I don’t know that I have talked about living in Europe for 4 years. Well, now I am. And I did. It was from that experience in my early 20′s which changed forever the way I see life and living. It was there I learned the European love affair with flowers. This Flower Love has stayed with me since. Flowers aren’t just something special you buy for your sweetheart on an anniversary they are part of everyday life. You go to the market and pick up a baguette, cheese, wine and a bouquet of flowers. It is just what is done. I quickly became accustomed to a little bouquet on my table. Keep in mind that these little posies were not grand affairs. Usually a single type of flower in a little clear vase. Simple perfection.
I am happy to report that my sweet husband shares my love of fresh flowers. Each week he picks up a bouquet of tulips at the store. Tulips have a special significance for us When we moved into our first home just after we were married our realtor (and friend) left a vase with tulips on the kitchen counter welcoming us home. The moment has stayed with us. What a lovely thing to have that reminder each weekend from the love of my life. I would miss not having those blooms on the kitchen table. And the best part? When the boys are with their Father at the store and he hasn’t picked them out yet, they remember and remind him. How great that flower love is part of their world too.
A visitor stopped by the other day and remarked on the beauty of the tete et tete daffodils blooming in the dining room. I put the little container in a glass candle holder surrounded by moss right where I can see it as I walk by. The thing which struck me about her comments was the implication that somehow it was extravagant to have these little beauties. “But they don’t last long” and are “expensive”. Actually, not so much.
The little container of tete et tete daffodils cost $3.99 at Trader Joe’s. The have been blooming for a week and I think they will for another. So this is how I calculate it. Those little yellow beauties will bring a smile to my face for two weeks at the bargain cost of $4.00…just $2.00 per week.
And the little vase of tulips on the bathroom sink? One bunch of tulips ($6.99) fills 4 jars…enough for perching on bedside tables and the counter in the powder room. I can’t buy a latte for that and it certainly wouldn’t last as long or bring me as much joy. Joie de Vivre. It is about those little choices. (Oh, and the jar was in the dollar section at Target!)
An update on my little field of grass from my previous Easter decorations post…it is growing and growing. At first it was pretty sparse looking…I actually had to fill in with more grass seed. But now I think I am on the right track and I’ll have a mini field ready for decorated eggs!
The first subject which came to mind when thinking about starting a blog was the exploration of my favorite sweet treat on the planet. Macarons. Not macaroons…Macarons. That most etherial of French delicacies. I love them. I mean, I really, really love them. So much so that I must limit myself to making them once (or perhaps twice) a month as I will eat the whole batch myself within a day or two. This series is all about French macarons. And today it begins with a French macarons basic recipe. This is the result of the obsession I have with these little magical treats. This is the base recipe which all others derive to produce Macarons which are crunchy but with a soft melted center. Delicious.
I have created a French Macarons Recipe File Page within the header of the blog so we can have all our Macaron fun in one place. As we move through different recipes I will post the links there!
I first discovered this exact ratio of ingredients on a French Blog called MaiTai’s Picturebook. It is a lovely read, beautifully photographed, all about Hermes scarves and life in the south of France. Sprinkled within are wonderful sight-seeing trips around France and here and there are the most terrific recipes. The proportions for Macarons are one of those nuggets!
This recipe is based on the ratio of ingredients based on weight not volume. In other words instead of measuring cups to determine how much of an ingredient we will use, we will weigh the ingredients in grams. Another notable difference in this recipe is that all the ingredient amounts are based of the weight (in grams) of the egg whites. After all, one cannot exactly know what a particular egg white will weigh. Once we know what the egg whites weigh we determine how much of everything else to use. Sounds complicated but in reality it is pretty simple.
Looking over this post I realize how daunting this all looks. I beg you to not be dissuaded. I made these instructions as complete as I could with as much detail as I could think of. Not to make it seem complicated but to give as complete a roadmap as possible. I really want you to charge ahead because making these is not difficult and is so rewarding. And if for some reason a batch does not work out…we are only talking about egg whites people.
Mise en place
Mise en place (French pronunciation: [mi zɑ̃ ˈplas]) is a French phrase which means “putting in place”, as in set up.
Especially important is making macarons is mise en place. Why? Because once the process is up and running it is far easier to get reliable and consistent results with all ingredients weighed & sifted, piping bag prepared and baking pans ready. I find it is important to have a very clean work area and spotlessly clean utensils, bowls, etc. I know, it is always important, but especially so with whipping egg whites as they can be extra finicky and don’t like even a speck of oil or fat of any kind or they won’t whip properly.
