Friday, 4 January 2013

Global Baking.

If you recall from my entry Free Time to Have a Sip, I have a couple of friends who I have inadvertently involved in my project. Also, keep in mind that these two lovelies are sisters. Recently they made a trip to New York city together. The Stand Mixer Lender so thoughtfully brought me a sleeve of macarons from a shop on Madison avenue. They were tasty and beautiful and I felt fancy eating them.
A couple of days ago, her sister, The Friend Formerly Known as a Skeptic moved into a new appartment in the Greater Toronto area. When it came time to move the goods from her freezer, she came upon the macaron she helped me make months earlier that she had brought home in her luggage and tucked away into the freezer for a rainy day and had forgotten about. It got pretty squished and she said it was slightly freezer burnt but she ate it anyway. 
I would also like to remind you of my post A Mother's Love in which my mother brought me macarons from Vancouver. Add to that my own search in Las Vegas, Europe and elsewhere as well as other friends who have told me about how they've been inspired to start their own searches abroad. On top of that, I've got readers ranging from a group in an office in Toronto (check out Steve, who emailed me, put his office's work like this: "a nutritional campaign for students in Toronto. The campaign takes a different approach to teaching healthy eating by engaging first and educating second." Very neat. I can get behind that. Check out their site. I have and it's fun.) and from as far away as Thailand.

With love from Madison Avenue, NYC
Why, you ask, am I telling you this? Well it occurred to be that my quest to make the perfect macaron (as well as eat some delicious ones along the way) has a bit of an international spin wherein french macarons are doing quite a bit of air travel because of it and being searched for and eaten all over the place. For a project that originally started out as my own paper journal of what went right and what went wrong, this has turned into a really fun, much larger project than I had expected with a few thousand more reads than I ever would of imagined. Thanks everyone for making this so much fun. Stay tuned as I continue my quest. xoxo

Monday, 24 December 2012

A Very Successful International Macaron Hunt.

If you happen to have read my last blog entry, you'll know that I recently made a trip to France and Belgium, two places that I have always wanted to visit. You may also like to know that I do indeed speak fluent French as I was raised in a French family and attended French Immersion for the entirety of my grade school education. It was convenient to be able to speak the language though I am certain that the excitement on my face every time I entered a bakery would have spoken clearly enough.

For two glorious weeks in November, we ate and drank our way through France, starting in the south and making our way north into Belgium. As glorious as that was, I will tell you that the trek through four airports and the long flight home would have been slightly less irritating if I had been able to fasten the button on my pants. But alas, I could not.

 As anticipated, we found macarons all over both countries. Some were creative and very pretty (the raspberry and Chantilly cream double-decker was delicious albeit quite hard to eat. I can't quite remember how I tackled it but I do remember walking down the street eating it and thinking that I must look very glamorous). Some were tres chic (though the picture doesn't show it very well, I am holding a white truffle macaron dusted in gold powder that I bought on a very chichi stretch of Champs Elysees. It was beautiful but sadly, it tasted terrible. So bad, in fact, that I tossed it in the trash despite the 5 euro price tag). Some were served alongside other sweets and a strong coffee for breakfast. Some were enormous (like the ones I found in Carcasonne) and others were done so perfectly that some strange, deep-down generous part of me felt the need to give one away to a man and woman from Chicago who had eaten very few perfect macarons. This perfection was found on one of the most perfect days of our trip. On our agenda that day was to wander aimlessly, which we did very thoroughly in a beautiful area of Paris called Monmartre, which felt quaint, authentic french and delightfully low on the tourist/tourist trap scale. We came a across the little macaron shop where the young lady working, a Paris native, was thrilled to talk to some Canadians and told us that she had lived in Toronto and was planning to move back as soon as possible. Nice touch.

Yes, it was a trip filled with eating some of the best pastries and breads I have ever sunken my greedy teeth into. For the record, we did do other things besides eat. I could easily bore you with all the pictures and details but told myself to stay focused since you, my readers, are interested in my baking, not my vacationing. So I'll wrap it up on a slightly somber note. 
Since returning home, inspired by my recent journey, I have made three batches of macarons. Of those three batches, I have thrown out a total of 9 pans full. I'm not entirely sure what the problem has been. My friend Laura, who's a professional baker, suggested that it might be the very cold, dry winter weather we have been experiencing this year. I think it may be that I have been using eggs that are too fresh and I have not let the whites age long enough. Whatever the problem, it has me thinking I should stick to eating them rather than making them since I was quite successful at that. Remember, my pants on the flight home were undone. Oh, yeah, I also broke a zipper on another pair while I was there. But I need to stay positive. I need to swing my leg (and pray I don't rip the crotch out of another pair of pants) back onto the horse and try again. Sigh.

First macarons! Late night on the street in Marseille.

Gold dusted.

Breakfast in Ghent, Belgium.
Breakfast in the metro in Paris.

A giant Pistachio macaron.

I would like them all.

A couple more crafty uses.

Best in France, I swear.

