MAC ATTACK GOES FESTIVE
Another Mac Attack approaches and I’m in the holiday spirit: glowing candles and brightly wrapped gifts, tall chilled glasses of champagne and platters of oysters. I feel cozy evenings at home among family approaching, celebrations with all the dazzle and glitter of the season. Hanukkah with the boys, one little corner decorated all in silver and blue, leaving pride of place for the old family Menorah. Gifts piled up on my closet floor, all shiny paper and bows, something they want, something they need, a book or two, a silly dvd and always something sweet and special from Debotté, chosen lovingly for each. New Year’s Eve follows swiftly, too fast for us to plan anything more than something at home, watching the icy mist and dark skies from inside the snug, warm apartment, the occasional foray into town, hand in gloved hand, strolling slowly, enjoying the city in all of her holiday finery. Although we usually celebrate à deux, just JP and I, we go the romantic route: yes, the bottle of bubbly and the seafood platter, but also tiny scoops of elegant and tasty tidbits, shrimps in different sauces or special salads bought ready-made at the traiteur, set out on a beautiful tray and carried into the living room where we nestle together on the sofa, Marty curled up at our feet, and we bring in the New Year with good food, quiet chat and dreams of the future.
Once, a long time ago, JP and I went to a New Year’s Eve party; lots of music and noise, food and dancing. It was our first New Year together and, needless to say, we much preferred spending it alone, so after making a perfunctory appearance, showed our faces, made the rounds, we furtively ducked out and disappeared. Since then, we’ve spent each and every New Year’s Eve alone together. And quite happy in this routine.
We have spent Christmases with his family, and I remember my first one as a new bride. A luxurious table was set, the best family china and glasses on the table, decorated tree all aglow in the corner, foie gras and capon gracing the table among the other delicacies and bottles of wine and champagne galore. I brought homemade cranberry relish and guacamole which amazed. My father-in-law couldn’t get enough, to my pleasure and joy, and kept saying “Can you pass me the red stuff? And the green stuff, too?” Later on, the holidays swirled around all the grandkids, two by two they came, 7 boys followed by the lone granddaughter, and what a joy to be around, lots of presents and lots of ice cream cakes, excited laughter and fun and games. Dinners were maybe a lot less fancy, but much livelier.
And since then, just calm, quiet, homey and party-less Christmas and New Year’s Eves. But if I were to have a party, like those parties my mom and dad hosted in the very cool 1960’s where the women all wore either evening gowns and elbow-length white gloves or silk and satin party pajamas and the men all wore matching slacks and banlon polos, where they drank cocktails and nibbled on finger foods and then most likely played Twister… I would pop open the champagne and pass around platters laden with gougères and tartlets and nibblies on toothpicks and sweet and savory macarons. Yes, once again the holidays have rolled around, another turbulent year left behind us, another year beginning bringing bright hopes that we can finally live out our wildest dreams, and I have macarons on my mind. This month for Mac Attack, the monthly Macaronfest – call it Mac Madness if you will - created out of a wild passion (or obsession? craze?) for achieving the perfect French macaron by Deeba and I, I have decided to create a platterful of delightful little bite-sized macarons all decked out in their holiday best, the perfect little succulent treats to be eaten while sipping that glass of champagne. Add to the Christmas festivities or ring in the New Year with a choice selection of the most elegant macarons filled either with a succulent round of mousse de foie gras, its rich, earthy sweetness highlighted by a dab of fig jam or chutney, then rolled in crushed spicy speculoos cookies (a gift from Sophie of Sophie’s Foodiefiles) or a wonderful combination of cool, tangy fresh goat cheese perfectly matched with a sour cherry jam, crushed pistachio nuts adding a Christmassy green and delightful crunch. Or the mellow sweetness of a superbly luscious Lemon Mascarpone Cream, a bright red raspberry and more lovely green pistachios giving it a dash of Christmas spirit.
