The Saga continues and I cannot wait until I can write the epilogue. Here I have been, here I am, and here I will be for at least 2 more weeks, washing, trashing, boxing up. I have spent hours dealing with gas and electric companies, telephone service, notary, parking garage, you name it. I have been down and dirty, down, that is, in the basement, getting dirty piling up all the junk for the junk man (the junk man cometh next week), opening and going through damp, sandy boxes of clothes and books and toys and fabric and separating the wheat from the chaff (in no mood to chaff, either), the good from the bad, and filling up trash bag upon trash bag of crap that we have inexplicably been saving for 10, 15, 20 odd years.
So why oh why, you ask, in the mad rush towards moving day, did you take two entire days to go and make Macaroons with Marie and Eve? Marie has been tempting me for weeks with her chatter about Pierre Hermé Macarons and her invitation to come over and learn how to make these babies. We have been planning this gargantuan project for ages and we finally found a day (two actually) to attempt the feat. She received the cookbook for Christmas and taught herself to make them. Now it was going to be my turn!
And a daunting task it was! I have never made Italian meringue much less jelly, and Chef Hermé’s process for making his delicate, tender macaroons is complex and must be followed to a tee. So temperature gauge in hand, egg whites properly “aged”, chocolates weighed and oven pre-heated, off we went.
The first day we prepared the Confiture Framboise, the raspberry jam, which was fairly quick and easy, albeit rather tiring to stand and hold that hand mixer for 10 whole minutes (or until your hand mixer starts smelling like burning rubber, whichever comes first). Then in the fridge it goes to firm up a bit before using. As it turns out, it never did firm up as we needed it to and it stayed a bit runny. But the flavor was outrageous! Sweet and slightly tangy and so full of the most intense raspberry flavor! Eve, Marie’s sister, and I licked the bowl clean. I even got to take a jar of it home with me (to use as jam) as the recipe made more than needed for the macarons.
For the next couple of hours we sifted. And sifted. And sifted. Powdered sugar and ground almonds enough for about a gazillion macaroons, trying to push the powdered almonds through holes too small. At least it builds muscles and character! At some point I had to get home, so I left the others to “sift” for themselves (he he!).
The next day we started bright and early and planned to devote the entire day to making raspberry, pistachio and dark chocolate macarons. This was no easy task. Marie’s kitchen is tiny, her counter space is limited and her cooking utensils and bowls had to be constantly washed and rewashed. Yet we were all hepped up and raring to go.
I will not describe the entire day to you. I will not even give the recipes here. Once you get the hang of one of Pierre Hermé’s recipes, you’ve gotten it all: the ganache is pretty much cream brought to the boil and stirred into the melted chocolate, white or dark, with nut paste added where necessary, and butter stirred in where appropriate. An Italian meringue is made for the macaroon shells, sugar and water cooked until a syrup then whipped into beaten egg whites, then folded into the sifted powdered sugar and ground almonds along with food coloring and melted chocolate for the chocolate macaroons. And all at just exactly the right temperature.
The difficulty comes with the piping out of the shells (les coques). This requires a quick, steady hand and just the right flip of the wrist. First cookie sheet, second cookie sheet, first flavor, second flavor, third. And, of course, we couldn’t do anything the simple way. All of her cookie sheets, no two alike, were out and strewn around the kitchen, eventually finding themselves somewhere on the floor under our feet. We battled with parchment paper, finding a place to cool each set of shells became a balancing act, not dropping the precious macaroons on the floor or cracking the shells as they got pushed around the minimal counter space became an act of sheer faith.
And we were so concentrated on not leaving a little point on the top of the shells that of course we left points on the top of each shell. Try too hard, think too much and you know that you will fail. And seriously, Marie and Eve’s mom, Mme. R, who happens to be my upstairs neighbor and a perfectionist (though I would like to point out that she has never made macarons), popped in to say hi and see how things were going and she took one look at the raspberry shells fresh out of the oven, our first tray and my first attempt, and she said “they all have points. They are not supposed to be like that. They aren’t good!” Arrrgghhh!
So back to the drawing board and another try. Yet with each trayload of shells, the better I got. The second round, pistachio, came out even smoother and more perfectly round and the final flavor, the gorgeous dark chocolate macaroon shells came out (may I say it?) perfect. This I credit with my simply not paying attention anymore. I realized after piping out an entire tray that I had been jabbering on with Marie and not paying attention, just whish whish whish, swirl swirl swirl, and getting into automatic mode. And they came out just beautifully. Just goes to show you!
Then we lined up all these little babies (some a bit discolored from the heat of the oven, but delicious none the less) and spread them each with their personal jelly or ganache. Quickly, quickly as the kitchen was heating up faster and faster and slowly, slowly ganache was melting as we spread. Some smeared a bit and looked rather runny by the time I got my batch home, but each and every one was fabulously delicious!
And through it all, I discovered a few things about myself:
1) I can do anything that I put my mind to.
2) I am great at juggling/multi-tasking.
3) I CAN use a pastry bag and get beautiful results!
4) I desperately need both a temperature gauge and a standing mixer. Desperately!
5) Even though the day was physically exhausting what with the sifting, stirring, blending and piping, my right arm feeling as if I had done at least a million one-arm push ups, I did finally drag myself home tired, happy and proud.
And started back in on my packing.
Which do I pack and which do I keep out?
I am oh so sad to have to pack up my cookbooks and baking things and have tried to keep the necessities aside so I can carry on with the baking for the next few weeks. Baking, after all, is what calms me down when I get crazy and burned out from the packing.
FYI : take a peeky off to the right and you will notice that I have updated my Favorite Food and Other Blog Lists. I have added several more wonderful, enjoyable and favorite blogs written by foodie and non-foodie friends. Enjoy! And if you don’t see your name there yet, patience! patience! Give me a bit of time!
My brilliant son Simon figured out how to add my awards (few in number but much loved and appreciated!) to my sidebar although they are all stuck together. We’ll figure it out in time!
Last bits of news :
My brother is home at mom’s in Florida where he can relax and be taken care of. We love him.
JP got accepted into an MBA program and will truly be Big Man on (worldwide) Campus come September.
Simon is halfway through his Baccalauréat exams and doing fine. And then I hope we can organize his coming year with Americorps.
Clem is also back to school come September. And Marty is none too happy with the cartons.