Making vanilla macarons

Macarons

I had a big French exam this summer, and with increasing revision fatigue, decided that making macarons in French must be a good exam prep strategy. I had never made them, but do enjoy eating them, so pourquoi pas? I was baking from a French recipe, which was great. Less easy: the impact of the heat and humidity (la chaleur et l’humidité) of a Roman summer kitchen on the final macarons. But I did have fun making these, improved my French baking vocabulary, and even managed to talk about macarons at the oral exam.

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Recipe source: Macarons faciles (Ducasse, Serveau 2014). Lovely little ebook, free Kindle version, with 11 recipes and very detailed photographs and descriptions. If you dream about pastry school in Paris, you will enjoy it. Fouettez le beurre! Whisk the butter! When can I work THAT into a conversation?

Vanilla macarons

Coques vanille (the shells):
110 gr de poudre d’amandes (powdered almonds)
225 gr de sucre glace (icing sugar)
120 gr de blancs d’oefs (le blanc de 3-4 oeufs moyen) (eggwhites)
50 gr de sucre semoule (plain white granulated sugar)
1/2 gousse de vanille (half a vanilla pod)

Crème au beurre vanille (vanilla buttercream):
125 gr de crème au beurre nature (plain buttercream, see recipe below)
1/2 cuillerée à café de vanille (half tsp vanilla extract)

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Pour préparer une crème au beurre (makes twice what you need: keep extra buttercream in fridge)
125 de beurre mou (soft butter)
1 oefs entier + 2 jaunes (1 whole egg and two yolks)
88 gr de sucre semoule (granulated sugar)
25 gr d’eau (water)

Neige ferme
Eggwhites beaten to neige ferme: firm snow. This is for the shells. Mix ground almonds and icing sugar, and mix them them for two minutes in a food processor, to achieve a more powdery consistency. Sieve this. Separate eggs, and whisk 120 grammes of eggwhites stiff, adding granulated sugar little by little. Then add sieved almond/ icing sugar mix, and fold this in with la maryse, a spatula. (I confess, I tipped in the coarse almond bits as well.) Scrape vanilla seeds from pod, and stir well until you have a shiny, supple and liquid mix. Spoon this into la pouche a douille (a pastry bag).

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I piped these out by hand, and then left them to develop le croutage (slightly dry top, so they do not stick when you touch them) before baking. About an hour, room temperature. You can slam the trays on the table to get the air bubbles out.

In the interim, make buttercream. Whip the soft butter, yes: Fouettez le beurre!   Whisk the egg and two egg yolks. In a casserole, heat the sugar and water to 121C (I had a thermometer to check), then remove from heat. When it is at 110C, whisk the hot sugar and water into the egg yolks, and beat until mixture is tepid, five minutes or so. Now, add butter and fouettez this until smooth. Add vanilla extract. Cool in fridge, if your kitchen is hot.

Then bake the shells 12 minutes at 150C, turning the tray around halfway through the baking time.
CroutageAfter baking: leave to cool, then remove carefully (lift from below with spatula or such) and move to rack, upside down. Spoon buttercream into pastry bag when ready to garnish the shells. Pipe buttercream on the flat inside, and sandwich with another half shell. Cool carefully in fridge. Not perfect, but not as difficult as I thought. Voila! My first macarons! And I passed the French exam!

These are thus my contribution to Fiesta Friday 34: sweet little vanilla macarons to share. I am off to browse dishes and mingle. Many thanks to the hosts Angie, Selma and Elaine!

Fiesta Friday

Notes: this was meant to make 70 coques, so 35 macarons. Mine were piped out free-form so sizes varied, maybe 30 final macarons? Surprisingly easy though! They still had air bubbles in them, I should have slammed the trays more to banish those.  Excellent texture though.

I was rather traumatised by the very runny buttercream; even after two hours in the fridge, it was a little too runny. Next time, I will make it earlier. However, we popped the leftover macarons in the fridge and tasted them again for dessert, and they were GREAT by then. Crisp exterior, light interior, and cold buttercream for a sweet firm centre. Maybe they needed a little time to meld (de fusionner). Very sweet, of course, so I might try a tart jam filling next time. But for a first attempt, I was very happy.

Vanilla macarons

Oatmeal bread with cracked wheat

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It is 15 September, and schools started today after the summer. Waiting for the bus, I was passed by parents with immaculately dressed children, pulling shiny new trolley backpacks. It is still warm, but summer clothes are on the wane, at least in our neighbourhood. Women are wearing more black, definitely less pastels, but with tiny chic sweaters, or little scarves draped against the morning chill (19C). There was also a small bus strike today, so things are back to normal. The next strike, announced for 1 October, will be more noticeable – unless the weather forecast is really bad, in which case the strike may be postponed. Always an adventure!

