ISPAHAN MACARONS

Little annoucement: I edited my Index page, so that Macarons are now in a category by themselves, separated from other cookies.  I hope you find that helpful…


Pierre Hermé is the genius behind the combination of flavors known as Ispahan: lychees, roses, and raspberries. Nowadays you can find this sexy trio as a base for cakes, tarts, bonbons, but they were originally conceived many years ago as macaron filling. I read somewhere that Hermé designed them while working at Ladurée, but for one reason or another they were not a big hit then. Only when he opened his own shop and included Ispahan Macs in his regular production customers fell in love, head over heels. The rest is history.  You can find his original recipe here. I had a few issues with his macaron recipes in the past (operator error, I am sure), so to play it safe I used the method that almost never fails me.

ISPAHAN MACARONS
(inspired by Pierre Herme’s recipe)

for the shells:
198 g powdered sugar
113 g almond meal
113 g egg whites at room temperature
a pinch of cream of tartar
100 g granulated sugar
Teal food gel from Chefmaster
1/8 tsp vanilla extract

for the filling:
210g white chocolate, diced finely
200g lychees (preserved in syrup)
40g whipping cream
1/8 tsp rose extract
seedless raspberry jam

to decorate:
white candy melts dyed pink
brown food safe marking pen

Line 2 or 3 heavy baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat mats. Layer the powdered sugar and almond meal   in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture looks like fine meal, about 15 seconds. Pass through a sieve and transfer to a small bowl. Set aside.

Place the egg whites and pinch of cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Make sure that the bowl and the whisk are impeccably clean. Starting on medium speed, whip the whites with the cream of tartar until they look like light foam. The whites should not appear liquid. The foam will be light and should not have any structure.

Slowly rain in the granulated sugar, trying to aim the stream between the whisk and the side of the bowl. Turn the speed up to medium-high. Continue to whip the meringue until it is soft and shiny. It should look like marshmallow creme. Add the gel color and the vanilla. Staying at medium-high speed, whip the egg whites until the mixture begins to dull and the lines of the whisk are visible on the surface of the meringue. Check the peak. It should be firm.

Switch to paddle attachment. Add half the almond meal mixture, turn the mixer on low and mix for about 3 seconds. Stop and add the rest of the almond mixture, turn the mixer on low, and process for about 5 more seconds. It should still be reasonably thick, but the grains of almond should be more or less disappearing in the batter.  Remove the bowl from the mixer, and finish the macaronage by hand.  Put the mixture in a piping bag fitted with one of the tips listed above. Pipe on the prepared baking sheets.

Slam each sheet hard four to six times on the counter. Then fist bump each end of the sheet’s underside twice. Let the unbaked macarons dry until they look dull but not overly dry. Drying time depends on humidity. Ina dry climate, the macarons can dry in 15 to 20 minutes; in a humid climate, it can take 35 to 40 minutes.

While the macarons are drying, heat the oven to 300 F. Bake one sheet at a time on the middle rack. Check in 11 minutes. If the tops slide, then bake for 2 to 3 more minutes. The macarons should release without sticking. Check one or two. If they stick, put them back in the oven for 1 to 2 more minutes. Let the macaroons cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan.

Make the filling: Place the chopped white chocolate in a bowl. Process the lychees in a food processor to form a puree. Drain excessive liquid. Warm up the heavy cream almost to boiling, add the lychee puree, continue simmering until almost boiling again. Pour over the chocolate. Wait for a couple of minutes and gently mix the chocolate to dissolve it fully. Add the rose extract. Allow it to cool to room temperature and then whip it with a handheld mixer until fluffy.  Place in a piping bag fitted with a star tip such as Wilton 1M.

Assemble the macarons: find two macarons similar in size and add a good amount of lychee ganache to the bottom of one of them. Place a bit of raspberry jam in the center, and close with another macaron shell. Squeeze gently to take the filling all the way to the edge.

To make the decorations, dye a small amount of melted candy pink. Spread on a piece of parchment as a thin layer. Let it set at room temperature, cut flower shapes. You can also just fill tiny little silicone flower molds with the melted candy, and freeze. Make enough to have several flowers for each macaron shell. They can be made well in advance and frozen.

