Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Macarons in Poitou Charentes, France

La Rochelle
This seaside fort that is hundreds of years old has a massive cylindrical-shaped tower surrounded by a long wall, that gives a medieval ambience to shops that are not too far away. Together with the ile of Re, it was a stronghold that protected France, even during world war II, when the city was a submarine base.

In a bakery at La Rochelle, I recall finding a variety of flavored macarons. Not just food-colored macarons with varied jelly fillings, but different flavored macarons that came with flavored buttercream or ganache fillings. They had not only almond, chocolate, pistachio, and macarons; they also had bluegrass, jasmine, lavender, and rose. There is something scintillating about finding flavors that you don't expect in your dessert; not to mention finding flavors that you didn't even know were edible.
History of the Macaron
Near La Rochelle, in Montmorillon (Poitou-Charentes region), there is a museum dedicated to almonds and macarons, one of the towns where one of the earliest versions of macarons were first made since 1673, after the first non-sweet macaron shells (similar to amaretti cookies) were brought by the Medicis from Italy in 1611. The words macaron and macaroni mean "fine paste".
Almonds, the main raw material included in this delicacy, were first taken to Vienna from the Middle East.
La Duree in Paris, however, is the first place that made the modern version of the macaron, in the beginning of the 20th century. Pierre Desfontaines, a relative of the owner, placed ganache (melted chocolate with whipping cream) in between two macaron shells.
Other towns and regions reknowned for their macaron cookies, which are all differ quite a bit: Amiens, Le Dorat, Sault, Cormery, Joyeuse, Chartres, Nancy, Boulay, Saint-Emilion and Sainte-Croix.

My second Macaron Wreck, consisting of cracked shells.

Pierre Herme Recipe (adapted instructions and quantities) from Secrets Gourmands
140 grams of almond flour
240 grams powdered sugar
100 g egg whites, at room temperature
pinch of salt

Age egg whites for 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator, in a container that is loosely covered with aluminum foil. If you will make your own almond flour, loosely weigh the almonds, then blanche them (place the almonds in skins in boiling water for 2 minutes, then remove them) so that you can easily remove the skins. Once the skins have been peeled, let the almonds dry. Then you may place them in a coffee grinder, on the finest grinding setting. Grind the almonds, then sift the meal. Use only the almond flour that has gone through the sifter.
Sift the almond flour and powdered sugar, and place in a bowl. Beat the aged egg whites separately, then add them to the dry mixture. Beat at least fifty times.
Pour the beaten egg whites onto your almond flour mixture and gently fold them in, using a rubber spatula. Move your spatula from the bottom of the bowl to the edges with one hand, using your other hand to rotate the bowl. Watch a video to get a clear idea: 
Now hit the spatula against the rim of the bowl until the batter falls in a wide ribbon when you raise the spatula. When you can´t see any crumbs of almond flour and the mixture is shiny and flowing, the batter is ready.
Place your batter in a pastry bag, and add a number 12 tip. Squeeze the bag in a 90 degree angle onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, that has the 2.5 inch macaron-patterned-printout underneath. If you prefer a smaller sized macaron, choose the 2 centimeter macaron pattern. It was surprising that one of the black and white patterns I found online was so pretty and elegant that it was perfect for putting me in the right mood for piping.
When you're squeezing, don't move it; just let the batter puff up around it, until the circle you see underneath the paper is full. Then shake the pan delicately sideways, against the tabletop, holding the paper in place with your thumbs,  until the tips on top of the batter rounds disappear. If necessary, poke them delicately with a spatula to get rid of them. Preheat the oven to 325 F. TIP: Let the macarons rest for 30 minutes.

TIP: Place the cookie sheet on top of another cookie sheet, and insert the pair in the oven. (TIP:) Insert a wooden spoon between the door and the rest of the stove. Bake for 14 minutes, and test; if it is necessary, leave it longer, until it is cooked. TIP: After you take them out of the oven, cool for 2 minutes before peeling them off.

Macaron shell wrecks


Chocolate Ganache
8 oz. semisweet chocolate
4 oz. whipping cream
Melt chocolate for 30 seconds in a bowl in the microwave, then stir. and add whipping cream.

TIP:Once you place the filling in between the shells, you can let the pastry wait for 1 or two days in the refrigerator until it has the right texture (some say it is a marriage of flavors).

Upcoming posts

Salted Caramels from France (Ile de Re)
Milk Candy from Antigua Guatemala


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Creme Papaia from Brazil

Waiters swiftly swirled platters around my table, placing slices of different cuts of meat on my plate. Their visits were constant and seemingly endless, and even educational--I had not been introduced, I thought, to so many different types of meat--and certainly not in that fashion. At times, they brought large chunks of meat on a skewer, and then sliced off very thin pieces with large, sharp knives. When I was full, I turned over a card that said "No more, thanks".
I was in a Brazilian steakhouse (churrascaria, barbecue) in Costa Rica; at the time, there wasn't one where I lived. It was a meat lovers' paradise. My favorite part of the dinner, however, would be the creamy dessert topped by the fruity cassis liqueur--it was unforgettable. The foamy mixture of papaya and ice cream was decorated and slightly flattened by the stream of purple, berry-flavored liqueur that was poured in front of me.

June 12th is Valentine's Day in Brazil. They call it Dia de los Namorados, or Lovers' Day, as it is the eve of St. Anthony's Day, the patron saint of marriage.

