Making marzipan for the almond prize

It’s a rainy Boxing Day in Rome, but I had a nice long walk earlier. Armed with my police declaration form, I walked around the very quiet neighborhood. No police spotted, but lots of people with strollers and dogs. We are having a very nice Christmas, all things considered. It’s hard not being home, but interesting to see Rome this time of the year. The fresh pasta shop downstairs had massive lines (socially distanced) the last days before the 25th, with time slots to collect pasta orders. They had two small refrigerated trucks to store all the orders. Trays of tortellini, ravioli, mmm…… I collected my order of two small lasagnas, on Christmas Eve morning: one with salmon, and one amatriciana (tomato, guanciale). We are technically allowed two guests a day, but are being careful, so very little socializing now and the fridge has been stuffed (as have we).

On Christmas Eve one friend came over and we had a lovely evening. Bramble gin cocktails and smoked salmon paté (super easy, great recipe from the Guardian). Then Norwegian pinnekjøtt with mushy peas, red cabbage, potatoes, Christmas-spiced meatballs and Canadian meatpies with chutney. We never even made it to dessert (riskrem) or coffee and cookies. However, yesterday we had a bracing walk and an afternoon watching “Miracle on 34th Street” and managed to make a dent in the Christmas cookies. We made shepherds pie with leftovers, and finally had the riskrem.

Traditionally many Norwegians have risengrynsgrøt (rice porridge) on Christmas Eve, served warm with cinnamon, butter and sugar. A blanched almond is hidden in the porridge, and whoever finds it wins a small marzipan pig. The cold leftover porridge is mixed with whipped cream to made riskrem for dessert the same day, served with red cherry sauce, sometimes with a new almond added and a new marzipan pig prize (there were a lot of small children to keep entertained……). Here in Italy, they grow beautiful almonds and Sicily is famous for amazing marzipan. But could I fins any marzipan in Rome? No. Well, I only tried my neighbourhood, but eight shops later I gave up and made my own marzipan. Really not that hard.

Marzipan

  • 250 gr blanched almonds
  • 250 gr icing sugar
  • 1 raw eggwhite

If you need to blanch the almonds, do it the day before so they dry. I have a small manual almond grinder but a food processor would work too. Grind the almonds once alone, then mix with the icing sugar and grind again. Keep some of the dry mix aside ad you may not need it all, that depends on the size of your eggwhite (I had maybe 1/3 cup extra, it will be used in some dessert soon.) Add the eggwhite and knead firmly until you get a smooth firm paste. Voila! Homemade marzipan!

We have some silicon sheep molds crafted by my husband, and pressed the fresh marzipan into them.

Wrap well or stick in a plastic bag) and store in fridge, invert when needed and serve to the lucky almond-finder. This made plenty of marzipan, next time I would scale it down to 100 gr almonds. But the extra marzipan is now safely stored in the freezer labeled XMAS 2020 in case I have an urgent marzipan need.

I hope you are all having a good Boxing Day!

Improvised aubergine and almond rigatoni

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Living in Rome, you might think we stroll to the market in the morning, lovingly selecting the perfect vegetables for dinner. Well, that is often true on the weekend, but weekdays I swing by the Egyptian fruttivendolo on my way home, and buy something from the cheaper section outside. One euro a kilo, slightly battered: last time I bought aubergines, to make Nigel Slater’s Grilled Eggplant with Creamed Feta. Delicious! We oven-roasted the aubergines, grilled would have been even better. Great with the feta and yoghurt. But we had lots of roasted aubergines left the next day, so what to do with it? Roll it with ricotta, bake it with cheese, hmmmm? There were also some wrinky cherry tomatoes lurking in the fridge, and I fancied pasta, so I tossed in some almonds and hoped for the best.

This is my humble Fiesta Friday 35 offering this week: a humble weeknight pasta dish, but quick to make, and tasty enough to serve friends. Thanks as always to our hosts: this week, Angie, Prudy and Naina. I already have my eye on those tasty apples pies, mmmmmm…..

Improvised aubergine and almond rigatoni
One red onion, chopped
1 tsp olive oil
250 grammes cherry tomatoes
400 grammes leftover sliced roast aubergines
50 grammed unblanched almonds
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
400 grammes rigatoni, or pasta of your choice
Optional: grated parmesan, and basil to garnish

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Put your water for pasta on the boil, and cook pasta while you prep the sauce. In another pot or pan, gently fry the chopped onion in the olive oil until it softens. Halve the cherry tomatoes, then tip them in with the onion and let them cook for a few minutes.

In the meanwhile, using a food processor (or excellent knife skills), roughly chop the almonds. Add the slices of roast aubergine to the food processor with the almonds, and chop roughly. Now, tip in the tomatoes and onion, and process until it is smoother but not enturely homogenous. You should still feel the slightly gritty almond buts. Add salt and pepper to taste. It may not look pretty, but see how you like the flavours..

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Drain pasta, ladle sauce over, and enjoy! Add parmesan if you like (we do) and basil leaf for garnish if you have some.

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Notes: I had seen a recipe for aubergine walnut pasta, with hard boiled egg yolks and tomato sauce, but was too hungry to boil eggs as well. I would have added sage, but the sage on our balcony died in the August heat and has not yet been replaced. With in-laws arriving in two weeks, reviving the balcony boxes is a project for this weekend. That, making sure we have enough tea bags to make endless cups of builder’s tea, and scrubbing the kitchen. “They will not mind!” says my husband, but I do. You could make this with less tomatoes and add olive oil, but we wanted to keep this light. More fresh basil could be nice too. A great weekend to all!
Fiesta Friday

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