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Macarons vs Macaroons

It happened again.  I recently caught myself wincing at the teatime menu’s English version. This time it was in one of Paris’s most elegant tea salons, where the famously stylish Parisian “macarons” were translated as “macaroons”.

I know, it’s not one of the world’s first problems, but get it right.

Macarons and macaroons perhaps sound alike, but they are both totally different.

Macarons vs Macaroons

This confusion with an extra “o” is nothing new; it happens frequently, whether it’s on a top tearoom menu in Paris or on high-end supermarket packaging around the world. Even a UK bookshop snootily turned down stocking my first book five years ago, simply because the title read “Macarons” and not “Macaroons”. It’s a subject that has been raised often, but the same mistake continues like a couple of crêpes on deaf ears.

I’m perhaps mad about macarons, but if you’re just as infatuated with Paris’s Ambassador of Pastry, with its smooth delicate meringue-like shells sandwiched together with chocolate ganache, jam, curd or buttercream, its name needs to be defended. I’m not being posh or trying to show off I can speak some French after 24 years of living here – it’s just that the term, macaron is the right word to use to describe these little filled rainbow-coloured Parisian confections.

Over the last four years of guiding pastry tours in Paris, I’m still surprised by the recurring question: “So what’s the difference between macarons and macaroons?”

bitten macarons by Jill Colonna

Food lovers are evidently still puzzled. How on earth can two deliciously dainty confections create such mystery?

The only similarity between the two is their gluten-free mutual ingredients of egg whites and sugar; a macaron includes ground almonds (almond flour), whilst a macaroon is made with coconut.

So let’s get it straight with the simplest answer: the macaron is meringue-based and the macaroon is coconut based.

But there’s more to it than that.

macarons vs macaroons Jill Colonna

Is it a macaron? A rougher looking amaretti cookie and a Parisian Gerbet macaron

MACARONS

Macarons date back to the middle ages but we have a better idea of its history during the Renaissance – first cited by French writer Rabelais – when the Venetian macarone (meaning a fine paste of something crushed) of ground almonds, egg whites and sugar was brought to France by Catherine de Medici and her chefs when she married the future King of France in 1533, Henri II. It was a meringue-like biscuit but a much rougher looking type of confection, predominantly tasting of almonds and looking rather like an amaretti biscuit.

In France, the macaron’s super-model upgrade wasn’t made famous until the 1900s. This is the modern smooth, coloured macaron as we know it today, that’s now creating the confusion, known as the Parisian or Gerbet macaron. Ernest Ladurée’s second cousin, Pierre Desfontaines takes the credit for inventing these sandwiched confections – although this calls for yet more delicious, historical homework. Most importantly, a macaron is not a Parisian macaron unless it has a ruffled, frilly foot underneath that smooth, shiny surface.

But even the macaron can be a confusing term today, as there are also many French regional varieties using the same ingredients as the Parisian macaron but the proportions are completely different. Each resemble more the original Italian macaron introduced by Catherine de Medici and many date back to around the French Revolution. Each region adds its own twist and, as a result, they all look so different (check out just some of the variations here).

For example, in Picardy, the Amiens macaron speciality adds marzipan, fruits and honey. Other prize-winning French regional macarons continue today in Boulay, Chartres, Cormery, Le Dorat, Joyeuse, Montmorillan (which looks more like an round almond cakes), Nancy, Saint-Émilion, Saint-Croix, Saint-Jean-de-Luz (created for Louis XIV’s wedding in 1660) and Sault.

macaron vs macaroon coconut or almond version

Macaron on the left (don’t be confused with the coconut on top, I was just being funny); Macaroon on the right. Both recipes in “Teatime in Paris”

MACAROONS

Simpler and quicker to prepare, the coconut macaroon is also known as rocher coco or congolais in French. Sometimes the macaroon confection with shredded or flaked coconut – either star or cone-shaped – is dipped in chocolate.

