‘ pastry shop was our first sweet welcome, although it was closed for a long lunch (and obviously siesta) when we arrived.   You could tell from the window that their macarons were selling as much as their traditional baci di dama (lit: ladies’ kisses) biscuits.

Italian pastry shop window with macarons

Susa’s streets gravitate towards the Porta Savoia gate, where the town centre’s piazza is marked by the 11th Century San Giusto Cathedral. The gate is also considered by the locals as quite modern, as it was rebuilt during the Middle Ages!

Roman Porta Savoia gate in Susa Italy

It’s hard to believe that these monuments are still standing since their Roman predecessors.  Below left is the Augustan Arch, dating back to 8 BC.  On the right, the remains of the Roman aqueduct, slightly younger, clocking in at 375 AD.

Roman gates in Susa, Italy

It’s mind-blowing just thinking of the number of gladiators who would have been behind these bars, awaiting their turn to run out into the Roman Ampitheatre to a roar of excited spectators, hungry for action.

Roman amphitheatre in Susa, Italy

After testing the perfect acoustics of the Ampitheatre pretending to be an opera singer, it was time to make a sharp exit since I was embarrassing hubby and the girls (Valérie, a good friend in Provence, has a sign in her WC saying “If you’re not embarrassing your kids you’re not living life to the full”.)  Running after them, it didn’t take long to discover they were already choosing ice cream flavours from the piazza’s La Bottega del Gelate.

Somehow, however, I feel I can live life to the full without selfies.  The girls were trying to explain how to take them properly but I was more interested in ice cream.  Julie didn’t give up: “Well at least make a silly face, Mum.”  I tried.

I also tried to go posh, Pierre Hermé style, and pick a chocolate and passion fruit combination. The passion fruit was rather synthetic but the chocolate was good (although I wanted Baci – chocolate ice cream with hazelnut like Perigina’s ‘kiss’ chocolates).  Our overall winner was voted as pistachio as there must have been real Italian pistachios in there.

Jill Colonna tasting ice creams from La Bottega del Gelate in Susa, Italy

As we checked out the local grocery stores for pistachios, we found the best deal and quality at the local Carrefour supermarket, full of interesting Italian produce.  Quickly cleaning out their stock of Sicilian pistachios, I couldn’t wait to try them back home: liberally added to weekend brioche, dark chocolate cake, or pistachio and chocolate-pistachio macarons.  It’s not just the flavour but the pistachio colour (see this post about it) has to look realistic, don’t you think?

mixing batter to make pistachio macarons

It didn’t take long before I made a few panna cottas for a Sunday afternoon lunch last weekend.  Rose and griotte cherry panna cottas were on the menu but above all, these simple pistachio-strawberry creamy desserts.

mini panna cottas with different flavours

Needless to add that panna cottas go deliciously well with macarons!  I completely forgot about this packaging bought in a baking supply shop in Rouen.  It’s handy to transport your macarons since the little tower centrepiece has a cover that you can easily clip around them.  Rouen – there’s another place I should tell you about later.

pistachio and chocolate macaron tower display

Perhaps I could call the chocolate-hazelnut macarons (one of the 38 macaron recipes in the book BTW) Baci macaron?  Bite into one and it’s a chocolate kiss.  Oh-la-la. Enough of that nutty talk.  Time to get on with the recipe!

pistachio and strawberry panna cotta and macarons

Recipe: Pistachio Panna Cotta with Strawberry Coulis

Makes enough for 8 mini verrines / shot-glasses

Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
Chilling Time: 2.5 hours minimum

3 sheets gelatine (@2g each)
400ml crème fleurette or whipping cream (30% butterfat)
100ml whole/full fat milk
4 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp pistachio paste *
3-4 drops pistachio extract (or almond extract)

Strawberry Coulis:
1 gelatine leaf (@ 2g)
300g fresh strawberries
50g caster sugar

* If you don’t have pistachio paste, make up your own: whizz 100g unsalted pistachios in a grinder.  Mix together with 25g ground almonds, 50g sugar, 2 drops of pistachio extract and a tablespoon of water.

1. Soak the 3 gelatine leaves in cold water for 10 minutes.

2. Heat the cream, milk, sugar and pistachio paste in a saucepan.  Once heated through, squeeze the gelatine of excess water and stir it into the warm cream until melted.  Add the pistachio extract then pour into serving glasses.