Easy to make, the first two are simply questions of assembling them like toys on Christmas morning. The Lemon Mascarpone Cream, a recipe adapted from one I found on Meeta’s blog What’s For Lunch, Honey? is a snap to whip together and is so delicious, so sublime I will be using it everywhere! For these macarons apératif, I piped out much smaller shells, 1-inch or so (3 cm) so they could really be picked up off a platter and popped into the mouth with one hand, as the other hand will be cradling a cool glass of champagne, of course.
SIMPLE MACARON SHELLS
90 gr egg whites (about 3) *
30 gr (1 oz, 2 Tbs + ¼ tsp) granulated sugar
200 gr (7 oz, 1 ½ cups + 1 Tbs + 1 tsp) powdered sugar
110 gr (3 7/8 oz, 1 cup + 1 Tbs + 1 tsp) ground almonds
* personally, I have never weighed my egg whites. I use large eggs.
* The egg whites should either be left out in a covered container at room temperature for 24
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 (Ateco #807 or #809).
Sift the powdered sugar and the ground almonds 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 (with violet) sugar as you are whipping the whites until you obtain a glossy meringue. Mine was just stiff.
Gently but firmly fold about 1/3 of the whipped whites into the powdered sugar/ground almonds. Add the rest of the whipped whites/meringue and fold, using a silicon spatula or the equivalent, turning the bowl as you lift and fold, making sure you fold in all the dry ingredients. When the batter is ready to pipe, it should be flow from the spatula in a thick, smooth 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.
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. If you want to sprinkle the tops of the shells with either crushed speculoos or pistachios or even a sprinkling of sesame seeds, do so now. 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 1 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).
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. Be careful or the center of the shell risks sticking to the parchment.
LEMON MASCARPONE GOAT CHEESE CREAM
7 oz (200 g) mascarpone, drained
1 oz (30 g) fresh goat cheese, drained
2 Tbs (30 g) superfine sugar
Finely grated zest of ½ lemon
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp Limoncello
Place all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer into blended, smooth and creamy. Place in the refrigerator to chill and firm up before using.
MACARONS WITH LEMON MASCARPONE GOAT CHEESE CREAM
Plain macaron shells
Lemon Mascarpone Goat Cheese Cream
Fresh Raspberries, 1 per macaron
Finely chopped (but not ground) unsalted green pistachio nuts
Pair off shells two by two, top and bottom. Place a teaspoon of Lemon Cream on each bottom shell. Place a fresh raspberry in the center of the cream if desired. Place on top shell and carefully press crushed pistachios into the cream around the sides.
MACARONS WITH FOIE GRAS MOUSSE, FIG JAM OR CHUTNEY AND SPECULOOS
From and idea seen in Macarons by José Maréchal
A slice of foie gras or foie gras mousse, about 3/8-inch (1 cm) thick
Fig jam or chutney
A few speculoos cookies, finely ground
Have the foie gras mousse and the jam chilled before assembling and serving.
Pair off shells two by two, top and bottom. Cut out rounds of the mousse with a sharp knife or cutter and place on bottom shell of macarons. Place a dab of the jam or chutney on the foie gras and place top shell on top. Carefully press ground cookies into the filling around the sides.
MACARONS WITH FRESH GOAT CHEESE, DARK OR SOUR CHERRY JAM AND PISTACHIOS
Fresh goat cheese, well drained
Sour or dark cherry jam – I found dark cherry jam with thyme in my cheese shop
Finely crushed unsalted green pistachio nuts
Have the drained goat cheese and the jam chilled before assembling and serving.
Pair off shells two by two, top and bottom. Scoop out teaspoons of the cheese , press into a compact coin shape the diameter of the macaron shell and place on bottom shell of each pair. Place a dab of the jam on the goat and place top shell on top. Carefully press crushed pistachios into the filling around the sides.
I didn’t give quantities for most of the ingredients as it depends on how many of each you decide to make. And all the leftover ingredients either keep well or will be eaten for lunch or a snack the next day.
Serve with a sparkling wine or champagne!