It’s not clear when macaroons came on the scene but one thing is for sure: it was added to this gluten-free treat around the 1800s when coconut was brought from the East.

Just pronouncing macaroon makes us want to roll the “r” like we do in Scotland – and it’s no coincidence that us Scots are proud of the Scottish Macaroon bar: it’s particularly sweet since the fondant inside is primarily sugar and potato (trust the Scots to think of that one!) and coated with a thin layer of chocolate and coconut. I wonder if Catherine de Medici’s successor, Mary Queen of Scots as French queen brought it in her year-long reign as Queen of France?

Scottish macaroon bar homemade snowballs, just like Lee's classic

Last Christmas I adapted the large traditional bar to make these mini Scottish Macaroon bar snowballs. If you want to see the real thing, head over to Christina Conte’s blog at Christina’s Cucina to see how to make the real McCoy bars!

To puzzle us further, there’s yet another exception to the rule of almonds and coconut: there are plenty of macaroon recipes outside of France which use pie crust or pastry as a base and the macaroon reference is a mixture of coconut and/or almond toppings. For example, see this recipe for macaroon jam tarts.

Macaroon Jam tarts

Macaroon jam tarts

MACARONS vs MACAROONS

So before the confusion spreads any further between macaron and macaroon, let’s nip it in the bud.  In all their varying forms, the macaroon refers to the coconut confection; the macaron today, unless a regional version is mentioned, refers to the Parisian or Gerbet macaron – the shiny, dainty version. Just don’t forget its frilly foot.

Now it’s your turn: if you spread the macaron word, it will be no mean feat!


 

This article was published over at BonjourParis.com

Weekends Outside Rio de Janeiro: Paraty and Buzios Brazil

If you’re planning to visit Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, you may also want to head out of the City for a few days.  That’s just what we did this summer (albeit their winter) with two very different attractions: Paraty, a 4 hour drive in lush scenery known as the Green Coast (Costa Verde) south of Rio; and Buzios, a beach and nightlife Brazilian favourite, about 2 hours drive north if the roads are clear.

Paraty is a beautifully preserved Portuguese Colonial town dating from 1667 which served as a thriving port to export gold, coffee and sugarcane in the form of the local spirit, Cachaça. As the railway was built in the 19th century for cheaper transport to Rio and the gold ran out, the town was almost abandoned, hence such a wonderful conservation of the old town for about 250 years.  Since the 1970s the fishing town of Paraty has been rediscovered as a thriving tourist destination.

Paraty Brazil

Paraty is also known for its uneven cobblestone-paved streets in the historical pedestrian centre.It hadn’t rained when we arrived: instead the water collecting in the stones was a sign of the tide gradually pouring in to this part of town as full moon approached. By the time we had left, these streets would have been flooded – something the locals are used to each month but it’s nothing much and doesn’t last long.

One of the first things that struck us were the number of brigadeiro stalls, where the locals were enjoying their sweet fix at teatime – and in the mornings and evenings too!

Brigadeiro street stalls in Paraty Brazil

It’s the first time I’ve seen poinsettias growing as bushes.  Somehow my miserable poinsettias that I try to look after at Christmas time look miserable in comparison!

Ponsettia bush Brazil

We had some fun on Facebook, guessing what was this side dish below.  They’re palm hearts, something that we often serve in French salads but they’re conserved in tins, long and thin.  These enormous disks were fresh from the top heart of the palm tree, baked in the oven and served with a dribbling of olive oil. There are plenty of wonderful restaurants to choose from – mainly serving excellent fish. Our favourites were Banana da Terra and that of the Pousada Literaria where we were staying (I must post one of their famous recipes for breakfast for you soon!).

Palm hearts, Paraty Brazil

To appreciate the inviting islands dotted all around Paraty, you must take a boat ride.  We were in the expert hands of Davi Trinidade, our Captain for the day with his speedboat Palombeta. I had previously booked our 5-hour day trip online on his site, which is very clear and efficient – and was so impressed that we booked a second day with him!