Decorate the top of each macaron with branches using a brown food-safe marker. Add flowers using melted candy to glue them on the cookie shell. Store in the fridge for 24 hours for perfect texture.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  I don’t know for how long I’ve been flirting with this recipe, trying to imagine how the flavors would work together. Pierre Hermé makes a raspberry jelly from scratch, cuts in pieces and places that on top of the lychee ganache. I actually did that, but was a bit unsure of how well the gelatin did its job. My little discs of raspberry jelly seemed a bit too watery once removed from the freezer. I did not want to risk ruining my macs, so I used seedless raspberry jam instead. I guess it made them slightly sweeter than they should be, but I really liked the way they turned out. 


For the decoration, I used candy melts, but it’s of course totally optional, they would look pretty nice with a delicate brush of pink luster dust, for instance, making the whole decoration step a lot simpler and faster.  More or less along the lines of these from last year. Keep in mind that these little flowers keep very well in the freezer. In fact, I had made them three weeks earlier. I cannot take credit for the idea, though. I saw macarons similarly decorated on Pinterest a couple of years ago, and saved the idea. I think it was from a German food blog. Wish I could give credit, but a google search did not take me back there.

The lychee flavor is so unique, if you’ve never tried it please do so. It is exotic and mysterious, a great match for the rose extract. Hermé hit this one perfectly. I need to bake a Ispahan Entremet Cake sometime soon. Expect a mirror glaze. Because… Ispahan begs for it…

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ROSE, CARDAMON AND COFFEE SQUARES: CHETNA MAKAN’S COOKBOOK REVIEW

Last year I binge-watched The Great British Bake Off, originally aired in 2014. One of the reasons it took me so long to go for it, is my intense dislike of ANY food competition. I was never too wild about Iron Chef, barely stand the countless versions of Chopped, and despise Cutthroat Kitchen with every cell of my body. There. I feel better. But, despite all that, one day I sat down and put the first episode of The Great British Bake Off to play. I was hooked. First and foremost for the friendly atmosphere. When you watch any of the competition shows from FoodTV-USA, it is impossible to ignore a certain mean streak in the competitors. Each one wants to win so bad, they keep hammering on why they are clearly better than all others. The blatant arrogance really bothers me. I also prefer the format of the British show, particularly when all contestants need to make the exact same (very challenging)  recipe and it gets evaluated in a single-blind way. Today I share with you a recipe from the cookbook of my favorite contestant,  Chetna Makan. She made it almost to the end, facing all sorts of challenges with poise, grace, and a warm smile. And after the recipe, I will walk you through The Cardamon Trail. What a beautiful name!

ROSE, CARDAMON AND COFFEE DESSERT SLICES
(published with permission from Chetna Makan) 

200g (7oz) chocolate digestive biscuits
50g (1 ¾ oz) unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
225ml (8fl oz) milk
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon coffee granules
3 large egg yolks
75g (2 ¾ oz) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon boiling water
2 teaspoons powdered gelatine
250g (9oz) mascarpone cheese
1 teaspoon rosewater
white chocolate curls to decorate

Heat the oven to 180 ° C (350 ° F).

Grease a 20cm (8in) square cake tin and line it with nonstick baking paper. Put the digestive biscuits in a plastic bag and bash them with a rolling-pin to crush them to crumbs. Transfer the crumbs to a bowl and pour in the melted butter, mixing thoroughly so that the crumbs are completely coated. Tip the mixture into the prepared tin and press down firmly with the back of a spoon to create a smooth, even base layer. Bake for 15 minutes, then set aside to cool completely.

In a small pan, slowly heat the milk to scalding point. Add the ground cardamom and coffee granules and mix well, then remove the pan from the heat. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, cocoa and 2 tablespoons of the spiced milk together to form a smooth paste. Slowly add the remaining milk, whisking the whole time. Tip this mixture back into the saucepan and cook over a low heat for 2– 3 minutes until it thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Strain through a sieve into a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10 minutes until lukewarm.

