French Macarons : Need I say more?

If I am to name one thing that I miss about Paris, it has to be the petite macarons. Every patisserie in Paris, big or small had tons of these dainty little colorful cream filled cookies. I was (am!) crazy about them. Most evenings while walking back from le Cordon Bleu school, I would hop into a Laudree or Pierre Hermé, and get one single macaron. Come out, sit on bench and relish that almondy ganache filled cookie before going home.

Now the French Macarons (pronounced mah-kah-ROHN) are different from the Coconut Macaroons. Both names are derived from Italian maccarone or maccherone meaning ‘paste’, referring to the original almond paste ingredient. But the final outcome is vastly different. The french macarons are elusive, and I was told that many a Parisians also did not know how to make the perfect macaron. In most elite patisseries, the macarons are made from a centuries old recipe. But the sandwiched macarons as we know now, have supposedly been invented by Pierre Desfontaines Ladurée, who, at the beginning of the 20th  century, had the idea to join two meringues and fill them with ganache.

The first time I tried a small batch of these macarons, I had very little faith in myself. I was sure that they might taste okay (its almond powder, sugar and egg whites, what’s not to taste good?) but they would not be photogenic at all. So I did not take any pictures. Duh. But then, just a few weeks later, I had to make them again. I just had to.

And here they are:

Macarons on top

These are still not perfect. But technically, they are there. Smooth tops, crinkled feet, a lovely pastel color and a generous amount of white chocolate ganache. What more do you need?

Now, it is not as complicated as people make it to be, but it is not very simple either. It takes some pre-planning, some sitting around time, and a lot of bend-over-the-workspace time as you pipe little rounds of the macaron shells by the dozen.

I studied the Pierre Herme macaron book and several other websites for a long time before I decided to use one recipe for Pierre Herme’s book Macarons.

One macaron

I will list out a few commandments for making these macarons. They are not exhaustive and every time I will be adding some more notes and tips and dos and donts. If you find any important must-dos, let me know in the comments section.

  1. The separated egg whites used to make the macaron shells have to be carefully separated, and should not contain any part of the fatty yolk, which makes whipping the egg-whites difficult.
  2. It is essential to use “liquified” egg-whites. Liquified egg-whites are those which have been sitting in the refrigerator for a week, so they lose their elasticity.
  3. To get perfect round shapes, you can make a stencil on a parchment paper with shot glasses and use that stencil underneath another parchment paper for piping the shells.
  4. I grind my almonds at home to make almond powder, and in that way I can use the best almonds and sieve it a couple of times to obtain a very smooth consistency. No crumbs at all.
  5. An electronic thermometer is essential, because the sugar syrup has to be cooked to a specific temperature and then whisked again with the egg whites till it cools down to a particular temperature. Any over-heating or over-cooling will disturb the macarons perfect texture.
  6. Sugar plays a crucial role in the meringue. If you decrease the sugar, the meringue will lose its stability.
  7. After piping the macaron shells, tap the baking tray on a towel on a kitchen counter, so that the top flattens out and all air bubbles are released. Then you have to let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, until a skin forms on the surface. The batter shouldn’t stick to your finger.
  8. The shells have to be baked for 12 minutes in a convection oven (the one with a  fan), briefly opening and shutting the oven door twice to let out the steam. Open the door first time at eight minutes (at that time the ‘foot’ of the shells will be cooked) then a second time after 10 minutes.
  9. The baked shells have to be carefully unstuck from the baking sheet, because they are quite fragile. You can use an offset spatula to gently nudge the shell.
  10. After filling the macarons whith ganache, they should be kept in the fridge for 24 hours to let the ganache/buttercream set in. Or the macaron feels very dry and crumbly. And they have to be best eaten at room temperature, an hour after taking them out.

Collage of steps of macaron

 

Rose Macarons

Makes about 72 macarons, 144 shells.