Harbour of Paraty Brazil

It was wonderful to see Paraty from a different angle…

Paraty Church from the water

And discover paradisiac strips of beach with either smooth sand or finely crushed shell, go swimming and snorkelling. Don’t ask me why, but I still can’t get that mask on my face – so my excuse was to take the photos!

Best boat trips in Paraty Brazil

Meet the Fockers for the day!

The highlight for the girls was watching the turtles then feeding the monkeys on Monkey Island. These cuties would gently hold your finger as they politely took some banana.  Well raised little monkeys indeed! Their miniature faces were captivating.

Monkey Island near Paraty Brazil

Davi’s English was perfect and took his time with us ensuring we enjoyed every moment, including a stop off for lunch.

Brazilian food specialities

A typical dish served here is a traditional prawn or fish stew, Moqueca, served in a hot clay pot. I tasted a few to try and each one was quite liquid.  It’s served with a typical side dish of Farofa – a combination of manioc flour with some sort of fat or oil to give it a sandy texture – gravy from the stew and chilli oil to taste. This vanilla ice cream dessert looks like it’s served with cherries, right? Instead it was candied bananas, absolutely delicious.

The Twilight House Brazil

Davi anchored in front of this thatched roof villa with its private beach.  Antoine and I were totally out the cut but the girls were enthralled to hear that this was the famous house filmed in Twilight. The island of Esme, where the couple honeymoon in the saga Breaking Dawn, doesn’t exist.  It’s here in Casa em Paraty, which can be rented – perfect for vampire honeymoons, I hear.

Twilight house Paraty Brazil

Back on Paraty land, another popular form of transport is by horse-drawn carriage.

Horse-drawn carriage in Paraty Brazil

No visit to Paraty is complete without a taste of the local speciality made famous here since the 19th century. Cachaça is a sugarcane-based spirit which is the main ingredient for the Brazilian cocktail, Caipirinha. The classic cocktail was with plenty of limes but we also adored the fresh passion fruit version too at apéritif time – a great excuse to celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary, which we just about totally missed if we hadn’t seen a message from Mum and Dad!

Cachaca store in Paraty

A century ago, Cachaça was called Parati, hence such a famous location for the best in Brazil. After a tasting, my best Cachaça friend was definitely Gabriela, discovered at the main store in Rua do Comercio. She’s a spicy number with cinnamon and cloves.  Add this to a Caipirinha and the evening is sure to start off the festivities!

Best Cachaca in Paraty Brazil

One of my personal highlights in Paraty was a visit to the natural food store, Via Natural on Rua da Floresta. André was so enthusiastic about his products and I left just as excited as he was with my selection of cloves (cravo), cinnamon, dried guava and pineapple, brazil nuts, and – wait for it – pure roasted cocoa beans rolled in demerara sugar! I wish I could make everyone taste one who joins me on my chocolate tours in Paris! For that I’d need a regular supply, André …

Health foods in Paraty at Via Natural

André couldn’t let us leave without trying Açai (ah-sah-ee).  This super-healthy but bitter berry is found around the Amazon river basin and is hugely popular in Brazil.  As a drink, it’s sweetened normally with banana but André had a wonderfully vibrant Açai powder which I look forward to using – particularly as it’s list of health benefits is well worth the try. I’ll experiment with it for some pastries at teatime but in the meantime, I’ve already made a Brazilian version of breakfast granola using the above ingredients.  Fabulous!

Acai drink

I’ll finally leave you with a sunset from Brigitte Bardot’s beach in Buzios, the “Saint Tropez of Brazil”. Cheers to you, readers!

Now I’m finally back in Paris, you may have noticed I’ve been travelling again since Brazil.  Next stop on le blog? The Loire Valley.