Macaron Mise en Place
2 jelly roll pans or cookie sheets * Line pans with parchment paper
Gel, Paste or Powdered Food Coloring – I use Ateco
Additional Flavorings (if necessary)
Time to Get Started! Step by Step Macaron Directions:
Egg whites are about 33-36 grams each and 2 make about 14 macarons. I like to use 4 egg whites which will fill two half sheet pans of macarons. If we are going to the trouble we should make enough to share!
First put a clean bowl on top of your digital scale. The scale will, of course, weigh the bowl (which we don’t want). The scale should have a “tare” button. What that does when pressed is to move the scale to “0″ thus eliminating the weight of the bowl. Cool right?! Add your egg whites to the bowl. Now you have the amount of egg whites (in grams) you are working with. Set them aside.
The egg whites this time around were 132 grams.
There is a bit of math here…the amount of almond flour is determined by multiplying the weight (in grams) of the egg whites times 1.26.
132 grams x 1.26 = 171.36 grams of almond flour
We know we need 171.36 grams of almond flour and so we weigh that next. Put a clean bowl on the scale and press the tare button and add almond flour until your scale reads 171.36 grams. Set aside.
The amount of confectioner’s sugar is determined by multiplying the weight (in grams) of the egg whites times 2.07.
132 grams x 2.07 = 273.24 grams of confectioner’s sugar
Weigh the confectioner’s sugar out and set aside.
Lastly it is time to find out how much sugar we need.
132 grams ÷ 3.6 = 36.66 grams of white sugar
Weigh the white sugar and set aside.
Now the fun really begins!
Sift together confectioners sugar and ground almond flour. Another option is to first run the confectioners sugar and almond flour through a food processor and then put through a fine sieve to remove bigger bits. This is called “tant pour tant” or half and half. Discard leftover bits and set the tant pour tant aside.
Time to Whip It Up!
In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment beat egg whites until they form soft peaks. Continue to beat while slowly adding granulated sugar.
Once the sugar has completely dissolved add food coloring and any additional flavorings the recipe might call for. When finished the egg whites should hold stiff peaks.
With a spatula fold the tant pour tant into to macaron base. There is no need to be super careful here…a little deflating of the egg whites is okay.
Make sure there are NO egg white streaks within the mixture. It should be lava like and a very smooth paste. Any egg whites not incorporated will not bake evenly and I promise it won’t be pretty! The mixture will, at first, appear as if it won’t ever combine, but never fear, soon it will turn to smooth lava.
Pour macaron paste into prepared pastry bag. Fold over end and twist to keep mixture from oozing out the top. Full disclosure…when I made the recipe which I photographed it was a bit runny. The macarons turned out great but I prefer the mixture a tad thicker in consistency.
Once macarons are piped bang the cookie sheet on the counter three times to force any air bubbles caught under the surface to rupture.
Rotate the pan 1/2 turn and bang the sheet another three times. If there are bubbles remaining I pop them with a toothpick otherwise I won’t get that smooth macaron dome!
Let the pans rest for at least 1 hour (If it is a humid day I will wait even longer). What you want is the tops of the piped macarons will loose some of their shine. The photos below represent newly piped (on the left photo) and a bit duller (after 45 minutes on a rainy day). This is a good time to make the filling!
Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.
Bake the macarons for 9-20 minutes. This is a large range of time. It can vary greatly depending upon how hot your oven runs and how humid the temperature. In actuality baking macarons is really just a process of drying out the meringue.
One good rule of thumb (a la MaiTai) is to wait until one macaron begins to crack and then the rest are sure to be done. Another tip from MaiTai, a way to know if they are approaching being done is when the kitchen begins to smell delicious! I just keep an eye on them and when they have risen, are a uniform color and smell delicious I know I am there. If there is any question about under vs over baking opt for over baking. Remember, you will be filling them with a wet filling which will soften the meringue while they rest (more about that later). I use MaiTai’s advice and once one has cracked I take the pan out of the oven.
Remove pans to wire racks.
When completely cool remove shells from baking sheets and match up pairs of similar size.
Fill with desired filling (either with a small spatula or pastry bag and tip). If I am using jam I just use an offset spatula…all other fillings I use a small pastry bag and tip.
