It’s Springtime in Paris with Sunny Lemon Macarons!

It has been a long haul this chilly winter. In fact, I think it has rained since October, making it the longest hiver – more than I’ve ever known after living in Paris for 20 years, 3 months and 3 weeks. It’s my birthday today so I’m particularly 40-something sensitive in counting the years. It’s not the age, it’s the mileage, eh?
Although in France, we should be saying kilometres, rather than miles…

Ouf! Spring has sprung in Paris, enfin. What a pleasure it is to watch the first wasp of the year, buzzing amongst the tulips in the park and hearing the birds’ chattering singsongs in the morning and evening. And the sun… oh, the glorious sun; *bows*. Did we ever tell you just how much we missed you? With the sudden arrival of Printemps yellows and a family goûter this weekend, there was no question as to what macaron flavour needed whipping-up.

No sooner had the sun popped out, it took fright and hid behind a mass of stormy clouds – just as I was piping out the macaron batter into little rounds. Quoi? A hail storm? These hailstones look small but they’ve already melted in my palms!

Time to whip up some bright yellow lemon macarons

It had to be sunny yellow. If you’ve followed this blog back when the book first came out at the BBC Good Food Show, I made mimosa macarons just for you on le macaron blog, for something different. This time, it was simply good old plain – tart-yet-sweet – lemon. Nothing fancy; just tasty and agonisingly addictive.

A sweet golden ray of sunshine?

You know that euphoric feeling when you inhale the first sweet air of Spring? It was a magical sky on Sunday, not a cloud in sight – exactly as the weather is today. It’s that end-of-the-tunnel, feeling of relief with a natural energy boost that no supplements or extra fruit can really bring, is it? Now that is a lovely wee wink from la lune, n’est-ce pas?

Sun and the moon in Paris – ‘Macaron-style’!

Speaking earlier of miles vs kilometres, I’m seriously thinking of posting something about grams vs ounces. Does it really upset you when I – and other Europeans – post recipes in grams? Let’s be Frank, even if I’m still sticking to the name, Jill. More seriously, how many of you own digital scales? Tell me what you think.

Bonne semaine et vive le printemps!

P.S. The recipe for lemon meringue macarons is on page 41 of Mad About Macarons!

Life is a Macaron – or a Meringue?

How often have you lain in bed wide awake at 3am, cogitating your lists mentally, ready to take on the world – until slumber hits at 6am and when the alarm has the audacity to scream brightly, there is no way on earth you can drag these bones out from the cosy duvet?

How many times have you got up on the wrong side of the bed and wished you could start the day over?  It’s no use crying over spilled milk. Even if it was my favourite mug, or that one of the girls reached out in a greedy moment to grab the Nutella jar and it landed crash bang on my precious hand-painted plate by Anna Young in Hermanus, as she immortilised the moment of a Southern Right whale jumping out of the water in South Africa’s famous whale town.

Kitchen floor quiche. That’s a new one on the menu…

Before the school holidays, my savoury contribution to the end-of-term party was a quick and easy bacon-asparagus quiche. So speedy, that half of it jumped out of my burned fingers trying to juggle a large plate, foil and a schoolbag. They ended up getting the other quiche half and a huge bag of crisps. Can you imagine the children’s teacher/Maîtresse holding it up at the front of the class? “Les enfants – this is the contribution from whom?” Aha. Your Mum is Scottish? Don’t worry, dear.

C’est la vie, I know, but these scenarios have been recurring too often recently. Could it just be the change of winter to spring? Becoming another year older? Worrying about the upcoming French Presidential Elections and what the results mean for our family? Contemplating our house project? Adding and subtracting new ideas to the upcoming new book? Excited about Mad About Macarons’ 4th reprint and release of its second edition?

I’m a sensitive cookie. Big time. It can also take one short book review that says something totally grumpy and I’m up most of the night upset about it. It’s the second time I’ve read someone groaning that it’s their first ever macaron book and say, “…but the shells are all the same!” Well, please don’t get upset about it. C’est normal. You’ve got a simple recipe and a recipe that works! Why complicate things?

If anyone knows their macarons, they’ll tell you that the secret in the flavours is in the fillings. Ask Pierre Hermé. Sure, now and again you can add vanilla, coffee powder, any kind of flavouring to the shells, but keep it simple. The secret in a good macaron is that it’s the filling that packs a punch in taste. In the essential 24 hours that you need to wait before eating one, the macaron magic takes place: the filling permeates into the shell, making the centre incredibly fondant while the outside remains lightly crisp. The fragrance takes a hold of the whole macaron.

Voilà. Mini macaron lecture over. On the other hand, it’s incredibly gratifying to read so many wonderful reviews, when the sweetest souls take the trouble to share their excitement, exclaiming how they can’t believe they can make macarons at home themselves. See? It’s not as difficult as you think! What’s more, it’s fun watching these feet form as you dance in amazement in front of the oven. Then when you take that first heavenly bite, it’s love. It’s amour. It’s Paris.