Lorena de Garcia's Recipe
1 pint of vanilla ice cream
1 1/2 cups skim milk
 1 oz. creme de cassis (currant liqueur)
1 1/2 cups ripe papaya, peeled and diced
Place all ingredients except for the creme de cassis in your blender. Once they are mixed, pour them into 4 serving glasses or dishes and pour a little bit of creme de cassis on top, in the center. 
Some people use yogurt instead of ice cream. I have not tried this variation yet--when I do, I will post my results here.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Buttermilk Pie at Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana

A young woman in a flowering antebellum yellow dress gaped at the locked door to the patio. "That happens often. Some people say that a ghost is responsible," she commented, then told a man in our group how he could remove the lock. I shivered as I saw the black netting covering the mirrors in the lonely rooms, and observed an abandoned tea tray left on a bed. 
When we exited the house, I marvelled at the beauty of the oaks in the garden.  Two rows of them were facing each other, like the marines that held up swords out for contestants in the Miss Universe pageant. In this case, however, the star was not a person-- it was the plantation home. 

We were at Oak Alley Plantation, one of the old sugarcane plantations of the South, located in Vacherie, Louisiana. A leaflet outside the house boasted the movies (Such as Interview with a Vampire), TV shows (Ghost Hunters, for example), and Beyoncé music video that had showcased the lavishly set home. A ride on a road alongside the Mississippi River bank will take you past several sugarcane plantation homes that are about 45 minutes away from New Orleans.  Oak Alley (and several others, such as St. Joseph´s Plantation, Laura´s Creole Plantation) is located on the side of the river that is a bit more protected from the Mississippi River flooding.
Its restaurant features among many other dishes, several sumptuous desserts. The pecan pie I tasted was good enough to make me want to make it  and compare it to my present favorite recipe. For this post, I chose their buttermilk pie, something I had never tasted before (unless butterscotch pie counts).

Oak Alley Plantation Recipe

1 3/4 cup raw or light brown sugar
8 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs
9-inch unbaked pie crust
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (sprinkle on top of pie after it is cooked)

Preheat the oven to 350º. After preparing an unbaked pie crust, mix the pie batter. Melt the butter in the microwave, place it in a bowl, and add sugar, eggs, flour, vanilla, and buttermilk (you can make the buttermilk by placing half a tablespoon of lemon juice in a 1/2 cup measure, then add milk until it fills the cup--let it sit for five minutes). As you can see in the photo on the left, the batter resembles pecan pie batter, except it doesn´t have pecans. After you have mixed the batter properly, pour it into the pie crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. When it is done, sprinkle the cinnamon on top. 
Oak Alley Plantation Buttermilk Pie Recipe Postcard.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Cherry Clafoutis from Limousin, France

Cherry Clafoutis
I felt a strong tremor move the desk, floor, and walls around me. A few minutes later, the first thing I thought of doing was check the U.S. website that reported the magnitude of quakes around the world. Beneath the quake I had felt, on the chart, there was also a report of a small tremor in France, near the Massif Central. I didn´t know France had quakes and much less a volcano!
On a long train ride (about 30 hours) a few years later, travelling from southern to northern France, I realized the train would make a small stop at a  train station in the Massif Central. "How exciting!"  I thought, "I´ll be able to see France´s volcano! Earlier in the afternoon, the train cars travelled past the proverbial house built on a rock. Meandering rivers and green valleys surrounded a large cliff that held one house on the very top. Slowly, dusk was arriving. When we arrived at the long-awaited station, instead of witnessing a large volcano, all I could see was the pitch-dark dusk outside. I squinted, and still couldn´t see much.
Ceramic dishes made in Limoges, Limousin
About Clafoutis and Limousin
In Limousin, the bread basket of France, cherries are available from late May through June. Plums, peaches, apples, pears, figs, and medlar appear in the following months. Cherries are useful for lowering cholesterol, and for lessening inflammation.
Clafoutis comes from the verb clafir, which means to fill. The batter is filled with cherries. Others believe that the word clafoutis refers to the fact that the cherries resemble nails in midst of the custard. Those who dislike finding the pits in the cherries and therefore in the custard, will indeed feel that the cherries are as hard as nails.
The traditional way to make this dish involves leaving the pits in the cherries. In order to keep this recipe authentic, some cooks argue that the final product will be too liquid, because the cherry juices will leak into the custard, and they might have a point there. Others go so far as to say that the pits expel a special flavor to the dish. At any rate, if you want to make an authentic clafoutis, leave those cherry pits in. Look at the bright side. I know I did. You won´t have to pit the cherries! How easy can a cherry dessert get!


1 pound of cherries, washed
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 cup milk plus 1/2 cup cream; OR  only 1 1/2 cups milk for a more authentic Limousin clafoutis
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt

Grease the 9- inch round or square pan, and place washed, unstemmed cherries on it. I used sweet cherries, as many people do, though the authentic recipe calls for tart cherries. Place the flour and sugar in a bowl. Add the eggs, mixing them slowly into the flour. As it thickens, add the milk and melted butter, and make sure you don´t get any lumps. Add vanilla. Pour over cherries, and bake in a 375 degree F oven (190) for 45-60 minutes. It is cooked when you can press it lightly with your fingertips, and the top is golden brown.