(Note: this was not at all a sponsored trip but our private family holiday I wanted to share with you, in preparation for the Olympic Games in Brazil, 2016)

Brazil: Rio de Janeiro in 3 Days

It’s just how I imagined it. Rio’s Copacabana Beach showed off this scene on our first night, directly in front of the hotel with the blue moon looking on. Although it’s winter, the weather is perfect at this time of year, with temperatures hovering around 25°C. As one new Brazilian friend teased, “Winter in Rio was last Wednesday”.

Copacabana beach in Rio

Although we weren’t there at the time of the famous Carnival, we quickly realised how much more there is to Rio than Copacabana. For a start, there’s also Ipanema Beach.

Arriving off our night flight and feeling a bit new in this exciting City we were thankful to have booked an ideal 2-hour “Welcome to Rio” walk with Context Travel. Our lovely and lively guide, Amber, came to meet us and was itching to explain Rio’s different neighbourhoods and help us prepare our visit. Knowing we also love good food, she pointed us around the corner from the Copacabana Palace to show us some typical snacks. It didn’t take us long to taste our way around the bacon popcorn and carts of freshly baked brigadeiros, sweet chocolate fudge truffles made with condensed milk.

Rio de Janeiro with Context Travel

Pao de Queijo – warmed cheese bread balls, were my favourite and became rather addictive during our trip. They’re not unlike Gougères – French style cheese puffs typical of Burgundy, made with choux pastry – but the Brazilian version is more dense and heavier in weight. This is because instead of making them using normal all-purpose flour (as in Gougères), these cheese balls use cassava flour or tapioca flour.

Copacabana-Palace-Hotel

Surprisingly, we saw Pao de Queijo on each hotels’ breakfast buffets during the trip along with the most succulent local mango, guava and papaya served with lime wedges. Limes are more popular than lemons and so a must try is the national Brazilian cocktail, the Caipirinha at one of the many kiosks along the beach (more on that in the next post) or by the pool as a special treat at the famous Copacabana Palace, which opened its Art Deco doors in 1923.

Another Context Tour really helped us get an idea of the City Centre (Centro), Founding Rio, the Marvellous City. Beth walked us through Rio’s fascinating history, starting with the Portuguese sailing into Guanabara Bay in January 1502. Thinking it was a mouth of a river, they called it Rio de Janeiro, or January River.

Brazil Rio architecture

By 1822 Emperor Pedro I declared Brazil’s independence with Portugal and the evidence of old Colonial with new is evident throughout the City, who’s ports served as the Capital for the gold, coffee and diamond trade. It wasn’t until 1960 that the Capital was moved to Brasilia, a more central location. The tour ended here at the Cathedral of Saint Sebastian. Finished in 1979, it looks rather like a Mayan pyramid amongst the mix of Colonial and more modern structures.

Rio de Janeiro architecture

A note on security: it wasn’t as bad as we’d heard. Like any big city, you do need to be streetwise: don’t wear a watch or jewellery or walk around with cameras on show, and stay clear of the dodgy areas at night. In preparation for the 2016 Olympics, the police have tightened security and gone through a major project to pacify the favelas (shanty towns) and with police presence around the city, we felt safe. Just be practical and in areas in the North East, know where you’re going otherwise take a taxi.

Antoine had to talk sweetly to get me up Sugar Loaf Mountain. With vertigo, you can imagine why I’d be scared just looking at this picture. I still can’t believe I did it! There are two cable cars. The first takes you to the flatter, Urca Mountain, and from there you are whisked up by second cable car (some mountaineers decided to brave it up the only other way) up 400m. My secret was to stay in the middle and not look out of the window. There is a lot more room up there than you think to walk around, believe me!

Sugarloaf mountain Rio

Don’t forget your kids’ IDs in order to qualify for price concessions.  We didn’t cart around our passports (naturally in a big city!) and found ourselves paying full over-21 adult prices for our 12 and 15 year olds. Lucie turned 13 a couple of days later; I know she’s tall but 21? Really.

