Winter dissolves into spring somewhere between the damp, chilly morning and the golden warmth of the afternoon. Spring teases us, sneaking bouts of sunshine across the threshold when we least expect it, during the frigid cold of early February and the drizzle of early March then boom! she pounces out from behind the curtains, out of a deep, dark alleyway and, just as we’ve draped the heavy wool coat over the back of the chair and dug out our light-weather jacket, caressed our brand new peep toe sandals, she laughingly drags us back into dreary, gray hopelessness once again. Yet today’s brilliant light and gentle mellowing of the temperature promise true change. And this year the advent of spring brings with it other bigger, more important changes, from a bleak mid-Winter landscape to the awakening of a new season of optimism and flowering blossoms.
A mid-morning call pulled me out of a half doze as I wracked my brain for the perfect words, tried to write one, two, three different posts for three different recipes and I was getting nowhere fast. I spent all of yesterday in the kitchen playing with flour and sugar, eggs and butter, apples and prunes. Pure pleasure! Yet today I was lost, looking for any distraction to tempt me away from my work. And there was the sun, tapping on the windowpanes calling me outdoors to play. And then my cell phone jumped, shuddered and skittled across the wooden tabletop as it began to wail. I grabbed at it, sure who would be calling, as it is only he who calls. But to my wide-eyed surprise he asked me out to lunch, great big romantic that he is. An hour later we found ourselves in the car and he was whisking me off to a mysterious spot outside of the city, finding ourselves half an hour later at a lovely, rustic restaurant at the foot of the airport runway, nestled off of the road in the countryside where only the locals know of it. Wonderful food, simple yet flavorful, and it all felt like some secret lovers’ rendezvous.
Maybe he has Spring Fever. We’ve been hit hard this year, both of us, feeling the itch, as the days get longer and the breeze slowly fades to warm. Excitement is in the air and we can’t sit still. We stand in front of the great world map pinned up on the livingroom wall and dream of where we could go, where we could live out an adventure. We’ve been through it before, that itch, that craving to jump off of the ship of ho hum and everyday and it seems that maybe, just maybe the time is ripe to go through it again. Things have been moving fast here, to both him and to me, exciting things sweeping in with the warm weather and stirring everything up, shaking us out of our winter slumber and inspiring us to action! Too soon to tell the tale, I will simply warn you that when the time is right and the story is for the telling, well, hold onto your spring bonnets! It’s gonna be a bumpy ride!
- Charles Dickens
Some things we make happen, giving fate a gentle nudge or a violent push, and other things happen quite by chance, this or that falls into our lap when we least expect it but we grab it and hold onto it tight before it has the chance to turn to dust or flutter away, ephemeral as these things are. Life is only as sweet or as spicy as we make it ourselves.
Yes, I spent yesterday baking. It must be all the excitement of what is happening to the two of us that called for necessary activity and keeping my hands busy. Or maybe the arrival of springtime has me feverish, excited so I can’t think straight or sit still. I pulled out my egg whites, sugar and almonds and knew that I was in the mood for macarons! Macarons with the flavor of springtime, the sharp sweetness of cherries kissed by the exotic warmth of vanilla and cardamom would suit me and my mood just fine! Deeba and I had wanted to give this month’s Change of Seasons Mac Attack challenge something sugar and spice and very, very fruity and this would fit the bill nicely. Macaron shells flavored with a dash of cardamom and the seeds scraped from one Indian vanilla bean and filled with cool, creamy mascarpone sweetened and flavored with a spoonful or two of my favorite cherry jam. And they are heavenly!
- Mark Twain
Think Pink is the oh-so appropriate Monthly Mingle theme and I am so in the mood for Pink! The Monthly Mingle, created and run by my lovely, zesty sister Meeta of What’s For Lunch, Honey? has passed the hostess spatula to another wonderful friend, Sarah of Maison Cupcake who has asked us to Think Pink! Sassy, girly pink mascarpone cream peeps out of the off-white shells which are then, in turn, sprinkled with pink cherry-flavored sugar crystals, just the thing to bring out the girly girl in me!
VANILLA CARDOMOM MACARONS
with Cherry Mascarpone Cream
7.0 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) white granulated sugar
¼ tsp ground cardamom
The seeds scraped from one vanilla bean (or ¼ tsp powdered vanilla)
Cherry-flavored pink sugar crystals (or any pink sugar decoration)
* It is recommended to age your egg whites by placing them in a very clean lidded jar or covered bowl and leaving them out at room temperature for 24 hours before making the macarons. Make sure the egg whites are pure and without any yolk at all. The bowl and beaters should be very clean and grease free. I find that a plastic mixing bowl gives the best results.
Prepare 2 large baking sheets. On 2 large pieces of white paper the size of your baking sheets, trace 1 – 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.
Sift the powdered sugar and the ground almonds together into a large mixing bowl. Add the cardamom and vanilla seeds and stir with a whisk or fork until blended. Set aside.
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. Gradually add the granulated sugar as you continue to whip the whites until you obtain a glossy meringue and all of the sugar has been beaten in. The meringue will be very stiff (turn the bowl upside down over your head and they shouldn’t move) and be dense like marshmallow.
Gently but firmly fold the whipped whites into the powdered sugar/ground almonds, using a silicon spatula or the equivalent, turning the bowl as you lift and fold, making sure you fold in all the dry ingredients completely. 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. You can also fold the powdered mixture into the meringue if it is easier for you.
Fill your 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!
Sprinkle the pink sugar crystals on some of the shells (which will be top shells of the macaron "sandwich"). Lift up the baking tray and rap sharply once of twice on the bottom of the tray to break any air bubbles in the shells.
Preheat your oven to 280°F (140°C).
Allow the macarons to sit out for one hour. The top of each shell should form a “skin” (it will feel like it hardened a bit when gently touched and not stick to your skin). Bake the shells for 15 – 25 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 or two.) Turn the trays back to front a little more than halfway through the baking. To know if the macarons are done, simply and very carefully (so as not to burn yourself) pull the baking tray out of the oven a lift a corner of the parchment paper and pull the parchment gently, slowly away from the shell (do not lift the shell up as the smooth domed part may very well pull off of the feet, leaving the bottom half of the shell stuck to the paper). If it pulls of easily and the bottom of the shell is smooth, then the shells are done!
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 completely before sliding the shells very gently off of the parchment by slipping a metal cake spatula under the shell as you lift it up or by peeling the parchment paper from the back of the shells. Be careful or the center of the shell risks sticking to the parchment.
When the macaron shells are cool, pair the shells up evenly, each with a partner. Pipe a dollop, about a teaspoon, of either the mascarpone cream or your favorite ganache filling onto half of the shells, the bottom shell in each pair. Carefully sandwich the shells together.
If filled with chocolate ganache, the macarons are best tucked into a metal tin and left overnight. If filled with mascarpone cream, enjoy them the same day or the shells will soften.
CHERRY MASCARPONE CREAM
For each 1/2 cup (250 g) mascarpone cream, whip with about 2 or 3 tablespoons heavy cream to loosen until very smooth, fluffy and creamy. Beat or stir in your favorite jelly or jam, I prefer cherry, until as sweet, fruity and pink (or other color) as desired.