Friday, January 31, 2014

Lavender Orange Macarons

I believe the macaron is the ultimate expression of French pastry, which is saying a lot. Indeed, it's among my top five favorite things to eat. (Don't ask about the other four; they change from time to time and in any event are food for another post.)

Having learned to make them at Atelier des Chefs in Paris about ten years ago, I make macarons at least a couple of times a year. They are technically challenging, requiring numerous delicate processes and steps, and I have to admit that every time they come out well, I am thrilled beyond words for what in the end is a minor achievement (compared to say, solving global warming or peace in the Middle East). But there it is, there's something addictive about both making and eating these wondrous cookies.

Here is a plate of few my favorites, Lavender Orange Macarons with Orange Buttercream, from a recipe by the brilliant Aran Goyoaga and my tried and true Atelier method. They are currently sitting in the fridge for 24 hours getting ready for distribution and consumption tomorrow.

Lavender Orange Macarons with Orange Buttercream
I can hardly wait to try them - nineteen hours to go.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Navettes d'Anise

Navettes d'anise
A friend recently gave me a lovely book, Cuisine Niçoise, by Hillary Davis, which contains recipes from -- you guessed it -- Nice, including her favorite cookies, navettes d'anise. I resolved to make a batch.

There was no photo of these boat-shaped cookies in the book, so I searched the internet and found plenty of photos and many recipes, with surprising variety. While the ones in Cuisine Niçoise use anise seeds, anise extract and vanilla extract, many call for orange flower or rose water, either alone or in combination with anise. In any event, I followed the recipe in the book and came up with very crispy, strongly anise-flavored biscuits that are good by themselves but even better when dipped in red wine (or vin santo, I imagine).

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Homemade Chocolates

When the weather gets bad, some people make cookies, some make brownies, I make chocolate.

Using a pound and a half of Barry 72% Cacao Venezuela that I bought in France, I made an assortment today, including mendiants each covered with a slice of candied ginger, a half hazelnut and a half or whole pistachio nut, depending on size. I was hoping to make them as beautiful as the ones from La Petite Rose, our favorite Paris chocolatier (they use Valhrona). Here you can see that I did not quite succeed -- theirs is the beautiful one with candied orange peel at center left -- but mine are not bad for an amateur.

Mendiants. The perfect one from La Petite Rose is at left center.
The other items were hearts filled with little griottes (Morello cherries) that I got from a jar of preserves from the La Chambre aux Confitures, fluted flat-topped cones filled with toasted hazelnuts, and little disks and leaves of pure chocolate.

Assorted homemade chocolates
Inside of a griotte-filled heart
I tempered the chocolate using Sherry Yard's microwave method, gradually melting the chocolate in short bursts at 50% power until I reached 115 degrees, then adding unmelted chocolate, waiting until the chocolate cooled to 85 degrees and reheating to 90 degrees. For the last step I used my sous vide cooker so I could hold the chocolate at the right temperature until I was ready to use it. As you can see, this method produced shiny chocolate that (you'll have to take my word for it) snaps when bitten.

It is fun and surprisingly easy to do this, and the results are impressive.

Bobby Jay

Monday, January 13, 2014

Looks Matter

Last night I made chicken tagine with two kinds of lemon, an oft-used recipe from my friend Elizabeth Bard. I like to precede this Tunisian stew with a simple salad from the same region: some combination of oranges, radishes, spinach, olives and sheep cheese, with a nut oil and lemon vinaigrette. Although the ingredients are appealing, this doesn't sound like an exciting first course, but with a little care, it can become an appetizing opener.

Here's how I assembled the salad.

Radish, orange, olive and spinach salad, with grated Romano cheese and lemon and argan oil dressing
 A couple of minutes of effort can make a big difference.

Bobby Jay