Forgotten Legumes, Old Crosnes & a Beetroot Macaron

It has been yet another chilly, damp week outside Paris. A trip to the local market at St Germain-en-Laye quickly brightened up the spirits, though, fuelling the kitchen with inspirational seasonal produce. My favourite vegetable stall is run by someone who not only knows his radishes but he could possibly be moonlighting as The Barber of Seville.

Forgotten vegetables

Remembering our roots at the local French market

The French call many of these root vegetables, les légumes oubliés. Forgotten perhaps since they skipped a generation as grandmothers were glad to no longer serve up what they lived on during the war? One thing is for sure: parsnips (panais), Jerusalem artichokes (topinambours) and rutabagas are back “in” on the dining table. I love standing in the market’s queues, discussing how to cook the various produce. One kind woman gave me the following wee tip.

Crosnes or Chinese Artichokes

No, this is not Hallowe’en. These may look creepy at first glance but they are crosnes or Chinese artichokes (in Italy they’re called Queen’s potatoes). As the name suggests their sweet taste is not unlike an artichoke and a light version of a potato. Armed with a scrubbing brush under running water, I tackled the hardest part of cleaning them energetically to remove the outer skin, then snipped off the ends.

Cooked Crosnes

One of the best ways to prepare Crosnes is to simply toss them in butter over a high heat with a couple of chopped shallots for a few minutes. Then add just enough chicken stock to cover, simmer for 15 minutes until the stock has reduced but there’s still enough sauce to cover them. Season to taste et voilà. They are delicious served as a side dish for fish, chicken, meat or game.


This odd looking fellow is horseradish. Before coming to France, I thought horseradish was a sauce you found in jars 😉 but this fresh raifort certainly packs a punch! So what better way to use it than in a macaron! Here’s one I made earlier: a beetroot (or beet) and horseradish mini macaron that can be served with an apéritif or if you’re feeling on the wild side, serve it with the starter…

Beetroot & Horseradish macaron

Beetroot & Horseradish Macaron

I was left with just enough beetroot to make a chocolate-beet macaron or one of my favourite cakes: a dark chocolate and beetroot cake. That was a tough decision to make until I discovered that I was low on stock on aged egg whites. So the compromise?

Chocolate praline macarons with chocolate-beet fondants

Chocolate praline macarons (using the egg white reference chart at the end of the book when you come up short) with a praline ganache, using the full quantities. That way, there’s tons of extra ganache for that extra gooey praline sensation…

To Orange Blossom & Paris Lovers

It has been chilly in Paris this week. On a damp, drizzly Monday morning a brisk walk through the Tuileries Gardens was therapy to banish the winter blues instead of taking an extra metro stop. It was spookily desserted except for wrapped-up, serious joggers on the run. I say serious: have you ever seen a happy jogger?  Perhaps everyone was inside the Orangerie Museum, marvelling at Monet’s Water Lilies. The cold clinging humidity certainly didn’t stop these two from having a good neck in the corner, though.

Orangery Museum Paris Tuileries Gardens

The Orangerie at the Palace of the Louvre was quite the trend in the 17th & 18th Centuries. Royal and aristocratic residences all needed an orangery with citrus trees in tubs or under glass in winter to impress.

I just wanted to impress hubby with something different for dessert. So, realising there were no egg whites ageing (wonder what for?), orange blossom ice cream seemed fitting after a couscous – and more importantly, since they use 8 yolks. How to make it? I simply replaced 100ml of the cream from the ice cream recipe in the book with orange flower water and added a touch of orange colouring to the cream. Simple and pure heaven.

Orange Flower Water Ice-cream


I adore the heavy perfume of orange blossom and I know I’m not alone. I use it in the form of room scents, shower gels and body lotions but when it comes to food, it adds a whole new dimension.

Adding a touch of orange blossom water (or orange flower water) can take desserts or pastries to another level. In France l’eau de fleur d’oranger is normally added to madeleine cakes and marshallows (guimauve). But it’s almost like a secret ingredient that you want to keep for yourself so that nobody can make quite the same brioches, crêpes, gaufres (waffles), cookies, rice puddings or fig tarts (these are coming on le blog.)

Adding it to a simple orange salad or couscous can whisk you on a magic carpet for a few moments to Marrakesh. I sometimes even put a dash of it in pumpkin soup for that touch of je ne sais quoi. I’ve added my recipe take on a creamy panna cotta: a cinnamon, orange blossom & pistachio panna cotta.