Put the measured boiling water in a small bowl and sprinkle in the gelatine. Stir until the gelatine powder has dissolved. Add this to the lukewarm pastry cream and mix well. In another bowl, beat the mascarpone and rosewater together. Fold this into the pastry cream and pour the mixture over the biscuit base. Cover the tin with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to set.

When ready to serve, carefully remove the cake from the tin and cut it into squares. To finish, sprinkle with white chocolate curls (or any decoration you prefer). The slices will keep, refrigerated, in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Chetna described it perfectly! This is a dessert for grownups. It has that exotic quality, the barely there sweetness, a very unique and complex mixture of flavors. I loved it!  I must confess I messed up big time, though. I used the wrong type of  cookies for the base. She specified chocolate digestifs for the base, but our grocery store carried only two types: regular digestifs, or some with a coating of chocolate at the bottom, very similar to these beauties made from scratch by my friend Karen. After I made the dessert, I exchanged emails with Chetna and she told me I could have used the digestifs either plain or with the chocolate coating, but the type of cookie I used (very thin chocolate Goya Maria brand) would need tweaking, probably some other binding agent to properly work. Learned a lesson there. The result is that the base got a bit too crumbly rather than giving a nice support to the deliciously smooth top layer.  I intend to make it again soon, but did not want to wait any longer to blog about it. So make sure to gather the right tools for the job…

TEASER RECIPE

On the very same day I made a batch of her Clove, Cinnamon and Chocolate cookies… 


OVERVIEW OF THE RECIPE

The cookie dough is made with self-rising flour, butter, two types of sugar, a touch of cinnamon and ground cloves. Then chocolate chips and diced pistachio nuts are mixed in.  I substituted white chocolate because I found out that I had 4 bags of white chocolate chips and not a single one of semi-sweet. Apparently every time I go to the grocery store I tell myself “you better get a bag of white chocolate chips, because you only have the dark ones.”  In case you did not know, I do research for a living. Shocking, I know. Once again, Chetna describes these gems very well:

Yes, everyone thought they come together beautifully….

And now that I shared a recipe and teased you with another one, let’s take a walk through
The Cardamon Trail: Chetna Bakes with Flavours of the East..

Chetna opens the book explaining that it is all about her culinary journey. It brings her food memories in the form of lovely bakes and new taste sensations. She grew up in Jabalpur, a city in central India, and her cooking is heavily influenced by her Mom, who cooked every single meal from scratch while Chetna was growing up.  Her book is divided in six  chapters, as follows:

Cakes. Each of the twenty cakes featured is enticing to me. Always some unexpected flavor that takes them to a higher level.  The very first one, Pear and Cardamon Caramel Upside Cake, already got me dreaming. You might remember that I have a very weak spot for cardamon, so obviously this cake speaks dearly to me.  Second one? Mango, Cardamon & Coconut Cake. Next? Rose and Honey Cake.  But so many more: Rose, Mint, and White Chocolate Cheesecake, Orange and Cinnamon Mini-Cakes (I almost picked them to showcase in this post).  Pistachio, Cardamon, and White Chocolate Cake… Saffron Meringue Cake…  Masala Chai Cake…. Black Sesame and Lime Cake… I tell you, it’s one temptation after another, a showcase of interesting flavor combinations.

Pies and Tarts. This chapter brings savory stuff to the game. I list my favorites: Peach, Star Anise, and Almond Tart…  Chocolate and Mango Tart (beautiful photo!)…  Passion Fruit, Lime, and Ginger Tart. On the savory front,  very creative recipes like Moong Dal Pie, Curry Onion Tart, and Chickpea Curry Pie. I definitely do not bake pies and tarts often enough. Hubby is usually the one in charge of those concoctions. But I need to get more practice and make them by myself.

