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Spiced Plum Jam & Digital Jam Scale Review

How to make consistently perfect jam with a clever new digital jam-making scale

Roasted Nectarines & Lemon Verbena Ice Cream

A perfectly light dessert that celebrates summer in France.

Luxury Italian Ice Cream by Il Gelato Del Marchese Paris

Queues for ice cream are inevitable when the Parisian summer sun heats up the City of Light.  But there’s a hidden corner of Paris where we can taste the highest quality Italian ice cream in style, right in the heart of Saint Germain-des-Prés.

Il Gelato del Marchese is tucked away on Rue des Quatre Vents, just behind the crossroads at Odéon in an area known as the Chocolate quarter, due to its high concentration of chocolate and pastry shops.

Il gelato del Marchese Italian luxury ice cream paris

On passing this pristine golden and white ice-cream parlour after it opened in December 2014, I remember first gazing in the window, wondering if the caped gentleman at the counter was the Marchese or Marquis, with such an alluring air of mystery.

The mystery was unveiled when I was happy to meet the lively Marchese himself, Renato. Together with his wife, Veronika Squillante Montoro, the dynamic duo with savoir-flaire have created a luxury brand in the heart of Paris’s 6th arrondissement and it’s already taking off with a boutique newly opened in Saint Tropez, a new larger laboratory in construction near the Canal Saint Martin, a recipe book due to be published in October and many more surprises in store.

Renato Squillante Montoro

Now certified Vegan, Il Marchese’s ice creams and sorbets are all made with top quality healthy ingredients using mineral water, unrefined sugar, and no colourings or preservatives are in sight.

Veronika provides that extra touch of elegance with her choice of porcelain and delicate glasses to complete the plush furnishings.

Il gelato del Marchese Paris

Thanks to my friend, Maggie, who insisted I taste a selection of savoury ice creams before the sweet, as I would never have normally dared at teatime – would you? What a revelation! Spoonfuls of delectable savoury ice creams to tickle the senses arrived with water, but imagine tasting these on mini toasts with a glass of Champagne or Prosecco in hand: Tomato-Basil sorbet, Artichoke-Walnut Cream, Olives, and Mustard ice creams.

They also whip up the most incredible salmon ice cream which is not only good on small toasts as an aperitif, but they suggest mixing it into hot tagliatelle pasta, as with their parmesan ice cream.

My personal favourites were olive, imagining it on the terrace in Provence with a glass of chilled Rosé (a refreshingly cold tapenade sensation), and the mustard which, like my mini curry macarons from the savoury chapter in Mad About Macarons, it provokes a spicy-sweet tremble!

Savoury Italian ice cream at Il Gelato dei Marchese Paris

When I first tasted the Marchese’s pistachio ice cream last year just after the book launch of Teatime in Paris around the corner, I admit that it has been hard act to follow elsewhere. Using the finest quality pistachios from Iran, it’s not just its exquisite taste that hits the spot but if anyone knows how I shy away from anything that says pistachio without the right natural colour (see my previous blog article), you’ll understand how this is such an important factor too.

Best pistachio luxury italian ice cream paris

As the tasting continued, the Sencha green tea was recommended as an ideal partner with all the ice creams and sorbets, a special selection by La Confrérie du Thé.

New flavours appear sporadically according to season and creative artistic flair. The day I arrived, the menu selection was a traditional but tremendously tasty Tiramisu, to an unusual – slightly tart – Ricotta Cacao; then a crunchy passion fruit sorbet, with a finale of chocolate sorbet using 70% dark chocolate from Italian chocolate makers, Domori, based in None – all served with the most delicate (albeit sweet) Chantilly cream, Matcha green tea cakes, light ginger biscuits, and mini cornets.

Italian ice cream teatime in Paris

The Marchese’s ice-creams pop up around Paris at the most luxurious addresses, such as at the Italian Embassy, Rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré, and now they have a pop-up boutique at La Grande Epicerie, part of Bon Marché’s Rive Gauche chic department store until 22 August, where I hear the Pear and Ceylon Cinnamon sorbet is melting customers.

Italian ice cream Embassy Paris

Artisanal cones (cornets) are made on the spot.  I never normally choose a cone but when they’re as good as this all the way until the last crunchy bite with its hint of honey, I’m not just going for a plain little paper tub to carry out!

Handmade Italian ice-cream cones in Paris

I couldn’t resist popping in for another dose with the family; this time pure sorbet in the weekend heat – a taste of mango and their new Detox Vegetal sorbet.  It reminded me of what Renato said:

It’s more than ice-cream; it creates an emotion.

I found myself giggling at such a surprise concoction of predominant cucumber and apple, with cheeky hints of lemon and ginger – were there herbs in there too? You have to try this refreshing cocktail and tell me what you think are the ingredients!

Best luxury Italian ice cream in Paris

To finish off your afternoon, walk up Rue de Condé to the Luxembourg gardens and sit at the Medici Fountain to complete the luxury taste of Italy in Paris.

Update 31 May 2016: Il Gelato del Marchese ice creams are now also available on the Champs-Elysées Terrace of the Hotel Marriott.

Il Gelato del Marchese
Italian ice-cream parlour/tea room or take away
3, rue des Quatre Vents
75006 Paris

Tel: 01 46 34 75 63

Open every day: 12 noon – midnight

Macarons vs Macaroons

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

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

While Macarons and macaroons perhaps sound alike, 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

What is a Macaron?

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.

French macaron varieties Montmorillon

French Regional Macaron Varieties

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 (more like an round almond cakes – see above. Here there’s also a Macaron Museum!), 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”

What is a Macaroon?

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 such differences between macarons and macaroons, 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, otherwise it’s not a Parisian macaron.

Now it’s your turn to spread the macaron word – or is it a macaroon?


 

This article was originally published for BonjourParis.com

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?