Moroccan-style panna cotta

And it goes without saying (ça va sans dire) that orange blossom macarons are one of our favourites. This time I infused an Earl Grey teabag into the cream to add an extra powerful fragrant punch to accompany a pot of Lady Grey tea at goûter time. I can’t believe we polished off 40 of them already…

Orange Blossom & Earl Grey Tea Macarons

Orange Blossom & Earl Grey Tea Parisian Macarons

This post was published long before even Mum knew I had a blog. If you would like to leave a comment now, it’s not too late. You’ll make my day! Jill xo

Who’s King? (Or Queen?)

I love living in France. Just when the festivities are over and we grudgingly dismantle the Christmas decorations, there’s something else to celebrate: Epiphany. We do this by eating the Galette des Rois (or King Cake) which takes its name from the biblical 3 Kings. I was going to take down our traditional crêche (nativity scene) with the other decorations, but I was quite rightly told by my daughters to keep it since they hadn’t yet added the Kings and of course, Mum – we haven’t yet eaten the galette! I took a hint.

Kings at Epiphany

In French supermarkets, you begin to see them as early as Christmas time. Officially my agenda informed me that Epiphany was on Sunday 2nd January so we’ve already had quite a few before the traditional 6 January. No doubt we’ll also have quite a few more… This week the Pâtisseries around Paris have been going mad displaying them in their vitrines.

galettes des rois in Paris Pâtisseries

Normally filled with frangipane or almond cream, the galette includes a fève or trinket hidden inside. The youngest person in the group sits under the table and calls each person’s name in turn as the galette is cut without them seeing and then served out. That way there is no favouritism if the person cutting the galette sees the trinket. The person who gets the piece with the trinket inside gets to be crowned king (or queen) for the day.

cutting the galette des rois french tradition

Who’s snooping around under the table?

The Galette des Rois is so easy to make at home yourself (see my French king cake recipe here), especially as in France they sell ready-made frangipane mixes in the supermarkets and all you need to add is some water to the mix (although I add milk and a touch more almond extract.) Well, there are times when we’re allowed to cheat when the kids go back to school.

galette des rois frangipane recipe

It’s amazing just how many galettes we have consumed recently as here is just a selection of my children’s trinket collection. Don’t you just love the mini macarons? Merci, Emma 🙂

fève trinkets for galettes des rois

Hm. You guessed it. It was inspiration for some of my own macarons in the style of a galette des rois. Like all macarons, this is gluten-free.

macarons in the style of galette des rois Jill Colonna

galette style macarons with a feve inside

I simply adapted my recipe for Almond Macarons on P.38 of the book, adding 70g ground almonds, 1 tsp bitter almond extract and a good tablespoon of Kirsch (or you could use dark rum) to the macaron filling. Don’t forget to add a trinket inside. OK, the one above is a bit too visible but I was scared that folk may break their teeth 😉 I bought a couple of lovely fève collections this week from Saint Germain-en-Laye: clocks and Venetian masks to get us in the Carnaval Spirit.

Oh, and to finish off with a song, you’ll need to sing this with your crown on:

J’aime la galette savez vous comment ?

Quand elle est bien faite avec du beurre dedans, tra-la-la… !

Recharging the Christmas Batteries for 2011

Just back from a last-minute Christmas shop at Les Grands Magasins across the road from the Opéra Garnier in Paris. So pretty and festive but downright exhausting. En route, stopped by a stand to buy a couple of Santa hats for the children, just to get in the Christmas mood. Of course they wanted to wear them to post their letter to Santa but we’ve just discovered that the groovy flashing 2011 lights don’t work. Should have known better and checked the batteries first, but what do you expect for one euro and when you’re balancing shopping bags of stuff you never dreamed you’d buy?

Next time I’m going to simply ask everyone to give me their list for Père Noël. Mine is simple. A Christmas sans stresset toi?

Courrier du Pere Noel

You should have seen the chaos at the hypermarket, Carrefour, yesterday. It seemed like all of les Yvelines decided to grocery shop in between snowfalls. Let’s face it, the snow and icy weather haven’t helped us prepare as much in advance.

Two weeks ago I was upset at cancelling a macaron demo for Scottish Television. Although frustrating, I’m glad I did after seeing the alarming conditions in Scotland on French TV afterwards. Motorists were stuck during the night on the same motorway I was supposed to take to get to the studio.

Spicy Christmas Orange Blossom Macarons by Jill

Instead, we ended up eating some of the TV demo’s spiced orange blossom macarons and kept a few behind for the tasting & signing event at WHSmith Paris a few days later. I’d made 300 macarons for the occasion plus another 100 mini curry Tikka Mac’Sala macarons from the “Mad Macs” chapter (see p 100 of the book) to go with Stoeffler’s 2009 Gewürtzraminer from Alsace.

