FALLING INTO FALL
My son shakes his head in dismay and disappointment as he stares at the screen. “You are doing it all wrong,” he exclaims, speaking to me as if I was a wayward, naughty child caught with my hand in the cake batter, chocolate smeared across my face. He grabs the laptop and begins to scroll through other blogs that he has discovered, pointing out that I, too, need to reduce my words to the bare minimum and simply offer my readers recipes and only recipes, easy to make, easy to find, easy to access. “Who wants to read through long, rambling stories on a food blog?” I have heard, sadly I might add, the same or something similar from my husband and older son as well. “But what,” I ask them, my heart pounding, breath coming short and fast, “do I do with my stories? I am, after all, first and foremost a writer! I can’t just stop writing, can I? You know what they say… A writer writes….always!”
And my darling, talented friend Nanette tells me that I am limiting myself too much, trying to contain my writing to food and that I should expand my platform. And maybe she is right. Yes, okay, Nanette is always right. But what’s a girl to do, a girl with limited time and limited finances?
So my solution is this: alternate my posts, every other one a story, every other one a recipe. More or less. And so it goes.
I have been away too long. New Orleans, Florida, Oman. Out of the loop. Behind. Shamefully behind. Deeba was left all alone to handle Mactweets but happily our little Mac Attack challenge was left in perfect hands. She selected and posted this month’s challenge while I was off wandering the world, watching American television shows about serial killers and enjoying myself. The theme she offered us was Seasonal Macarons and as we roll gently and lazily into my favorite season, autumn, this couldn’t delight me more. Thoughts of October in Tuscany, cooking and snapping photos in Italy and talking passionately about what I love the best, writing, is filling up every waking hour and dotting every conversation as we finalize details for our second From Plate to Page workshop. I have always loved fall the best, maybe because I grew up in a place where fall just doesn’t exist. I adore the cool, crisp weather, the clear blue skies, the gentle breeze that floats through the house when we throw the French windows open onto a beautiful autumn day. Strolls through the vineyards or a romp in the woods with Marty and JP are comforting and enjoyable. The trees turn rustic, mellow, gorgeous, fading from green to burnished reds and matted orange. Summer with just a hint of winter, the promise of holidays and my world turns into a place I want to stay forever.
And the food! Yes, I’ll miss summer’s cherries and plums, peaches and nectarines, but autumn fruits are beginning to show up now, teasing and tempting and inspiring thoughts of Halloween, Thanksgiving and the approach of the holidays. Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, highlights apples and sweet golden honey, almonds and hazelnuts, an abundance of foods of the earth in greens and golds, creamy browns and deep purple. Figs and pears and mushrooms of all sorts tumble from rough wooden crates lined up at the Primeur’s stall whispering to me, inviting me to take them home. And citrus. Oranges and grapefruit make their first tentative appearance and nothing means cold weather to me better than the oranges and yellows of citrus, my childhood rushing back to me with each glimpse of those fragrant heaps of fruit.
Yes, I love autumn best of all. But what do I love so much to inspire a seasonal macaron? The first thing that popped into my mind was orange and chocolate. This combination of flavors brings back family holidays with a bound: each year we offer ourselves elegantly beribboned sachets of chocolate-covered candy orange peel from the best chocolatier in Nantes, slowly savoring them one by one as we sit side by side on the livingroom sofa of an evening. Orange and chocolate together remind me of autumn as it slips into winter, as one Jewish holiday fades into another, bringing us closer together mother, father, sons and brothers.
And chestnuts. How I love chestnuts in both savories and sweets. A wonderful chestnut layer cake beautifully layered with chocolate-chestnut cream and covered in chocolate buttercream is a favorite dessert, astonishing friends who clamor for more. Who thinks of autumn or winter without thinking of chestnuts…roasting over an open fire, imparting a fabulous, earthy, woodsy scent, wrapping us in a blanket of memories?
Chocolate cinnamon macarons – cinnamon synonymous with baking, warm, toasty kitchens, scrumptious holiday snacks and lazy Sunday mornings – sandwiching a rich, creamy dark chocolate ganache. And more: in half the macarons I placed a dollop of tangy, sweet and bitter orange marmalade and in half I added a smear of chestnut cream. What flavors say autumn more than chocolate combined with orange or chestnut?
MY FAVORITE CHOCOLATE MACARONS
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) white granulated sugar
1 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
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, the ground almonds, the cocoa powder and the cinnamon together into a large mixing bowl. 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/cocoa, 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!
Preheat your oven to 280°F (140°C).
Allow the macarons to sit out for about an hour or even longer if the shells are not ready to bake. 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.) 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 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 matching partner. Smear a half teaspoon or more of either orange marmalade or sweetened chestnut cream onto the bottom shell of each pair. Pipe a dollop, about a teaspoon, of ganache filling on top of the marmalade or chestnut cream. Carefully sandwich the shells together.
Feel free to use a bittersweet or semisweet chocolate or any of the flavored chocolates now available – orange chocolate, for example, in your ganache.
Optional but highly recommended
A few tablespoons bitter or sweet orange marmalade
A few tablespoons vanilla-scented sweetened chestnut cream
½ cup (125 ml) heavy cream
4 ¼ oz (120 g) Lindt Excellence 70% Dark Chocolate (I used Doux) or your favorite chocolate
Chop the chocolate and put in an appropriately-sized pyrex (heatproof) bowl. Heat the cream in a saucepan gently until it comes just to the boil. Pour the cream over the chopped chocolate and stir until all of the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth and luxurious. Allow to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. It should thicken to a spreading/piping consistency. If you need to, speed up the process by placing in the refrigerator until desired spreading/piping consistency, stirring occasionally.