Now comes the hard part. Wait. Yes, wait. At least one day. Place macarons in an airtight container and put them in the refrigerator. The texture completely changes in the 12-24 hours they ripen. If you don’t believe me eat one right away and then wait a day…the texture mellows in the middle and they take on that wonderful creamy consistency in the center with crisp outer shell. If you have baked them on the overdone side rest them even longer…although I can never wait more than a day. Macaron bliss!
Ground Almond Four Flour (I prefer Bob’s Red Mill Almond Flour/Meal) Total weight of egg whites x 1.26
Confectioners (Icing) Sugar Total weight of egg whites x 2.07
Granulated (Caster)Sugar Total weight of egg whites ÷ 3.6
Gel, Paste or Powdered Food Coloring (I use Ateco gel or Wilton paste)
Weigh 4 egg whites. Set them aside.
Weigh the almond flour. It should equal the weight of the egg whites (in grams) times 1.26.
Weigh the confectioner’s sugar. Is determined by multiplying the weight (in grams) of the egg whites times 2.07. Set aside.
Weigh the white sugar which is determined by dividing the weight of the egg whites by 3.6. Set aside.
Process ground almond flour and confectioners sugar in a food processor. Put through a fine sieve or sift. Discard remaining bits.
Beat egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment until they form soft peaks.
Continue to beat while slowly adding granulated sugar.
Once the sugar has completely dissolved add food coloring and any additional flavorings the recipe might call for.
With a spatula gently fold the dry mixture into to macaron base. There is no need to be super careful here…a little deflating of the egg whites is okay.
Make sure there are NO egg white streaks within the mixture. It should be lava like and a very smooth paste. Any egg whites not incorporated will not bake evenly and I promise it won’t be pretty!
Pour macaron paste into prepared pastry bag. Fold over end and twist to keep mixture from oozing out the top.
Pipe 1¼-1½” rounds of macaron paste onto prepared cookie sheets. Space rounds about 2″ apart as they will spread.
Once macarons are piped bang the cookie sheet on the counter three times to force any air bubbles caught under the surface to rupture. Pierce any remaining bubbles with a toothpick.
Rotate the pan ½ turn and bang the sheet another three times.
Let the pans rest for at least ½ hour (I usually wait about an hour). What you want is the tops of the piped macarons will loose some of their shine.
Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees
Bake the macarons for 9-20 minutes. This is a large range of time. It can vary greatly depending upon how hot your oven runs and how humid the temperature. In actuality baking macarons is really just a process of drying out the meringue. So a cooler oven on a humid day will take longer than a hotter oven on a dry day.
Remove pans to wire racks. Lift the parchement on each corner an put a few drops of water to help release the macarons. Be carefull…not too much water…literally just a couple of drops. Let cool.
Remove shells from baking sheets and match up pairs of similar size.
Fill with desired filling (either with a small spatula or pastry bag and tip).
Now comes the hard part. Wait. Yes, wait. At least one day. Place macarons in an airtight container and put them in the refrigerator. The texture completely changes in the 12-24 hours they ripen. If you don’t believe me eat one right away and then wait a day…the texture mellows in the middle and they take on that wonderful creamy consistency in the center with crisp outer shell.
Fillings and Flavorings
This is the easiest macaron filling there is…Chocolate Ganache. A simple and classic combination of chopped chocolate, heavy cream and butter. If you can boil water you can make ganache!
Since we have the digital scale out we will use it for the filling as well! I love the taste that two types of chocolate add to this ganache. I used both milk and semi-sweet. A pinch of espresso powder in this is a welcome addition if you happen to have some lying around!
I have a very good friend whose home is always about an hour away from being party-ready. Beyond even that her home is magazine-ready. Literally Elle Decor or House Beautiful could come in with one hours’ notice and a bit of tidying up and photograph the whole darn house. It is quite something. No piles of mail hanging around, no piles of laundry ready to be folded, no piles of anything. Everything has a place and everything (pretty much) tends to remain in its place. She has mastered the art of living in her home all the time as others live only when guests come over. She plays music, she lights candles. See is able to do daily what I would like to do. Seeing Home Through a New Lens.
Now I am sure she does not do this every minute of her life. But she does it far more than anyone else I’ve ever met. It really speaks to the concept that we should live our life with a sense of joy, beauty and graciousness. As the French would say, with Joie de Vivre. In many ways the point of this blog for me is to develop a better sense of that concept. I’m captivated with how to capture those concepts and develop the habits to live with that kind of “every day is special” mentality.