There’s nothing quite like some spicy heat when it’s snowing, n’est-ce pas?

Tikka Macsala Macarons in the Snow

Although there were some cancellations due to the snow, it was wonderful to see so many macaronivores turn out at the English bookstore in Paris, just a snowball’s throw away from Pierre Hermé’s shop in rue Cambon.

WHSmith Paris Macarons Tasting

I loved meeting and chatting macarons with so many cheery people living in Paris from Australia, India, US, UK (including people like myself who married a Frenchman!) and the French: who would have thought that they love the idea of improving their language skills through a macaron book in English! Next time you’re in Paris, say hello to Hannah for me – she put on a great event.

Mad About Macarons in Croissy

The last book-signing for this year was at Didier’s bookshop in Croissy, Le Presse Book. Imagine turning up to a live band playing Christmas carols! By this time the snow had disappeared, but gosh they were brave to play for so long in that icy wind. Even Didier’s mulled wine wasn’t enough to thaw out their fingers in the end. A huge thank you to Didier and his family for such an amazing event and to L’Harmonie du Vésinet (Yves, Martial, Barbara, Xavier, Isabelle, Etienne & Sandra) for putting on a super musical ambience. I felt so proud to be a part of it all.

Xmas macaron display

It was interesting to hear that some macaronivores had already made them but wanted to give the different recipes and flavours a try. Others hadn’t made macarons before and were inspired to finally give them a go – or inspired to get their friends to try. Yay! I’m dying to hear from them via the website’s Readers’ Forum, such as Nicky, Christine, Trudy, Sheila, Rashmi, Loresa, Audrey, Domenica, Leshia, Kendra, Lakshmi, Tania, Nicolas, Thelma, Julie & Philippe (a chess author inspired by a photo on p.75 😉 ) to name just a few…. oh, and Laura who has become obsessed about making her own macarons ever since watching Masterchef Australia. Way to go, Laura! You show ‘em it’s not difficult.

It’s been rather sad that the events are now finished for the year. It doesn’t stop me from making macarons, though. With the snow falling how else could I be inspired? Here are some mini Thai Red Curry Macarons, all spiced and ready to go to a Christmas party this weekend.

Thai red christmas curry macarons by Jill

Now that I have my grocery stocks refilled, I’m quite happy to be snowed in for a few days. On second thoughts, perhaps not. We’re going to the middle of Corsica for a family Christmas!

So how else can I remain zen this Christmas? For a start, I’m NOT replacing the batteries on Rudolf. He’s been continuously played for the last SIX seasons and he is finally driving me mad – the kids, too! See Drunken Macaron-loving Rudolf (click on the link because I don’t know how else to put up a video!)

Instead, it’s time for us all to recharge our own batteries, enjoy the season with family and friends and look forward to a healthy 2011.

Happy macaron holidays to you all!

This blog post was published before the site was made into a blog in the  Spring 2011.  Nobody could comment.  Not even Mum.
Then again, not even Mum knew I had a blog.
If you’d like to leave a comment, it’s not too late – show me that someone read it, at least!

It’s a Small, Small World in Paris

You think I’m referring to the fantasy boat trip in Disneyland, Paris? Listen to the music once and thereafter it constantly gnaws at your brain. Instead, I’m simply stunned that in a city of over 2 million people, somebody in Paris managed to track me down simply through my macaron madness. Le monde est petit.

Eiffel Tower view from rue Alboni, Paris

When I was taking photos for the book earlier this year, it became an obsession to find an Eiffel Tower that didn’t have a candle or pencil sharpener in it found on countless tourist stalls. I wanted something classy that resembled those found in chic Parisian Pâtisserie windows, looking like chocolate and that could be adorned with macarons. Hm. It was a tall order.

Then one glorious day in May with the real Eiffel Tower urging me in the distance, I found it on the way to my dentist. Just out of the metro station at Passy (one of the few airy metro stops that are above ground) up rue de l’Alboni, this stunning chocolately-looking Eiffel Tower just beckoned me through the window of a magasin de décoration. Frustratingly the shop was shut for lunch. So one root canal treatment later I returned for the Tour Eiffel, bumping en route into a distinguished gentleman coming out of his apartment, clutching a Pierre Hermé bag as if it was from Hermès. Well, this is the 16th.

Eiffel Tower Parisian Macarons

The Tower’s owner, Stéphane, was charmant since he was discretely trying to decipher my newly found overflowing French accent with a half-numbed mouth that was apparently having severe problems keeping up with appearances. Neither one of us noticed, however, that my credit card didn’t go through correctly.  He was too busy trying to work out what I was saying.

