SIMPLE SUMMER PLEASURES
I must have been about 8 years old and it must have been a typical steamy Florida summer evening. Dad thought to treat us kids to something special – he always did – and this time it was a trip over to some shopping center or gas station parking lot to take a trip down the huge slide. You remember those things? Three story or so tall monster slides where one would grab a burlap sack, climb about a million steps up to the top, sit on the sack and slide down, up and down, up and down over metal waves like some futuristic ocean until one reached the bottom? Well, I was hesitant to begin with, not really liking high places, not really trusting unexpected things. I had scary 8-year-old visions of my burlap sack flying out of control, slithering this way and that on the sleek aluminum of the slide, heading down faster and faster until I crash-landed in a lump at the bottom, unconscious, at my dad’s feet. Someone handed me one of those scratchy mats and pushed me towards the steps. Up and up and up I climbed following along behind my sister and brother, trying to work up the courage, convince myself that it was all okay, that it would even be fun. I finally made my way to the top landing and watched as my siblings gleefully slid away into the distance. I grabbed hold of the railing as someone called to me, told me that it was my turn and gently tried to steer me towards the slide. I saw my father tiny as an ant smiling up at me from the parking lot. He seemed miles and miles away. I shook my head and turned back towards the steps and, pushing my way down the narrow, narrow stairway wide enough for one, I worked my way down, clutching the hated burlap bag close to my chest, holding on to the railing for dear life and trying not to cry. My dad took me into his arms and assured me that it was okay, and we left.
My childhood was filled with special moments like this one – although not all of them flavored with my unpredictable, irrational fears. My youth was far from pampered and luxurious, but my father loved to fill our weekends with kid-sized fun. Winters would mean trips over the bridge to the Indian River Orange Groves where we could pick bagfuls to bring home. Februaries found us knee-deep in strawberry plants at U-Pick-Em, tiny hands filling little wooden boxes and tummies with ripe, sweet, juicy fruit. Summers found us piled into the old green station wagon, dad behind the wheel, off to spend a Saturday in the deep end of the high school swimming pool or a Saturday night at the drive-in, dressed in our pajamas and eating popcorn watching The Love Bug, The Ugly Dachshund or The Absent-minded Professor. He took us for ice cream treats at Dairy Queen, seafood dinners at Peg Leg’s or The Lobster Shanty, to the park for picnics on the 4th of July, sparklers in hand. We squished into the car, the 4 kids and him, and visited St. Augustine and her fort, walking up on the ramparts, drinking from the famous Fountain of Youth and getting to pick out one souvenir from the gift shop each (plastic, bejeweled swords!) or over to the Antique Car Museum and The Barnum & Bailey’s Circus Hall of Fame in Sarasota. And all those trips to Disney World after it opened. We were teens by then, but those family trips were the most special, days dashing from ride to ride, eating to our hearts content, and always leaving with a souvenir, those Mickey ear caps, boxes of candy or a lollipop, a huge swirl of colors, or even something with our name engraved or painted on the side. And he drove us down to visit his brother in Miami Beach! Lunches at Wolfie’s deli, afternoons dodging in and out of the towering palm trees that lined the street in front of Uncle Eli’s house, always coming home with our prize: a magnificent coconut that we would then spend hours tossing down the driveway and hammering at with a screwdriver until it finally gave way to our efforts, cracked open and offered us her sweet, sweet meat.
Summer is waning, the warm air turns chill and the sun now has that special glow of my long-ago Florida winters, dazzlingly bright, tinged with nostalgia. As Autumn arrives amidst a shower of golden leaves, Mactweets has asked us to turn back the pages of time and conjure up the best memory of our childhood summers. The freedom of my youth spent outside in the heat, biking, hopscotch, shooting baskets, the grill fired up and ready for the hot dogs and hamburgers to be tossed onto the flames or dad in the kitchen making his amazing foot-long submarine sandwiches or waiting for the butter to start to sizzle on the pancake griddle, this was my childhood summer, filled with road trips and good food, sweets and dad’s homebaked cakes. He denied us nothing, was thrilled to watch us discover the joys of everything.