Sweet Things. Twenty seven goodies for you there… She opens this chapter with something called Saffron Rasgulla, and I think it’s something I had once at a party and fell madly in love with. A little soft ball of curdled milk and saffron, cooked in a simple syrup. I could enjoy that every day of my life without ever getting tired of it. It seems a bit involved to make, but Chetna says it’s not that hard. It is a specialty from Western India.  Now, are you ready for this? Fig and Chocolate Macarons. Yes, my obsession of the past few years! She shares a great take on this French classic. Which of course, I intend to make in the near future. The only reason I did not pick them to feature, is the fact that I have two macaron recipes already waiting in line. The Rose, Cardamon & Coffee Dessert Slices come from this session of her book, as well as the Clove, Cinnamon and Chocolate Cookies, my teaser recipe.  I also bookmarked Sweet Baked Samosas (I am addicted to the savory version),  Mango and Passion Fruit Baked Yogurt, and Star Anise and Rhubarb Profiteroles. She does incredibly nice variations on classic desserts, I love it!

Savory Small Bites. A lot of savory things to tempt you here, I will just list the ones that would be my top choices. Corn Rolls: these are inspired again by one of her Mom’s recipes, Chetna uses phyllo dough to make little parcels with sweet corn kernels mixed with ginger, chilli, and other spices.  They get baked and served warm with chutney. O.M.G. Coriander Chicken Parcels made with puff pastry seem like perfection to me…  Tapioca Vada is another intriguing recipe, different from anything I’ve ever tried. Tapioca pearls are mixed with water to form a kind of dough that gets mixed with mashed potatoes, crushed roasted peanuts and spices. The mixture is fried until golden brown, forming little patties that I am sure are addictive.  I was also quite taken by her Buckwheat Potato Pakoras, I never skip ordering pakoras when I go to an Indian restaurant. Vegetarians will love her Cashew Nut and Paneer Koftas, which use desiccated coconut to improve texture.  But my favorite of this chapter might very well be her Savory Semolina Cake, with spinach and spices such as ginger, turmeric, and black mustard seeds. The photo is drool-inducing.

Breads. Twenty options to make any baker happy.  She opens the chapter with a show-stopping bread: Savory Potato Couronne. It is simply gorgeous, but you don’t have to take my word for it.

The dough is enriched with milk, eggs, and butter, then some grated boiled potatoes are mixed in. The exotic ingredient amchur (mango powder) is also included in the dough. Obviously, I need to get some. Tomato and Paneer Loaf is a nice example of a quick bread, made in a loaf pan. Another absolutely gorgeous picture included. Now, how about some Cumin Bread with Smoked Eggplant? I swear, it’s just one amazing twist after another. Another great temptation for yours truly, Chocolate and Chilli Loaf.  As Chetna put it:

This beautiful loaf has the indulgent feel of a cake yet is, in fact, very light…
The cocoa creates a deep-colored loaf, while the chilli provides a real kick to the aftertaste.

A couple more examples for you, Star Anise, Date, and Chocolate Bread (amazing shaping), and a Lemon Challah with Coconut Paneer. She closes the chapter with several options for Parathas, and a Chicken Naan. Yes, you read it correctly. A version of the quick bread naan, turned into a full meal with ground chicken and plenty of spices. To die for, I am sure!

Accompaniments. In this chapter, she offers little goodies that will go well with many of the recipes in the book. Seven types of chutney, two types of pickles (beets, and cauliflower), Indian Coleslaw, and three types of Raita, the classic cucumber, plus Boondi and Bhindi Raitas. Curious? Boondi are fried chickpeas… Imagine them as a base for raita… Bhindi is okra. Not my favorite veggie in the world, but I bet that prepared the way Chetna describes, I would eat it all with a big smile!

So that wraps up our walk through The Cardamon Trail.  In my mind, it is a perfect cookbook because I adore spices both in savory and sweet concoctions. As I watched the Great British Bake Off, Chetna’s confidence and creativity with the use of spices left a huge impression on me. This book simply confirms her skills. I could not wait to start baking once I got the book downloaded, but then was sort of paralyzed by the number of recipes I picked as “top” choices.

To order the book, click here

I would also like to mention that Chetna has a blog and is also very active uploading videos on her youtube channel.  On youtube you can see her cooking with her kids, with her Mom, it’s really nice!  I subscribe to both blog and videos, so I never miss anything new coming from her.

Chetna, thank you for giving me permission to publish one of your recipes…
I am just about to start a batch of your Black Sesame and Macha Tuiles…
looking forward to enjoying them!

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