Sugarloaf mountain cable Rio

The promised sweet talk started with one of the best ice creams in Rio at Felice in Ipanema.  I opted for the passion fruit and chilli dark chocolate.  The pistachio was also delicious – and just the right colour (you know how fussy I am about pistachio colour!).

However, for the best Teatime in Rio head to the famous institution reminiscent of the Belle Epoque, the Confeitaria Colombo in the heart of the City.

Colombo Cafe in Rio

It was busy. Apologies for the terrible shot above here but I get excited in places like this, surrounded by Art Nouveau decor and wondering who exactly walked these floors since 1894. Queen Elizabeth did, apparently.

Colombo-cafe-rio

Needless to say, my choice was for the Pastels de Nata. I even had a savoury one, with cod fish followed by a most exquisite Pastel de Caipirinha (could you guess?). They also had French-inspired éclairs, Napoleon millefeuilles, lemon meringue tarts and chocolate tartlets (recipes in Teatime in Paris!).

Colombo restaurant for the best teatime in Rio

Talking of food, we tried out a number of places for dinner in our 5 days in Rio but here are our best restaurants for a 3 day stay:

  • Ten Kai Japanese restaurant in Ipanema;
  • Zaza Bistro in Ipanema (we ate upstairs, where you take off your shoes and eat at low tables);
  • Aprazivel, Santa Teresa. Some people told us to avoid this at night. For lunch you have spectacular views from the top but at night it’s just as good. (Just ensure that you take a taxi directly there and not walk the hill as you pass a favela). Order the palm hearts for starter.  One between 2 is enough but it’s served cooked from the palm tree.  Absolutely delicious!
  • From Aprizivel we went on to Rio Scenarium in Lapa, a live music club on 4 floors. Take ID with you for the entrance (also a small fee). We were unlucky since we booked in advance but there were no tables left and the 2 bands out of 4 stopped playing after 10 minutes for a break – so it was just recorded music. Hopefully you’ll be more lucky since it’s a must-do here for some Samba dancing!

Rio Scenarium live music

Another essential must-see in Rio is up the Corcovado (Portuguese for “hunchback”) mountain to see the monument of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Rendentor). The most popular transport to get there is by train.  Normally we would have done it early in the morning to avoid the crowds but since this was Winter and the sun was shining with a great view potential, we took a taxi up to Paineiras Road then bought our tickets for the park vans to take us to the top.

Corcovado-rio

Again, like Sugar Loaf Mountain, there is a lot more room at the top than you think for the weaker amongst us. And the view of Rio de Janeiro is incredible.  If it’s misty, however, don’t even bother going there.  The whole point is for the view and to see the statue perched on this granite rock of 710m.  On a misty day you won’t see either of them.  We also saw some monkeys on the way down in the Tijuca Forest, which just made Lucie’s 13th birthday!

Christ the Redeemer monument Rio

On our last day we enjoyed our final walking tour with Amber from Context: Bohemian Rio, Santa Teresa and Lapa. Even although we had already seen a bit of Santa Teresa, we would never have seen all the secret parts of it without a guide.

Santa Teresa Rio

Amber showed us the original trolley car, famous in Santa Teresa but which was stopped in 2012 for security reasons following an accident. The area is full of renovation work in anticipation of the Olympics next year but it looks like the trolley will be back in action again soon.

Santa Teresa in Rio Brazil

We loved visiting this traditional bookstore with a difference, where this passionate writer keeps the tradition alive of writing booklets on academic subjects – some of which were in English. There are many flamboyant artists in the area too, finding ingenious ways to recycle abandoned objects, including a Beetle car shell!

As we walked on the typical mosaic tiled pavements in Rio – originally brought from Portugal and replaced by gold on the way back – our tour with Amber finished with a hidden viewpoint in the heart of the city to watch the most magnificent sunset.