So for this month’s Childhood Summer Memory Mac Attack challenge, I have made Cotton Candy Macarons filled with creamy chocolate ganache. What says a kid’s summer more than Cotton Candy, Candy Floss, Barbe à Papa: huge feathery light pom poms of fluffy sugary sweet silk? Take a huge mouthful and let it melt on your tongue all bubble-gum sweet, the floss sticking in your hair, onto your face and all over your hands. I still get excited when I see a Cotton candy stand and beg for a pale pink cloud on a stick to eat, of course, as I stroll through a street fair, a festival or a circus. And chocolate? Ah, the best summer memories I have are bottled up in icy cold Yoohoos as they clunk down from the depths of the soda machine and out the slot into my waiting, eager hand, cooling down a hot, miserable day of grade-school summer rec or a bowl of dad’s chilled chocolate pudding topped with whipped cream just waiting for me to pull it out of the fridge.
COTTON CANDY MACARONS
filled with Heavenly Chocolate Ganache is a play on my usual macaron recipe:
7.2 oz (200 g) confectioner’s/powdered sugar
4 oz (115 g ) ground blanched almonds
3 large egg whites (about 3.8 – 4 oz/ 110 – 112 g)
1 oz (30 g) granulated sugar *
1/8 tsp pink gel food coloring (the Cotton Candy sugar adds pink coloring too)
* I replaced all of the granulated sugar with granulated pink Cotton Candy-flavored sugar
Prepare 2 large baking sheets. On 2 large pieces of white paper the size of your baking sheets, trace 1 ½ inch-diameter circles (I used the wide end of my pastry tip) evenly spaced, leaving about ¾ - 1 inch between each circle. This will be your template to help you pipe even circles of batter onto the parchment paper. You will be able to reuse these endlessly. Place one paper on each baking sheet then cover with parchment paper. Set aside. Prepare a pastry bag with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809).
Sift the powdered sugar and the ground almonds together into a large mixing bowl.
In a standing mixer or with a hand mixer, whip the egg whites for 30 seconds on low speed then increase speed to high and whip until the whites are foamy and opaque. Gradually add the granulated sugar as you are whipping the whites until you obtain a stiff glossy meringue.
Gently but firmly, using a plastic or silicone spatula, fold the whipped whites into the powdered sugar/ground almonds mixture, turning the bowl as you lift and fold, scraping up the dry hidden at the bottom, making sure you fold in all the dry ingredients completely. If adding gel food coloring, add it in as you begin to fold the whites in with the dry. Once all of the dry ingredients are moistened, give several good, firm folds to smooth out the batter. When the batter is ready to pipe, it should flow from the spatula like lava or a thick ribbon. To test to see if you have folded it enough, drop a small amount onto a clean plate and jiggle it slightly. The top should flatten, not remain in a point. If it doesn’t flatten, give the batter a few more folds and test again, but do not overfold or the batter will be too runny.
Fill your prepared pastry bag with the batter. Pipe circles onto the parchment paper, using the traced circles on the template sheets to guide you, holding your pastry bag above each circle and piping into the center. DO NOT FORGET TO CAREFULLY REMOVE THE WHITE PAPER TEMPLATE FROM UNDERNEATH THE PARCHMENT PAPER. YOU DO NOT WANT THIS TEMPLATE TO GO IN THE OVEN!
Preheat your oven to 280°F (140°C).
Allow the macarons to sit out for 30 minutes to an hour. The top of each shell should form a “skin” (it will feel like it hardened a bit when gently touched). Bake the shells for 15 – 20 minutes, depending on their size (when I touched macs that were not quite done, the top jiggled a bit as if there was still a bit of liquid batter between the top and the “feet” so I let it continue to bake another minute.) I turn the trays back to front halfway through the baking.
Remove the tray from the oven and immediately slide the parchment paper with the shells off of the hot baking sheet and onto a surface, table or countertop. Allow to cool before sliding the shells very gently off of the parchment by slipping a cake spatula under the shell as you lift it up or by peeling off the parchment paper carefully from the backs of the shells. Be careful or the center of the shell risks sticking to the parchment.
Prepare your filling as your macaron shells cool.
HEAVENLY CHOCOLATE GANACHE
4 oz (120 g) chocolate, flavor of your choice, finely chopped
½ cup (125 ml) heavy cream
1 tsp unsalted butter
Place the finely chopped chocolate in a heatproof medium-sized bowl. Bring the cream and the butter just to the boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. When it comes to the bowl, pour the liquid over the chocolate and allow it to stand for 2 or 3 minutes. Stir until smooth and continue to stir until creamy and thick. Allow to cool to room temperature and piping consistency. If you need to (as I did) place the bowl in the fridge until the desired consistency is reached, taking the bowl out of the fridge and stirring every few minutes to check.
I sandwiched a stick into each macaron to be more like cotton candy.