What you will need:

For the macaron shells :

  • 300 gm ground almonds
  • 300 gm icing sugar
  • 110gm liquefied egg whites
  • About 5 gm red food coloring
  • 300 gm caster sugar
  • 75 gm water
  • 110 gm liquefied egg whites

For the ganache :

  • 200 gm white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 150 gm fresh cream

What to do :

  1. A week before making macarons, separate egg whites from egg yolks. For this recipe you will need about 8-10 eggs. Separate the egg whites, place them in a tight lid glass bottle, and keep it aside in the refrigerator for a week. This will liquefy the egg whites. (See commandment above)
  2. On the day of making macarons or one day prior, finely grind almonds and sieve them a couple of times to get a smoother consistency without any crumbs. I like the nutty flavor and hence use un-blanced almonds, but you can very well use blanched almonds.
  3. Then once again sift together icing sugar and ground almonds.
  4. Stir the food coloring into first portion of liquefied egg whites
  5. Pour them into the bowl of icing sugar and ground almonds but do not stir.
  6. Bring the sugar and water to a boil at 118C. When the syrup reaches 115C, simultaneously start whisking the second portion of liquefied egg whites to soft peaks. (Take help if available.)
  7. When the sugar reaches 118C, pour it over the egg-whites. Whisk and allow the meringue to cool down to 50C. Then fold it well in the mixture of ground almonds and icing sugar.
  8. Now spoon the batter into a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle. Be careful that there are no air bubbles getting trapped while filling the bag.
  9. Pipe rounds of batter about 3.5 cm in diameter, 2 cm apart on baking trays lined with baking parchment paper. It is essential for air to circulate from all sides of the macaron shell, and hence space them considerably. You can use the stencil made with a shot glass as a measure.
  10. Leave the piped shells to stand for 30 minutes until a skin forms on the surface.
  11. Meanwhile, preheat the fan oven to 180C. Put the baking tray in the oven and bake for 12 minutes, briefly opening and shutting, twice. (See commandment)
  12. Take the baking tray out and slide the baking parchment on to a work surface, or it will continue cooking further on the tray, which we don’t want.
  13. Put in the other tray to bake and continue doing so till all the shells are made. Once fully cooled, release the shells from the baking paper with a slight nudge with a spatula. (Careful, they are still fragile.)
  14. Take chopped white chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream and switch off the heat just when it starts to boil. Pour the cream on white chocolate, let it rest for 2 minutes and then whisk to form a smooth ganache.
  15. Spoon the ganache in a piping bag and pipe a generous mound of ganache on half the shells. Top with remaining shells, and keep in fridge for 24 hours.
  16. Remove and let it sit at room temperature for minimum one hour, before serving or eating.

Rose Macarons

Notes :

  1. Macarons are a bit time-consuming, but not difficult. And the joy of having made them at home is enormous. Try it, and everybody around you will be super impressed.
  2. These little things improve every time you practice. I sure did crack a few macaron shells,  one batch got burnt, one batch was undercooked and some macarons totally browned on top. you have to know your oven and keep practicing to get the perfect shell. Also, this recipe can be easily halved.
  3. The flavor combinations are tremendous and only sky is really the limit.

 

O mother, it’s mothers day again!

I am almost glad Mothers Day is over. I have failed to understand the hype over it. I am always good to my mom, and have been ever since I remember. Sure, as a teenage girl, I had my share of fights with her, but then they didn’t particularly cease on Mothers day. And plus they were circumstantial fights, and not conceptual ones, so by and large we have been very good to each other.

But come Mothers day and the anticipation of what you are going to do, or literally the social media competition of who is doing the crazy what reaches such a stage that it gets nauseating. Photos of people as kids with their moms, which are hardly recognizable to us who know them only once they are full-grown adults, or typical photos of girls pouting on their wedding day with their mom in tow, starts doing the rounds. Come on, give it a break!

As kids I remember, because my friends and their friends were doing it, we used to get a card for mom on Mother’s day, and of course one for dad on Fathers day. Typically, my mom would look at it, read if there was any handwritten message, smile, give us a hug (which she would do anyway) and go back to preparing the next meal or ask us about homework. That’s it. That’s how spectacular an effect that card had on her. But eventually and finally I realized that I don’t need this drama of a special day because I can get a hug from her anytime, I can keep my head on her lap and cry as long as I want. Anytime. And if I had done something wrong, and she wanted to be mad at me or scold me, she would give two hoots about it being mothers/daughters/parents/birthday/dont-shout/take-it-easy or any other god-sent day.

Parenting is a full-time job which doesn’t stop on any day. Ans similarly kids have to be naughty, mischievous but still responsible and nice to her, dad, grandparents, brother, sister, the dog, cat, plants and every body else as much as possible and at all times. It’s not different on any  A-day, a B-day or a C-day. It’s just Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, so on and so forth.

