Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Some days are difficult... particularly when you have to wait and you don't want to wait any longer. Living life in what seems to be an eternal pause is hard. Sometimes I end up with tears in my eyes without really knowing why, at the most random moments. When that happens I try to look around and recognize all the good things that surround us. Oh, and I finally convinced the boy to get us a milk jug and sugar bowl. (Michelle agrees with me that you can never have too many, yet we didn't have any). Surprises in the mailbox always cheer me up, so thanks Jo and Zarawitta. I will be writing some letters soon, I might have gotten supplies, fancy papershops are a real source of happiness. Aside from tea, reading, enjoying the sunshine when it's there, cooking... how do you cope with anxiety?
Monday, June 17, 2013
It's warm outside. Really warm. It is always so unexpected, when the sun decides to shine, it almost feels like it's a different country. People are happier, suddenly all the cafés burst alive with open terraces and children play outside. And when its warm my brain is tricked into believing it is going to last forever, the bright weather. But we know better, and so everyone does their best to suck it all up, just in case. On Saturday it was not *that* warm, yet people were out in their sandals and shorts. I was talking to an Argentinian friend yesterday about how the weather does change the personality of people, how maybe that's the reason people of northern latitudes seem quieter, more structured. We really are animals... connected and dependant on nature. How was your weekend?
Friday, June 14, 2013
Time goes so fast... I can not believe it's the weekend again. Not only that, but we are pretty much fully booked until the end of the month. We will be going to Amsterdam twice this weekend, and things seem to be moving, happening. Friends are getting engaged, a bunch of friends are leaving the country, and there are so many expositions, concerts, things to do (we might not be able to do everything we want, oh, life). In case you didn't know, Manu Chao will be giving a free concert in Rotterdam tomorrow (June 15) within the Rotterdam Unlimited festival. If you are in Paris (or fancy a weekend trip), these are the last days of the photography exposition: "La valise mexicaine" at the Musée d'art et d'histoire du judaïsme. This exposition showcases the recently found negatives from Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and Chim. They were pioneers in war photography, and brought light to what was happening during the Spanish Civil war. It would not be an exaggeration to say they revolutionized the way photojournalism was made.The history of the lost mexican suitcase is fascinating in itself. The exhibit will be in Paris until June 30. What are you up to?
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
While in Istanbul last September, we discovered the quaintest little coffee-shop, Hafiz Mustafa. It is a family-owned confectionary that exists since 1864, founded during the first years of Sultan Abdulaziz’s reign in the Ottoman Empire. They had the best Turkish delights that I have ever tried: fresh, crunchy, fruity and full of flavour. I do not even like Turkish delight so much, at least not the cheap commercial stuff that I had tasted until then. This stuff is hand-crafted with the best ingredients and you can tell how it's the real deal from the first bite.
They are in front of the Sirkeci metro/tram station, in the Eminönu neighborhood. You could stay for hours and hours in their café on the second floor, covered in the typical, pretty Turkish tiles, and watch people coming and going or get lost in a book.
We had Turkish tea and coffee and a few of their desserts, from cakes, to jellies, to rice-pudding and local specialties (yup, once we find a place like this, we make sure we come back to try the whole menu!). Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.
This is where we got our stash of candy to bring back home. The staff is very kind and attentive. Being there transports you to other times, and you can tell it's good as the place is loved among locals of all ages: from grandmas, to business people, to families with children and young couples. If you ever find yourself in Istanbul you should totally visit Hafiz Mustafa (they will even let you try a few of their delicious concoctions).
You will find them at:
Hocapasa Mahallesi Muradiye Caddesi
No: 51, Sirkeci - Fatih - Istanbul,
34080 Sirkeci Eminönü / Istanbul
(very very near to the Sirkeci train / tram station).
Monday, June 10, 2013
We finally saw some cute, baby water-chickens. Normally you spot them earlier, but with this year's weird spring, complete with snow, they took a while. We've had a few warm days (gone now) and these little fuzzies made me smile. And talking about eggs hatching, I am finally ready for the egg retrieval / follicle aspiration. As I write, I am being rushed to go. Wish me luck. How was your weekend?
Update: We have 19 eggs, everything seems to be going well, the embryologists must now be busy at the lab doing their magic. I have to drink 2 liters of water per day... not sure how I will manage.