Content with my newly found tower for the book, the dentist must have numbed part of my brain, too.  I was totally oblivious that the tower wasn’t paid for – until recently.

A neighbour was taking a stroll in the 16th arrondissement, and of all places she stumbled on the same wee shop. She was drawn in by a doormat adorned with macarons. My friend would just love this, she told Stéphane, she’s writing a book on macarons in English, she’s Scottish….

Et voilà. Easy! Instantly pinned down like a macaronivore Corsican wife hiding out in les banlieues de Paris. One reconciled cheque, scores of Eiffel macaron photos for the book and a few dental appointments later, I have a new friend. Thankfully, he doesn’t see me as a Scot trying to avoid paying, but simply as a mad Scottish lass each time en route to the dentist who has obviously been testing a few macaron ganaches too many! Le monde est vraiment petit.

Oh, and here’s “that tune, just in case you’ve forgotten it. 🙂

This blog post was published before the site was made into a blog in the  Spring 2011.  Nobody could comment.  Not even Mum.
Then again, not even Mum knew I had a blog. I didn’t really understand what a blog was.
If you’d like to leave a comment, it’s not too late – show me that someone read it, at least! Jill xo

Le Challenge!

Some of you perhaps heard about my latest challenge last week on Facebook. Just when I needed to make 200 macarons for my first signing event in France, my oven packed in. Not typical of my old oven – reliable and German. Now if it was French … I would have just shrugged it off comme les français and said it had gone on strike.

Taken by surprise but thankful for a speedy installation of a new one (I guess that’s now my Christmas present), I suddenly felt like a total novice, armed with a thick instruction manual and with the daunting task of having to produce perfect macarons in the space of a few hours. Easy? I couldn’t even find the fan setting at first glance, like my previous oven. All the latest gadgets are so fancy, digital and downright confusing.

As if that wasn’t enough I gave myself a double challenge. Due to time constraints I had “cheated” using a carton of egg whites. They didn’t quite act like my organic, fresh-but-aged whites.

The whites whisked up very quickly, but then it came to the actual mixing stage (macaronnage). The mix was thicker than usual and so I mixed for a lot longer. The result was even thicker! As you can perhaps see from the first batch of green macarons, they’re a bit rougher. No problem. I knew I could to do better on the next batch, so decided to make a duo-colour macaron with a vibrant cheery pink colour and hide the green one underneath 😉 The rose ones were better after shaking the carton this time.

Et voilà: green tea and rose macarons were born, using Matcha Green Tea and rosewater for the buttercream. The next batch of crème de cassis & violet shells were even better. I couldn’t resist playing, though, by flickpainting the shells with dark food colouring before they went in the oven…

So what did I learn about using carton egg white?
To 1) shake the carton well before weighing it out and 2) don’t mix as much as you would normally with fresh (but aged) whites at macaronnage stage. Otherwise follow the recipe as normal.

My first step for the oven was to check that it was actually the temperature it was saying it was. I checked with an oven thermometer and all was ok. 160° was actually 160° (unlike my previous oven which was 20° hotter than the dial said it was – and so I had to adjust.)

I added a further challenge for my oven and myself! As this machine was new and supposed to be an improvement on my previous model, I took the plunge and put in 3 trays at a time on the fan setting, “multilevel” (I wanted to follow Zetta’s supportive comment on FB, but didn’t have time!) After 4-5 minutes, the feet formed. Why do I ALWAYS get such a kick out of that pied part? (No pun intended.) It never fails. But after the 8 minutes, I touched them to test the readiness and they wobbled more than usual. It would take more than another 2-4 minutes, I thought. Meanwhile, the 3rd bottom tray had mostly cracked shells while the top two were not cooked enough. In the end I accidentally kept them in for too long. After about 15 minutes they browned slightly.

What next? I’ll limit myself to two trays in future but at least I now know I can do 2 trays at a time! That will really speed things up. In the end I discovered that the top and middle shelves in the oven were the best positions for the trays and that the temperature was still best at 160°C for about 12 minutes as it says in the book for picture-perfect macarons.

Apologies if this all sounds a bit technical. It has just confirmed to me that the recipe works – even in challenging circumstances!

Now that’s a relief 😉 It just takes some experimenting with your own oven: to discover how many trays you can put in the oven at the same time, how evenly it cooks, to check if the temperature is just right and to have confidence that you can produce perfect macarons!

This blog post was published before the site was made into a blog in the  Spring 2011.  Nobody could comment.  Not even Mum.
Then again, not even Mum knew I had a blog.
If you’d like to leave a comment, it’s not too late – show me that someone read it, at least!