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*