I’ll leave you with this last image. It’s how I feel when even acupuncture couldn’t provide the turbo I was needing: a meringue stuck in a white chocolate mousse with rose and orange blossom. As this extra portion was left overnight, the meringue drooped.  Like macarons, humidity isn’t on their side. Fatigue isn’t on mine but I do love how it looks like some animal with its praline tongue hanging out!

As you’re reading this, I’m far away from ze kitchen. I’m on a beach and with any luck, soaking up the customary sun to accompany it, staring at that ball in the sky like a stuffed lizard. Or instead rejoicing for frogs or ducks with their ideal weather, as we play with the hotel’s grotty Scrabble set indoors as we stare at the rain skipping on the swimming pool, wondering why I booked so early and so couldn’t be at the London Book Fair. Cheers to revamped, positive thoughts and living the sweet life of a macaron.

See you next week, my friends –

bright eyed, bushy tailed and positively recharged!

How to Make Macarons like the French, Aye Write Glasgow UK

What happened to this week? It has been a real macaronathon and it’s not even over yet.  On Tuesday it’s la Fête du Macaron in Paris and so it will be ‘my duty’ to taste some for you. In the meantime, let me give you a taster of last weekend’s macaron event at the Aye Write Book Festival in Glasgow.

It’s the first time I’ve been asked to demonstrate how to make macarons in a library – and the Mitchell Library to boot. My macaron kitchen was in a suitcase but somehow the oven was missing, so preparation was key with “Here are some I made earlier.” It’s just as well I’d prepared more than needed. Have you ever tried to transport 3 pastry boxes of fragile macaron shells through security at Beauvais Airport?

Demonstration Macaron Making Book Festival UK

That could be another service Mr O’Leary can offer to RyanAir passengers when booking online: Will you be transporting Parisian Macarons? Then tick the box for another €30. As this wasn’t a service this time, these 3 boxes went through the stuttering security conveyer belt, then jolted back in again just for an extra look. When they eventually came out, the boxes were upside down and many macarons were smashed. I’m surprised they didn’t confiscate the ones that were intact!

Talking macarons at Glasgow Book Festival UK

It’s a ‘macaron’, so no confusion with this coconut macaroon bar

The event was chaired by the lovely Elizabeth McMeekin of the Herald and Times Newspaper Group. She knew how to put everyone at ease and how to deal with a chatterbox like myself, by keeping the session to one hour!  A huge thanks to Waverley Books for organising the event, Eleanor Abraham (the Editor) for the photos, and such a friendly audience. When you return to Glasgow after being so long in Paris, you really appreciate how the Glaswegians are so helpful, chatty with their sing-song accents and down-to-earth.

With a low table, one way to help the audience see properly was to whisk in the air! Whisk your egg whites to stiff but glossy peaks…

Elizabeth asked if you needed to be an experienced baker to make macarons. Well, assuming you cook or bake a little, it’s easy. Even my Dad made macarons and he buys his cakes! (Sorry, Dad, but it’s true…) His came out perfect first time around just by following the recipe to the letter. It was a proud moment!

Then the actual process which makes a macaron a macaron with a foot…macaronnage!

macaronage technique – easier than you think!

Have I always made them perfectly? No. When I came home after a macaron lesson in a pâtisserie, suddenly my oven wasn’t like the professionals and there were many cracked macarons that ended up crushed in desserts. My children referred to the ‘best mistakes’ once as les caves à l’orange due to huge hollows and asked for them again recently. Could I really make my blunder again? I’m not sure, but one thing is certain: your oven is often the biggest culprit. As le blog only started up after the launch of the book, I don’t have any of it documented here. But the lessons learned from all the experiments in the kitchen were learned quickly and the results of making perfect macarons at home are simply written in the book.

The fun moment: out with the piping bag, then leaving the little rounds to air while answering questions from the audience. There’s one that is still foxing me: can you bake macarons in an AGA? Well, I’m sure you can but you’ll definitely need an oven thermometer to check the heat. I need to find someone who has one so I can try it myself. Have you ever tried them in an AGA? I’m dying to hear from anyone who has given them a go using one.

Q&A plus TASTING TIME! Fresh macarons versus macs left to do their magic after 24 hours.

Tasting time!  After assembling the fresh ones, the audience were eager to try. It’s important to taste the difference between ones just made and those that are left for 24 hours. It’s definitely worth the wait. Macaron magic takes place when the filling and its flavour permeates into the shell, making the special fondant centre, the meringue like crunch on the outside… I can now feel one coming on, can you?

One of the hardest questions: what’s your favourite macaron?  I’ll leave you with a peek of one of them: white chocolate, pistachio and wasabi. If you love wasabi, you’ll love it with pistachio.

Pistachio, white chocolate and wasabi macarons (recipe p.63)

Happy Macaron Day to you all on 20th March. Och, who am I kidding?
Every day is macaron day in my book! 🙂