Time lapse between this picture and the one of me holding the same sleeve full: approximately 26 seconds.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Ultimate Macaron Hunt Abroad

My version of Perfection.
I'm in love.

I have a big, wonderful French family. Who better to make a (perfect) batch of French macarons for but them?
This past Sunday we had a family dinner as a bonne voyage for my grandparents heading off on their annual trip to the states. I made my favorite flavored (brown butter buttercream in cinnamon ginger shells) and favorite colored (pink!) macarons as my contribution to dinner.
I can say three things with complete certainty: One, making macarons is a noisy loud process, especially early on a Sunday morning when you have a very hungover friend trying to sleep in your spare bedroom adjacent to the kitchen. Two, my very petite and fit cousin made me proud when she ate 8. And three: I have mastered making shells. This is big news. I've become familiar with what the viscosity of the batter should be, I've gotten the hang of piping them perfectly and the most challenging part, the baking, I have finally gotten down to a perfect science. I feel confident, sure of my technique and ready to take on more challenging macaron feats now (some of the flavored shells take a bit more skill, namely chocolate shells). This all comes not a moment too early as tomorrow I am off to France on holiday where I will no doubt see and eat some of the world's most delish pastries. There are as many tales of of origin and variations of France's macarons as there are potato chip flavors (I know it's hard to believe that something French would involve a great deal of story telling and claiming credit. Must be my French background that makes it impossible for me to tell a story without embellishing at least at little and waving my arms about wildly). I plan on drinking some strong coffee, tasting some amazing wine and finding some authentic French macarons. Stay tuned....

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Life Lessons.

I have run out of space in two closets of my house and my blazers now reside in the broom closet in the hallway. I have a rather expensive (clears throat) shoe collection that if you asked me how much it's worth, I would never tell. I bet you're wondering why I'm telling you this being that this is a blog about baking.Well, I wanted to paint a picture for you: I am not the world's most practical gal. I tend to be on the frivolous side. I like cute things, to a fault. But when it came time to finally get a stand mixer, I suddenly became Mrs. Practical.
 See, I could either choose a cute, colored stand mixer (I was eying mint green), which were the models with less jam (that means power for those of you who aren't familiar with the rural Saskatchewan terminology) or, for just a little bit of extra money, I could get the very best there was. But there was a hitch: the best is only available in black or in silver. This harkens to the days of ugly=comfy footwear (see nursing shoes, circa 1800 through to.... present....) where cute had to be sacrificed for comfortable or vise versa. But hey, we're living in the future where computers are the size of a half an egg salad sandwich and porta-potties have mirrors, sinks and hand sanatizer dispensers and good looking footwear needn't be uncomfortable (refer to shoe picture: the pair in the bottom row, far right....They are mucho comfortable. No lie. I could live in them. And frankly, they look decent). So why, I wonder, does KitchenAid assume that practicality and cuteness are mutually exclusive? But the practical Ukrainian woman in me (my Baba would be so proud except she would HATE my always visible arm tattoos which would surely provoke a "tttch, that's just disgusting") won out and I purchased the flat black, Professional 5 Plus and it is actually pretty mean looking. And I fell in love. And, miracle of miracles, it inspired simplicity and practicality in me.

For the first time since I started this little adventure, I chose not to color my macaron shells or my buttercream. The macaons you see here are in the raw. And they are quite nice looking. There is something kind of soothing about them.
The other interesting thing is that this time I really thought about what I was doing. I mean, I really thought about it. One batch makes three pans full and every time I've done this, pan #1 turns out perfect, pan #2 turns out mediocre and pan #3 is always a write off. And here's why: the baking process that i've mastered is this:
400 degrees celcius for 3 minutes then 325 degrees celcius for 4.5 minutes and finish with 250 degrees celsius for 1.5 minutes.
This works well but it has frustrated me time and time again why I can't make all three pan fulls turns out beautifully when the first pan always does.
It seems so simple now....After each pan full, turn off the oven, leave the door opened then start from scratch each pan. AND guess what? All three pans turned out perfectly. This is a revelation! And what's more, I made flavored shells for the first time; cinnamon ginger shells. And what's what's what's more is that I also got brave and experimented with the buttercream. I browned butter and, along with freshly grated nutmeg and rum extract, added that as the flavoring for the buttercream. Each and every french macaron turned out beautifully and delicious with a delicate and disciplined simplicity that I have spent my life either avoiding or bypassing.
So here I am. My beautiful new stand mixer has proven to be all I had ever hoped and more. While making mes pettites macarons, I was calm, focused and thoughtful. And it payed off. I am really not surprised. Passion for something, whether it be a career which requires a great deal of practice and skill, as well as occasional disappointment in one's self, or a hobby that makes you feel whole, I need to remind myself that such things require patience, skill, practice and the willingness the forgive yourself for your mistakes and know that you're good enough to try again. Ira Glass, you said it well: "...It's only by going through a volume of work that you will close the gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I've ever met. It's gonna take a while. It's normal to take a while. You just gotta fight your way through".
That got pretty deep, didn't it? Who knew a stand mixer would evoke this kind of reaction. Life, you are a silly backyard goat.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The Market, The Spa and The Gym