Friday, June 7, 2013
I have made a few batches of macarons (almond, chocolate, raspberry) and though I manage to get pretty good results, I am still not 100% there. I have been reading a lot on the subject: I've researched books, I've gone through troubleshooting posts, and I have tried both the Italian meringue technique (used at Pierre Hermé) and the French meringue technique. Italian meringue is more stable than French, as the sugar syrup is cooked, and leads to smoother, shinier, chewier macarons. To achieve perfect results you really need to know your oven, as the little crunchy, melt-in-your-mouth cookies are very sensitive to temperature. There should not be any currents / drafts in your oven, or you might get cracks. An oven thermometer might be a good investment.
For the French meringue macarons I used Brave Tart's recipe. For the Italian meringue macarons I used Jose Marechal's basic recipe. If, like me, you are eager to know the scientific explanation behind baking, his little book is worth every penny (and not so expensive either). It has a lot of photos and detailed reasoning behind the steps that are important in the process of macaron making. I promise to share the specific recipe soon. If you are a visual person though, you can see the process (at Pierre Hermé's kitchen, nonetheless) here and below.
So here are a few tips I have learnt, tested and gathered from all over the place:
-Macarons need precision. A scale to weigh your ingredients (from the egg whites, to the icing sugar and ground almonds) is necessary. Changes in proportion (even minimal) can cause changes in texture. I normally grind the almonds with the sugar together to make sure they are fine enough.
-It is very important to mix the icing sugar and ground almonds (le “tant pour tant”) until they are homogenous and then sieve the mix several times. There should not be any big pieces left (or they will cause your macarons to be grainy, or worse, to crack whilst baking). A processor is a big help here. I don't have one, so I use a blender and a coffee grinder for the harder pieces.
-Your mix has to have the right consistency. When you make the batter, le macaronage, you are actually trying to beat the air out of the meringue, so circular and rubbing movements are needed. Your batter should pour in a ribbon-like manner (it's often described as molten, or lava-like) and join the rest of the batter after a few seconds.
-Tapping the trays after piping your macarons is important not only to flatten them, but to break any bubbles of air. Air bubbles trapped during baking will find it’s way up and crack the shells.
-Having fully dried shells, letting a film or crust form (call this: “le croûtage” if you’re feeling fancy) is crucial. It allows macarons to stretch sideways while they are still out of the oven. If you omit this step the macarons will grow sideways AND upwards while baking, causing them to crack*. The air should escape only through the “feet” forming the ruffles on the bottom (instead of through the top of the shell which would cause them to break), hence the crust also prevents cracks. You should let your macarons rest after piping from 20 min to 1 hour (depending on the air humidity). When you touch them, they should not stick to your fingers.
-I used a silicon mat only once and it was disastrous. I've had a much better experience with waxed paper. The macarons stuck to the silicon and it seemed that they did not cook properly even after more than half an hour (unusual). My guess is the silicon does not get as hot as the (thinner) paper.
-For the filling, ganaches are delicious. I used 200 ml whipping cream + 200 gr dark chocolate + 50 gr butter. Just warm up the cream until it is just about to boil (but it shouldn’t), pour it over the chopped chocolate and stir so it melts, then add the butter. Let it cool to form a cream. You can even make a fruit-ganache (replacing the cream with juices / jam). I have also used lemon curd and homemade jams. Buttercream, cream-cheese frosting, nutella can also work. Oh and don't eat them right away, macarons taste way better one or two days after resting in the fridge. The flavors blend and the crusts become moist in the interior.
Finally here are some pretty useful posts I found:
-Marcela's take on macaron making.(I lost my fear because of her, and her post is full of pictures of each step, so you get an idea of how things should look);
-Brave Tart has a few interesting articles: first of all, read the Macaron Mythbusters (anyone who references Heisenberg's uncertainty principle has my trust), secondly, just to clarify, Macarons are for eating (even if your macarons don't look as if they should be showcased in a light-green French pâtisserie, they will still be delicious) and finally her Macaron's Ten commandments were very helpful and straight-forward. *She does say that for her, "le croûtage" (letting your macarons form a crust before baking) is not necessary, as she pops her macarons straight to the oven right after piping (and tapping the pans). I did that, and it didn't work for me. Moreover, the longer the macarons rested, the better they looked. So in my humble home-experience drying helps a lot.
Try this at home! Worst case scenario you'll have a bunch of crunchy almond cookies to munch on! (And by the way, today I am over at Any Other Woman... talking about eating macarons (and ice-cream) at our wedding, do visit!)