It occurred to me as I was taking pictures around the house today (to practice my novice photography skills) that much of what I was trying to photograph certainly wasn’t party-ready. Not because of bad lighting or a lack of things which may be interesting to photograph but because I simply hadn’t taken the time to really see what my home actually looks like. It was the seeing which was the missing piece of the party-ready enigma. It makes sense. When I am going to entertain suddenly I notice the dirty windows (see photo above) or the pile of magazines on the side table making the whole room look cluttered. When I am having a party I suddenly see the house in a fresh way…when I should be taking a look through that party-ready lens daily. Taking photographs for this blog has certainly given me that lens…both figurately and literally. And honestly, I’m not that thrilled at what I see. The dirty windows in the above photo are just one hazy example. I know, I know, it has been a cold long winter…but there have been a few quite warm days of late and I didn’t even think about the windows. Why? I looked but did not see.
Another issue which reared its ugly head was the “I decorated it once long ago and haven’t reevaluated it again since” problem. The above photo is a great example of that. I “styled” the hutch over the desk ages ago. Now I used the word “styled” in the most casual sense of the word. More like stuffed a bunch of things in the hutch. Keep in mind that this happened long ago…so long, in fact, that I have completely changed the colors of the room and in the room (the chase in the first picture is the actual color scheme) and yet…the colors from the long ago master still remain behind those doors. I do think keeping the doors to the hutch shut masks that fact, but I may just be trying to make myself feel better.
And so tomorrow I plan to take care of that hutch and re-take the photos (the windows will have to wait until the temperature is above freezing…alledigely that will be Sunday). If right now I need the camera lens to help train how I see my home…so be it. It will be fun to how this house evolves when mind fully looking at it in a new way. By the way, the wall next to the chase looks yellow and the walls aren’t yellow…are they?
I am ready to put an Easter centerpiece and decorations together. Decorating for Easter is always fun for me…bunnies, lots of greenery and my cabbage bowls. I know Easter is a month away but I can’t help but start on the road to easter decorating and the start is the Easter centerpiece for the diningroom table!
To kick it off I found these stunning Helleborus is a find from the grocery store. I haven’t had much experience with these but it seems easy enough…shade, cooler temperatures and moist soil. Sounds perfect for the diningroom. The colors are perfect…pink and greeny-cream bi colored petals. The red and white buds open to large, soft pink flowers which will eventually turn burgundy. Best yet these are perennials and so if I can keep it alive long enough I’ll plant it outside.
On another front, I’ve started on a table decoration for the diningroom table for Easter. I know it sounds early but I want to grow grass and that won’t happen overnight!
The plan is to plant grass in a long wooden trough and then insert flowering bulbs. I’m also going to plant grass seed in little terra cotta pots for the kids table. I am not sure what I’ll add at Easter…could be a little chocolate bunny a yellow furry chick or a decorated egg. I’m waiting for that inspiration to strike. But for now I know I want the base to be a mini Easter field.
First I layed out all the things I’ll need.
Wooden container ( found this trough at Home Goods a couple of years ago)
First I put a layer of plastic grocery bags in the bottom of the wooden trough. Next I cut paper plates to line the long openings.
The soil needed to be moistened and I so I mixed it in a bowl with water to make it soft and moist but not dripping wet.
That went into the trough over the paper plates. Next a layer of grass seed!
I used a fork to mix the seeds into the very top of the soil layer.
I misted the surface with water to get those little buggers moist. Finally I moved the trough to a sunny windows to get the party started. With luck, and watering, the mini lawn will be lush and green by Easter!
One of my favorite Easter treats are Cadbury Creme Eggs. I look forward to them appearing on store shelves a month or so before Easter each year. It occurred to me as I gobbled one up last week that perhaps that yummy chocolaty, creamy taste could somehow be transformed into a cocktail. Thus this delicious Easter Cadbury Creme Egg Martini recipe was born!
My first attempt was to infuse vodka with those little chocolate nuggets. I have infused vodka often with great success…pears, figs, vanilla beans and even allspice. Yummy concoctions all. The creme eggs however were a colossal failure. Cloudy sludge filled liquid. Not fit for human consumption. Plan B was far more successful…the flavors of the chocolate treat deconstructed and reassembled in cocktail form.