I think there might be a market theme....Last time I made a trip to the Farmer's Market to purchase French Macarons, I also had a gueule de bois (see "At The Market" entry for translation). No bother though, my raucous behaviour was rewarded: This past Saturday's trip was followed by a day at the spa with a lovely bunch of friends including a soon-to-be bride. 
The previous weekend I had been at the Market but arrived too late to get any macarons as they had been sold out for hours by the time I got there. This time around, knowing that I would not be rising at the crack of dawn since we had been out celebrating the upcoming wedding, I used my connections (my mother) to call her friend (who's sister has a vendor accross the way from my pastry dealer) to set aside a bunch to take to the spa (pastries and spa treatments? Yes please). The 16 multicolored little darlings came tucked cozily in a box, hugged by purple tissue paper. I picked them up and strolled proudly around the market checking out the other offerings. All the while, I'm certain people must have been looking enviously at me thinking "Ooo, I bet she's got something really special there". I did, damnit. I did.

Now, as I'm sure you all know, I continue to long a stand mixer. While typing this, I wandered onto a website that sells KitchenAid stand mixers in 26 different colors! I couldn't help but picture all of them nuzzled into a box surrounded by delicate tissue paper. Yeah, the box would certainly be heavier. Sure, it would have to be a pretty large box. And undoubtedly, I wouldn't need 26 stand mixers. But I couldn't help but think about the similarities between cute, dome shaped, smooth multicolored french macarons and cute, dome shaped, smooth multicolored (albeit larger) stand mixers. Sigh* 
Maybe if I hit the gym to pump up my arms so I could proudly carry that box of 26 stand mixers, the universe will reward me by letting me keep one. More likely though, the universe will send me a budget planner so I can just save up to buy one rather than continue to whine about wanting one. Double sigh*

Friday, 7 September 2012

Free Time to Have a Sip.

Oh just reading while the stand mixer does the work.
Getting in on the fun.

 Today I made a believer out of a skeptic. If you recall from my entry Macaron Hunting Abroad: Part Deux, I have a friend who's only macaron eating experience was less that magical.

On her recent trip out to my neck of the country, I made her some macarons, as I promised I would.
It didn't start out well. I didn't have enough almond flour and I spilled water into what I did have. But no bother, we just had to wait until later in the evening to get started when our almond flour request came from another town (where I live the grocery stores close early). Once we got going, there were two great things about making my macarons this time: For starters, I had been generously lent a stand mixer by another good friend, who, coincidentally is the Skeptic's sister. That's right folks, a stand mixer! How many times have I gone on about a stand mixer! I got to flip it on and walk away. It was mad! I had so much time on my hands I was able to drink wine with the Skeptic and the Stand Mixer Lender. It was just lovely.
The second great thing was that my friend the Skeptic enjoyed helping me out. She even wanted to pipe a few out but later said that she has no desire or patience to ever make these things on her own. Fair enough. Having the extra help was nice though. Thanks stand mixer and Skeptic. You both did well.
In the end, the macarons turned out beautifully, the stand mixer was all I ever hoped it would be and more and we all had stained lips and teeth from the neon blue butter cream and red wine. Once again I'm reminded that the best times in life are often spent in the kitchen surrounded by loved ones. And a little cocktail never hurts either. And yes, in case you're wondering, the Skeptic can steal a page from Prince's playbook and call herself the The Friend Formerly Known as a Skeptic.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Hunter Becomes the Hunted.

 While strolling through a really lovely hotel recently for work, looking out of place struggling with a large box full of male mannequin heads (who all look like stylish Jesuses), i was stopped in my tracks by one of the prettiest little pastry shops I've seen. This time the french macarons found me for I was not hunting for them on this trip being that it was for business (my clear and focused mind was obviously on business). They caught my eye when they winked at me. I swear to gods. Or better yet, I swear to my box full of stylish Jesuses.
I couldn't help myself. I set down the fellas and walked into Koko Patisserie, where I found some very creatively flavored, albeit dull colored french macarons. My favorite was the lemon basil. It was just tangy enough and sweet enough but with a perfect bit of peppery licorice flavor from the fresh basil.
They also had a chocolate covered macarons filled with strawberry cream (The white shell and pink filling looked a little like a ham sandwhich covered in chocolate. That would not taste good at all. These did). It was delish but a little hard to eat because the chocolate crumbled when you bit into it. They were cute enough but I really think the naked macarons are far too darling to be covered in chocolate. 
 But really, this joint had it all pretty spot on, as far as me and the Jesuses were concerned. Cute little shop, lovely display case (a far cry from the ghetto glass case pictured in my last entry from Las Vegas) and your pastries wrapped up to go in little boxes tied with blue ribbon by a good lookin' gal working the counter. And the most important part was that they tasted good! Definitely worth checking out if you're in Saskatchewan's capital city. If I get the chance to go again, I'm going to try to leave the stylish Jesuses at home. Amen.