Views of Rio from Santa Teresa

For music lovers, the home of Bossa Nova calls and the end of our trip finished on a high note at the Vinicius Bar in Ipanema with Gloria Ettari. I couldn’t recommend this enough!

Vinicius Bar in Rio

Stay tuned for the next post where we stop off at two destinations north and south of Rio, Buzios and Paraty, for a taste of the lazy beach life and islands plus the local Cachaça.

Related Article: Visits outside Rio de Janiero: Buzios & Paraty, Brazil


 

(Note: this was not at all a sponsored trip but our private family holiday I wanted to share with you, in preparation for the Olympic Games in Brazil, August 2016)

Keeping Cool in a Provence Village Heatwave

Place de la Fontaine

We’re just back from Charles de Gaulle airport, dropping off our eldest for an adventure away from the nest for TWO weeks. Julie confirmed I’m a fussy mum. Have you got your identity card? Don’t forget this form and remember to … “Don’t worry. I’ve got it, Mum!”

To calm down on the way home, we called Antoine’s parents.  They are in a different world in the south.  As we were talking, stuck in Parisian traffic, they were sitting looking at this view from under the shade of an oak tree in their quiet Provençal village of Saignon.

Panoramic view of Castellet village Provence

Over the past week, this heatwave has continued to hit us hard in Paris. One way to keep our cool indoors is ensuring the shutters are closed: that’s something that my mother-in-law fusses about – even more than me.

Another rule in the south is to take an afternoon nap, or sieste. Call me a rebel, but that’s when I normally sneak out of the sleepy house and head into the village.  Although there are over 1000 habitants, as you can see from the photos I took on our last summer visit in August, most people head indoors during the hottest part of the day.  For me, it’s paradise. Even the cats were sleeping indoors.

shuttered windows in a Provencal village

Turning the corner from their driveway just underneath the imposing rock in the village, the only sounds are the drumming of the cigales (cicadas) hidden in the trees and, gradually going up the steep slope towards the church, the sounds of trickling water come from a small communal washing place or Lavoir, as if stepping back into another century.

Lavoir washing place Provence

I have always loved the chairs just outside some of the front doors.  They’re for the neighbours to gossip, chat, exchange recipes, perhaps?

Provencal village street

As you gradually climb up the village, which is 500m above the market town of Apt, many of the picturesque houses date back to the 16th century. Gargoyles included on some. The cars are far more modern…

Vintage car in Provence

This 12th Century Roman Church of Notre Dame (also known as Saint Mary of Saignon) reminds us of Julie’s very windy Christening there 14 years ago (where did the time fly?) and many other family events, joyous and not as much.

Eglise de Saignon in Provence

Just behind the church, the cinema had prepared the chairs for the night’s viewing. I guess cushions would be a good idea.

outdoor cinema in Provence

It’s also at the back of the church that the steps lead to the imposing rock in the village.  It’s not that much of a climb but we heard the story about some adventurous tourists that had to be rescued from a helicopter, as they went off track.  As you can imagine, the neighbours chatted about this one for a while.

Walk to the rock in the Provencal village of Saignon

This is only the back view of the rock.  On the other side, the view is over the Luberon valley.

Back of the rock Saignon Provence

This is where I found people!  So quickly making my descent, headed for the main lavoir in the village’s centre, the Place de la Fontaine. Just imagine the locals from another era all gathering around here, doing their washing and catching up on the latest news…

Lavoir Saignon Provencal village

with this as their view.

pretty fountain in the village of Saignon, Provence, France

Keep your cool and have a lovely week!  I’m looking to sharing some easy yet delicious recipes from my friends in Provence.  You up for a touch of garlic?

 

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.

 

Roasted Vanilla Pineapple with Passion Fruit

As we’re enjoying the pineapple season, I can’t help noticing pineapples in all sorts of different forms on gateposts, staircases and even teapots.