And hence in retaliation and partly because of the enormous pressure of having done something, I let the mothers’ day pass. And let a sigh of relief.

Needless to say, me and my mom do the mother-daughter things all the time. We have taken vacations together – just the two of us, we go shopping, watch a movie, I go to her house to have a scrumptious meal at least once a week, I always get her favourite bitter chocolate bar whenever I go somewhere, we fight, we squabble, we hug, we cry, we discuss, bitch, talk, and in short we are us. For each other, and for ourselves, carrying a part of the other in our hearts.

Sometimes I think it is easier for guys. My husband hasn’t wished his mom a Happy mothers day, and there ain’t even a need to do so. He did exclaim ‘Ah, its mothers day’ and he and his mom, and me and all of us went on doing our regular business as usual. She made his favorite lentil soup, and my favourite paav-bhaji, we all had lunch, cleaned the tables and went off to take a Sunday nap. It was that easy and that peaceful. Special yes, very special, but in an everyday kind of away. In the evening we all played some carom, but we do it often without any special day signs and balloons plastered all over.

And I am sure, when I have kids, I am going to make it clear to them that no amount of bribery in the form of cards, letters, chocolates, balloons or whatever is going to spare them from eating vegetables, or doing homework or simply being kind to anyone , on any day, be it on here or on the moon.

Ah. Never-mind, to close on a positive non-cynical note and because this is rare phenomenon captured on camera of 5 generations of us , I am sharing this photo with a big, bright, colorful Happy Mother’s Day to you all. And that’s practically each and every day. Cheers.

(Seen here in the photo from right is my mom, her mom, her mom, and her mom, with me as a baby. Ages 90-70-49-22 and 3 months).5 generations Snd


On that occassion, presenting here a Chocolate mud cake, chocolate being my mom’s favourite, but no, I did not make it for the day, I made it because I knew she would like it. Any day.

Chocolate mud cake

I got this recipe from my friend Charlene who makes some awesome chocolates, who got it from her friend and was kind enough to share a tried and tested mud cake recipe. This recipe makes an 8-inch cake and like its name, it is super chocolaty and yum.

Chocolate Mud Cake

What you will need:

  • 140 gms dark chocolate
  • 140 gms salted butter
  • a pinch of salt if using unsalted butter
  • 215 gms castor sugar
  • 140 gms flour
  • 11.5 gms baking powder
  • 15.5 gms unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 225 ml warm water
  • 2 eggs

For ganache :

  • 100 gms dark chocolate, chopped
  • 100 gms fresh cream

What to do :

  1. Pre-heat oven to 160C.
  2. Melt chocolate and butter over double boiler or in a  microwave in short bursts, whisk to combine.
  3. Sieve flour, baking powder and cocoa.
  4. Add sugar to the dry mixture.
  5. Add water to the flour mixture and mix till smooth.
  6. To this add the molten chocolate and butter mixture.
  7. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk eggs. Add it to the chocolate mixture. Whisk till combined.
  8. Grease and line 8 inch round or square pan and pour the prepared batter in the pan.
  9. Bake at 160C for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or till knife comes out clean when inserted.
  10. For ganache, take chopped chocolate pieces in a heatproof bowl.
  11. Heat the fresh cream, pour it over chopped chocolate, cover for 2 minutes and then whisk to form a smooth ganache.
  12. Once the cake is baked, let it cool completely before pouring the ganache over the cake.
  13. Cut, serve and eat.

Piece of chocolate mud cake

Notes:

  1. This is a fairly simple cake that can be whipped up very easily. Be careful while baking as the dark chocolate color can be misleading. Do not overbake.
  2. If while pouring the ganache it has cooled down, slightly heat it in a microwave or spread the cooled ganache over the cake with a spatula.

 

Orange Chocolate chip loaf cake – robust and simple as life mostly is.

There are moments when I terribly miss Paris. The omnipresent Eiffel tower, the sunset over the Seine, the fancy-dressed musicians on the streets, colorful pavlovas dotting the patisseries, tiny little espressos, copper pots clinging to the walls, demure little macaroons, the flea markets, Rodin’s Thinker, carefully curated gardens, the morning vegetable markets, foie grass, carousels and all, but most importantly Danielle, my host in Paris and now my friend.

