Mango Macarons and How I went to Cordon Bleu

There is a very talented Facebook page called the Home Bakers Guild, and for the next four Tuesdays I am the Blogger of The month. Each tuesday, I will post a new recipe and boy, I am working on a deadline for the first time.

My theme for the next four Tuesdays will be – “Tropical French Cooking – Classic French recipes with mangoes”. Those recipes which we learnt in Le Cordon Bleu, Paris and I adapted them to include mangoes. Our best thing of the summers.

A little about how I went to Cordon Bleu:

So I started baking 4 years back, a little after I got married, and then a year later I started harbouring dreams of going to a culinary school. I researched and read and talked to a few people and but of-course Le Cordon Bleu and Paris grabbed my attention and made a little home in my heart. But I am a working Chartered Accountant, and I had no idea how I would manage the three month courses. So I whiled away some time. Then husband and I started thinking of a baby (although, it was me who was struck by the I-want-a-baby syndrome at first). So a baby meant I bid farewell to my Paris dreams, atleast for a good 3-4 years. I had been talking to one Mr. Abhishek, who is the LCB representative in India. He gently kept reminding me of the deadlines of application. But I had to make a choice. Starting a family and having a baby or going to LCB and postponing baby plans by a year. I was 27. Time was running out. I made the choice. Lets have a baby (or two) before we are 30.

Then came the twist in the tale. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and the doctor advised to put baby plans on hold for a couple of months. When she said that, the first thing that came to my mind was, ‘Now I can go to Cordon Bleu’. 🙂 Like Paulo Coelho said in the Alchemist, when you want something badly, the universe conspires for you to get it. And that came true for me.

Immediately I started planning for a sabbatical. I decided to do the intensive Basic Patisserie course, of 5 weeks. I applied, waited with bated breath and did a little dance when I was admitted. Now, funds had to be arranged, leave had to be taken, visa had to be applied for; and I had exactly 2 months before the course began. And I did not speak a word of French.

In a frenzy, I started all the preparations. I was buzzing with energy, making a hundred to-do lists and learning some French in the evenings. And as the day neared, I felt very nervous. I hadn’t stayed without my husband for more than 2 weeks and it was always he who used to travel. While I used to be at home. This time I was going to go for six weeks, and I had never travelled out of the country alone. Yes, I was wary, but deep in my heart I knew I had to go.

And what a blast I had! In the school as well as in the adorable city of Paris.

Now I have a little baby and going back to school for doing Intermediary and Superior Courses seems out of question. But just the other day, Abhishek told me that the biggest campus of LCB in the world is soon opening in Paris in 2016. My heart has again started to flutter. Who knows? 😉

For all those of you reading this post and wanting to know more about LCB, the curriculum, schedule, where to stay, what to expect etc , stay tuned. I will write in detail everything you want to know.

And then ofcourse you can ask questions.

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Mango macarons in a box

And with that I am be posting a recipe of Macarons. Now there are two basic techniques of making macaroons. One is the Italian Meringue (IM) method and the other is French meringue (FM) method. The former is a bit technical and cumbersome. It requires a candy thermometer to cook sugar syrup to a certain degree and then pour it into the eggwhites. Pierre herme uses this technique and also requires the egg whites to be aged for a week.

Mango Macaron held in hand

The second one, the French Meringue technique is fairly simple and can be whipped up effortlessly, with very brilliant results. And I felt that this technique yields macaron shells with a much lighter texture. Plus its easy! These macarons which are sold in Paris at 2 euros per macaron, can be very well made by you at home. Voila!

Macaron shells and filled macarons

Mango Macarons 

What you will need :

  • 75 gm egg whites (from about 2-3 eggs)
  • 100 gm caster sugar
  • 100 gm whole almonds
  • 100 powdered sugar

Filling :

I used mango jam for the filling here, but any buttercream or even pastry cream will go very well.

What to do :

  1. Preheat oven to 150C preferably in convection mode (fan on).
  2. Grind whole almonds (with the skin) and sift it twice to ensure a smooth powder.
  3. Combine powdered sugar with almond powder and again sift it once to ensure there are no lumps.
  4. Now put egg whites in a bowl. Beat them with an electric mixer to medium peaks.
  5. Add caster sugar slowly while beating the egg whites and whisk to stiff glossy peaks.
  6. Add desired color. I added a a few drops of yellow + a few drops of red.
  7. Now sift the almond powder and sugar mixture into the meringue.
  8. Fold it in with a rubber spatula. If you leave the batter for 30 seconds, the contours formed from mixing should even out.
  9. Now cover a baking tray with parchment paper or silpat.
  10. Add the batter to a piping bag fitted with a 10-12 round nozzle.
  11. Pipe small amounts of batter on the sheet. leave it on the countertop for a couple of minutes.
  12. Then bake for 12-15 minutes. Open the oven door one after 6-7 minutes so that any trapped humidity is let out.
  13. Once baked take the parchment paper or the silpat off the baking tray and let it cool for a couple of minutes on the paper. Then with  spatula ease it off the paper.
  14. Fill in mango jam sandwiched between two macaron shells.

Notes :

  • The color in egg whites is suggestive of the filling. So since I used mango jam as a filling, I have used yellow + red color combination.
  • Macarons lighten in color as they bake. So use a little more color in the batter.
  • Do not open the oven door anytime before 6-7 minutes or the “feet” of the macaron will collapse.

Macarons on a plate

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.

 

Crunchy Nutty Energy bars

Energy bars

Energy packed granola bars. Healthy and homemade.

Last 2 weeks have been really hectic. Coming back after a vacation, there were atleast 50 items (I am not kidding!) on my to-do list. And in addition to that my mom and younger brother were simultaneously diagnosed with dengue fever and admitted to hospital for a week. That meant several trips and constant juggling between the hospital, home and office. Thankfully all were in 2 km radius and with some excellent help from my mom-in-law we managed the show.

It was a tough time, especially when mom – the glue that holds everything together, the peace and sanctity of our lives, is unwell. Normally I would complain to her when I am stressed out and thus feel better, but how do I complain to her when she is herself not well?!  Anyway, all of that is behind us now, and everyone is back to being healthy. (Touch the wooden desk. Tak tak.)

Now about the energy bars. Oat-y, almondy, delicious energy bars.

My mom-&-dad-in-law just went on high altitude trek called the Great lakes of Kashmir. Being on the trek for a total ten days, they needed a high protein long lasting snack. At age 56 and 61, they are very health conscious and fit. Both swear by an oats breakfast and everything natural.

The granola bars or cereal bars are gaining increasing popularity, especially since there is no or very little sugar in them. Honey and dates add a eclectic sweet taste to it, and the sweetness can be easily varied depending on taste. These energy bars were a mixture of things readily available in my kitchen. Based on a simple formula for achieving the crunchy yet held-together consistency, the ingredients can be happily changed and twisted.

Adapted from Brown eyed baker

Yield : 10-12 4inch bars Time : 40 mins

You will need :

  • 2 cups ready-to-eat oats
  • 1 cup chopped almonds
  • 1 cup mixture of raisins + chopped dried figs + chopped apricots
  • 1 cup pureéd dates
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1/3 to 3/4 cup honey
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract

Energy bar sideways

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