3. Cool for 15 minutes then chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

4. Just before the creams are set, prepare the coulis.  Soak the gelatine in cold water for 10 minutes.  Whizz together the strawberries and sugar in a blender or food processor.  Microwave 3 tbsp on high for 30 seconds, and melt in the gelatine (squeezed of excess water). Set aside to cool and when the creams are set, pour on the coulis and continue to chill in the fridge for at least another 30 minutes.

pistachio strawberry easy panna cotta recipe

Funny.  As I’m writing, I can sniff the waft of pizza floating upstairs.  Lucie has discovered how to make pizza all by herself.  It has been so good that she’s starting to make it quite often – and she’s even excited at cleaning up – well, nearly.

 

Macarons Going Green and a Sham that Rocks

This past week we’ve seen many green posts in the bloggosphere for St Patrick’s Day.  As last week we went yellow with mimosa, then why not green this week to celebrate St Patrick’s Day and the continuation of Spring?  After all, the buds are now on the trees so greens are gradually popping out just as the locals are coming out of winter hibernation like les Champignons de Paris.

St Patrick is to Ireland what St Andrew is to Scotland.  Yet the St P green is so much more popular: St Andrews is better known as a golf course (there are greens there, too.) 😉 So here’s a piped round-up of the greener macarons:

From a pistachio macaron classic to pistachio and dark chocolate macarons

pistachio chocolate macarons

Pistachio-chocolate macarons, brushed with melted dark chocolate

…to a pistachio macaron with a surprisingly different twist: pistachio, white chocolate and wasabi.  This is my daughter, Julie’s favourite and I have to admit, I also find this one rather addictive with a pot of green tea.

pistachio wasabi macarons

Pistachio, white chocolate & wasabi macarons

In a couple of editorial reviews, ParisPatisseries commented, …”Thai Green Curry Macaron, anyone? There are some so adventurous that even Pierre Hermé’s wilder creations would seem tame by comparison.”  On the other hand, Elizabeth Luard from Scotsman Living.com loved the others but mentioned, “Thai green curry might be a bit too Blumenthal for me.”  It’s like music: totally subjective but I personally LOVE it.  The spicier the better!

The Thai Green Curry Macaron is rather adventurous and definitely something different with a Gin & Tonic for an apéritif.  Sorry, I should say Guinness here to keep on the Irish theme, but it honestly wouldn’t go as well as with a G&T or a glass of chilled Gewürtzraminer.  Try an Irish lager, though. 😉

macaron shamrock

Macaron shamrock? More like a sham but it rocks! Green thai curry macarons are HOT…

All the above are included in the book.  If you’re getting sick of seeing green, then don’t forget that there’s an Irish Coffee macaron, too. 😉

But here’s another of my latest experiments with flavours. We had some fun with this one on Facebook yesterday! Don’t scream, please don’t run away.

This is actually delicious.  It works.  I got the idea from a recent trip to South Africa, where I discovered Rooibos Tea.  I now drink this so much since it’s not just tasty but caffeine free, a great antioxidant and you can even add a dash of milk to it like the normal stuff.  Talking about it to a lovely South African lady,  she explained that her mother used to give her a popular infusion of rooibos with rosemary anytime she was down and needed a lift.  Now THAT needed investigation.  With an enormous rosemary bush in my herb garden, I set about preparing rosemary macaron shells…

rosemary macaron shells

Rosemary macaron shells

Hmm.  Don’t ask me why I added the chocolate, but I just felt like it.  Perhaps it was one of these moments when my system was shouting, “Gimme magnesium!  Gimme chocolate and LOTS of it.  RIGHT NOW!” So I infused the rooibos tea into the ganache cream to add a wonderfully slightly earthy, smoky taste of the tea to the dark chocolate.  The rosemary was also infused into the cream: just a sprig but enough to give a hint of it without being overpowering.  Now I understand that bit about this concoction being a pick-me-up!  So, here are Rosemary, Rooibos and Dark Chocolate Macarons

rosemary, rooibos chocolate

Rosemary, rooibos & chocolate macarons

Before you go, just a quick reminder about the Booksigning Event this weekend.  If anyone is in Paris on Saturday 19 March, please do pop in to say bonjour at Brentano’s American Bookstore between 15h-17h (address details are on the Event page).  It would be great to see you!

STAY TUNED for Sunday 20th March, when I’ll be posting something special for the Fête du Macaron!

Japan macaron flag

Our thoughts are with Japan…

This past week it has been devastating to watch all that has been going on in Japan.  It almost seemed silly to write a blog post this week, but it was ready to roll for St Patrick’s Day today so please excuse my normal weekly banter.

Thanks to some food blogger friends, such as  Manu from Manu’s Menu and Visda from Eat, Drink and Just Be!, here are some sites where you can donate to the Japan crisis:

International Salvation Army

Médecins sans frontières

Amercian Red Cross

British Red Cross

Stand with Japan.org (Direct Relief International)