It was partly because of Danielle, a friend of my dear friend, that my Paris dream came true. I remember the first time I met her, on the bus stop where I was waiting for her to pick me up. I always thought Parisian women are very snooty (and believe me they are), but Danielle looked very kind and warm. She willingly took me to her beautiful apartment and instantly I knew that this month in paris, her home and she, will be a cherished part of my life for years to come.

I miss that 71-year-old, young friend of mine very dearly. At-least once a day, I catch myself remembering something she said, or something around her house, or the French potato gratin she made on my first day in Paris. Sometimes the wine bottle sitting on my shelf makes me think of her so much that I have a temptation to pour a little in a glass and swirl it to check its notes. Or simply make a creamy fish like she did and may be the aroma of the cream being baked will make me feel close to her.

Her bedroom, the room which she gave me generously for a month, was idyllic, like those you see on Pinterest. White French windows with pink and violet flowers in the balcony and the room full of books. How fervently I hoped I could read French, those books were alluring. And Danielle, whose daughter in law is from Kolkatta, and who visits India every year had very cleverly used cotton sarees as in-house curtains. Simple, yet so elegant.

The day before I started school in Le Cordon Bleu, she carefully showed me the way to school, which metro to take, which exit to walk out of, and all in English because I hardly understood French. Oh how it tired her, the act of thinking in French, translating and then talking in English. But we had some great conversations. I always used to look forward to having breakfast or lunch with her, and talking about the oddities of life, the dreams, hopes, desires, tales of cruising along through life and its myriad colorful lanes. How she would say Oh là là when she remembered a sweet thing, and how her eyes would go silent when talking of something estranged. Oh I miss her voice, her pause when she is remembering an english word, her acceptance of reality, her zest to help an older 85-year-old lady staying upstairs, her caramelised leek roast-  the way her mom made it, the opera music filling the room when she knitted, and oh, simply her presence. I miss all of it so bad that I have to exhale deeply to empty my heart of the longing to see her.

Danielle invited me to her book club meetings, took me out for a classic French dinner, invited her friends and family so that I could meet them, showed me photos of her in her young days, took me around Paris, we even went for a Bollywood movie, and patiently listened to my tales from patisserie school every day and ensured that I don’t feel home-sick. And she did it all with such finesse that it never felt that she was intruding in my life, but was always solidly present.

All through the day I could go waltzing around Paris or be in the school for 9 hours, because I knew I would have company at night, someone to report the events of the day before going to sleep. Someone to pull me out of trouble if I get into one, while in Paris. Someone to look after me when I was an ocean away from home and someone to simply ask me how was my day or if I had proper dinner.

Five weeks later, when it was time to leave, she came to drop me off at the bus station and while bidding goodbye, a silent lonesome tear trickled down my face. Not a sad tear but a thankful, indebted one. And her parting words to me , the ones that got etched in my mind were “Thank you, you were kind to me.” It was the simplest, least dramatic but very emotional good-bye which was more of a see-you soon than a farewell. It was the beginning. Of a new friendship. Of a new me.


Today I will share with you all a simple go-to chocolate chip pound cake recipe. It can be baked in an hour and sometimes all you need is an uncomplicated chocolate flavor, with a hint of orange. Nothing fancy and assuming, but something robust yet tender, like a grandma’s wholesome cake.

Chocolate chip cake with oranges

Orange Chocolate Chip pound cake

What you will need:

  • 240 gm all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 225 gm salted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (only if using unsalted butter)
  • 200 gm granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
  • 2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

What to do :

  1. Pre-heat oven to 175C. Generously butter a 9*5 inch loaf pan.
  2. Whisk together flour and baking powder to mix evenly and break any clumps.
  3. Beat sugar and butter till pale in color.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time till fully incorporated. Add orange zest.
  5. Fold in the dry ingredients with a spatula, taking care to not over-mix.
  6. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  7. Spoon the batter in the prepared pan and level it with the spatula.
  8. Bake for 40-60 minutes till a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  9. Once baked, let it rest for 15 minutes before removing from pan and transferring to a cooling rack.
  10. Serve with fresh orange pulp , drizzled with some chocolate syrup.

Orange chocolate chip cake

Notes :

  • Resist the temptation to cut into the cake till it has considerably cooled down, or it has a tendency to crumble when hot.
  • The orange zest can be substituted with vanilla extract/ vanilla essence, but I highly recommend orange zest.