Ever since Christopher Columbus brought the pineapple to Europe from Guadaloupe in 1493, this exotic fruit has symbolised wealth and generous hospitality.

By the 18th century, pineapples were such a rare, expensive delicacy that they weren’t always eaten straight away. Seen as a wealth indicator and the utmost symbol to welcome guests, they adorned dinner tables as centre-pieces and could be rented out by the day. Royalty and the aristocracy wanted to be seen with such a rare and exotic (sex status symbol) celebrity and so set about discovering how to grow them.

The Sun King, Louis XIV, wasn’t too enamoured with pineapples, apparently all-too-eagerly biting into one – spiky skin and all – so Jean-Baptiste Le Quintinie, director of the King’s Fruit and Vegetable Garden at Versailles had no pressure to grow them.
Louis XV, however, learned from his predecessor and adored the sweet pineapple and so in 1735, Louis Le Normand made a breakthrough at Versailles, growing them in a layer of fermented manure, trapping heat under glass bells.

Welcoming gateposts. Which has the best wealth indicator: the security camera or the pineapple?

How many pineapple motifs have you seen recently? They’re normally carved out of stone and wood, decorating front doors, gates, bed-posts, staircases and linens – all to symbolise the ultimate hospitality to guests. These shots were taken in the Paris suburbs, dahlinks.

Have you seen the Scottish Pineapple? It’s a wacky stone building with a pineapple roof that was constructed by the 5th Earl of Dunmore in the 1760s. This is a place I’d love to stay in Scotland, as it has been beautifully restored. For much more fruity fascinating facts about the pineapple, I recommend Gary Okihiro’s book, Pineapple Culture.

Back in Paris with posh pineapple teapots at Laduree: la vie est belle! These silver pineapples can get pretty hot for sweet and sticky macaron or Réligieuse-y fondant fingers.

Incidentally, if you’re like me and love a dash of milk with your tea, be warned at Ladurée: they add an extra euro for the little pot on the side. As a Scot who tried to explain I only take a few drops, it didn’t work at the Printemps salon de thé. It doesn’t matter how much you use, the pot gets added on.

So, ensure you ask afterwards for your coveted ticket to visit the fancy toilets on the same floor. Standing in that queue is perhaps a wealth indicator, too, at it’s possibly the most expensive pee you can have in Paris. That way you feel that spending your penny hasn’t been in vain.

roasted pineapple with passion fruit

Roasted Vanilla Pineapple with Passion Fruit

Wildly adapted and inspired by the roasted pineapple recipe, Ananas Rôti from Larousse des desserts by Pierre Hermé.

Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour

1 large (or 2 small) pineapple(s)
4 vanilla pods/beans
150g sugar
250ml water, warm
2 passion fruits
2 tbsp dark rum

  1. Prepare a syrup: carmelise the sugar with a couple of drops of water over a low heat without stirring. Meanwhile, cut 2 vanilla pods down the middle and scrape out the seeds using a sharp knife. Reserve the emptied pods.
  2. As soon as the caramel turns a dark golden colour, add the scraped vanilla seeds then the warmed water (it’s important it’s warm-hot, otherwise the caramel will instantly harden.) Stir using a wooden spoon and bring to the boil.
  3.  Take off the heat then add the passion fruit and rum.
  4. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Prepare the pineapple by cutting off the outer skin with a sharp knife.
  5. Cut the remaining 2 vanilla pods in half vertically and stick them into the pineapple along with the other reserved pods. Place the pineapple in a roasting tin, pour over the syrup (if you don’t like the passion fruit seeds, strain through a sieve) and roast in the oven for about an hour, spooning the syrup over the pineapple every 10-15 minutes.

When ready to serve, cut the pineapple into slices. Delicious with vanilla or coconut ice cream.

How do YOU like your pineapple?

Hm. Now it’s time to think about carving a pineapple on our gatepost!