I garnished the glass with a gooey rim of the insides of a Cadbury Creme Egg. This made the cocktail much sweeter than without. I actually preferred the version without the gooey rim. I was preferable overall especially if the cocktail is to be enjoyed with appetizers. If it is a stand alone at dessert time then the gooey rim is a must try…or do as we did, half with, half without.
The base is vanilla vodka. Added to that Godiva White Chocolate liquor and Creme de Cocoa. The magic ingredient is the Effen Salted Caramel Vodka. The depth of flavor it added transformed this from good to amazing. Finish it off with a splash of heavy cream and you have heaven in a glass. This is a potent treat…but really we are only having one…right?
Posting a little eye candy here. I couldn’t resist these gorgeous raspberry hydrangeas at the store today. You know how it is…stop in for bread and milk and come out with a cart full of english toffee and raspberry hydrangeas. Well, maybe you don’t know but I sure do! This deep raspberry color is the exact shade of those napkins I love so much. What a huge punch of color this adds to my diningroom. It is those small touches that really make a room sing.
I’ve always found these to be a bit finicky to keep happy. They love water and the second they start to dry out the poor flower heads droop and look near death. Hopefully I can keep this one happy and healthy until the blooms begin outside (which given the winter we have had should be in July sometime).
I love a quest. Right now I am on a quest to find the most delicious Blackberry Martini recipe I can find. I have scoured the internet and my library of cocktail, mocktail, entertaining and hors d’ouvers cookbooks and have compiled quite a list of drinks. Some sound yummy and some sound quite non-yummy…or is it un-yummy? The trick is going to be a cocktail with lots of berry flavor without the cloing sweetness inherent in many of the recipes I have tried.
This is Blackberry Martini version one. A rather simple concoction of blackberries, vodka, Blackberry liquor, simple syrup and lemon perrier. Yep. Lemon Perrier.
Verdit? It was enjoyable enough. It had a bit of a kick. I liked the sparkle but don’t know how much the lemon Perrier added. I did not like the blackberry bits which ended up floating on the surface of the drink. And the berry taste wasn’t…well…berry enough. I think version two might need a kick of another berry…raspberry perhaps. This is a good one for those that adore blackberries straight up, no chaser.
I am not a big breakfast eater but I do like to have a little something to start the day! I am trying to be mindful of using color around the house these dog days of winter (if there is such a thing) and so I took a minute (literally, one minute) to spice up the breakfast table. Now keep in mind that I was eating alone…no one there to impress but myself. But in reality we should do for ourselves what we gladly do for others. If we think about it…which I often don’t. Except for this morning when striving to add color I inadvertently added some “taking care of me time”.
It was kind of amazing how enjoyable turning my breakfast into a petit déjeuner was. I know the words mean the same thing, however pulling out a little wooden tray and a tangerine napkin turned the hum drum into something just a bit more special. Suddenly the juice really needed to be in one of my favorite pink wine glasses. And was it such a stretch to pull out a silver napkin ring? All in all I think it took me seconds rather than minutes to arrange and yet it put a spring in my step all morning. And I know it sounds crazy…but honsetly I think the yogurt, berries and granola tasted better than normal.
I do like to give little gifts to those who are special in my life. What a great opportunity to say a thank you to those who make life richer. I’ve put together this St. Patrick’s Day gift jar (with a printable). This year my leprechaun list will include my son’s crossing guard (always helping to guide him to school safely in the midst of what, this winter at least, resembles a NASCAR race). Also a few others who could use some St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans about now. Actually, the word shenanigans is one of my favorite parts of this holiday. What a great word…especially for Mother’s with sons. The shenanigans never stop with my boys….those little rascals. Find the St. Patrick’s Day Gift Jar instructions (and printable below).
I started with a Weck jar. I found these at Sur la Table which would also work perfectly!! Next came the good stuff. I wanted a mix of candy and fun little surprises all in gold. Silly and delicious…leprechaun sized goodies. The gold glitter nail polish was a fun find!
The rainbow label for the top came next. I wanted it to be the rainbow leading to the gold underneath. I printed it, cut it out and attached it to the top of the jar with double stick tape. I ran out of sticker paper which would have been even easier.
I am happy to share what I created. The label is approximately 3″ round. The link is below. This is one of the first downloads that I have done. That is a nice way of saying I have no idea how well it will work. But I am giving it a try and fingers (and toes) are crossed hoping it all works out well. If not send me an e-mail and I will get working on it.
Finished off with a flourish of ribbon and my leprechaun gifts are ready to roll.