Anyway, back to bread. I had great intentions of reviving my sourdough starter this weekend, but Sunday arrived, with no progress. My sourdough starter has been abandoned in the fridge since mid-August. We got home late after trying a new pizzeria (Pizzeria Ostiense, with piazzaioli who used to work at Da Remo in Testaccio – excellent thin Roman pizza both places) and I simply forgot….. So I made Nigella’s Ricotta Hotcakes for Sunday breakfast, and baked this loaf instead, slightly impromptu.

September oatmeal bread with cracked wheat

First:
50 grammes oatmeal
50 grammes cracked wheat
50 grammes golden flax seeds
150 ml boiling water

300 grammes white wheat flour (I used 00)
140 grammes whole wheat flour
60 grammes rye flour
(Alternately, just use 200 grammes wholewheat flour)
2 tsp dry yeast (10 grammes or so)
400 grammes water
8 grammes salt

Pour boiling water over the cracked wheat, oatmeal and flax seeds. I use golden flax seeds, but regular brown ones would be great here too. Soak for an hour or so. Alternately soak this all the night before in cold water, if you are a bit more organized. I was not.

Now, add dried yeast and salt and water. Mix well, then add salt. Leave to rest ten minutes, then fold dough. Leave to rise for an hour or two, depending on your kitchen temperature. It is 27C here midday, so it was quick. Fold again, and shape dough. Move it to a banneton, covered (I used baking parchment in the banneton, with a plastic shower cap to cover it. Leave to rise for 1-2 hours, until it has risen nicely.
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Pre-heat oven to 230C. Slash the top of the dough, 4-5 cuts, and lift the dough over to a shallow baking tin. It is a sticky dough. Bake 45 min or so, uncovered, until the loaf looks golden brown and done. Remove from oven and cool before slicing.

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Notes: This was proofed a bit too long, as I had to wait for the washing machine to finish before turning the oven on. Oh, the joys of Roman electricity…. It is like rock, paper, scissors, but with washing machine, dishwasher, oven, iron ….. And the electric kettle trumps everything. Two of anything, and the fuse blows. We are used to running everything in sequence. Still, the bread was tasty, though not the prettiest loaf, and very good for sandwiches. I might try this again in small loaf tins. And I WILL feed my starter soon!

Sesame-crusted tofu with roast vegetables

Sesame crusted roast veg After holidays in Norway (excellent), it was great to be back in Rome, walk by the fruit and veg corner and restock the fridge. Shiny dark purple aubergines, elongated gnarled bell peppers, crisp zucchini, some slightly sticky plums… Oh yes, I bought it all. Not to mention grapes, pears and salad. Once I got home, there was not quite room for it all, despite now having 1.5 fridges. Well, ths little fridge is full of wine, pickled herring and pecorino cheese from Pienza, which could not be easily consumed. So we sliced up some vegetables and roasted them, and topped them with crunchy sesame tofu and fragrant basil. Hey presto: dinner! Vaguely healthy, but more importantly: tasty, so I am bringing a heaping platter of this to Fiesta Friday 33! Many thanks to the gracious hosts: Angie, Andresa and Sylvia!

Sesame-crusted tofu with roast vegetables
1-2 aubergines
3-4 zucchini
1 bellpepper
Handful of leftover cherry tomatoes
(Or any other roastable veg you have)
Small pinch of salt
3-4 tbs olive oil
200 grammes of firm tofu
4 tbs sesame seeds
For serving: handful of fresh basil

imageHeat your oven to 230C or so. Slice the vegetables (lengthwise for the zucchini), lay them out on foil-lined baking trays and drizzle oil over. Just a pinch of salt as well. As I discovered by omission, a little oil beneath the veg would have helped them not stick…. I turned the veg after some minutes, until they were all nicely roasted but still holding their shape. You can take them out of the oven and set them aside for a bit, if needed.

In the interim I drained the tofu, and cut little sticks which I blotted with kitchen roll to dry. A third oven tray was prepared with foil, and I laid all the tofu sticks out on that. Then I brushed them with a smidgeon of olive oil, and dropped sesame seeds across the tray.  I had seen something like this in a Donna Hay recipe (such chic styling!) and mine looked absolutely nothing like hers. Still, I popped the sesame tofu bits in the oven under the grill (high top heat in oven) for a few minutes until they went crispy and golden. It burns in no time, so best to keep a close eye.
Sesame crusted roast vegPeel the roast veg off the foil, heap a platter. Distribute the hot crunchy sesame tofu over the vegetables, and top with some chopped fresh basil if you have some.

Fiesta Friday
I have been so looking forward to Fiesta Friday. I need some inspiration for what to cook: it is still warm and muggy here, too early for stews and soups but I am not sure what I fancy eating either. Thanks in advance for all the amazing Fiesta Friday offerings!