What can I say? I love sweets, in all shapes and sizes! You only live once, so why not indulge once in a while? Or, in my case, most of the time...
For the month of October we got to take on one of many bakers’ deepest, darkest kitchen nightmares : macarons. Our talented bakers Korena from Korena in the Kitchen and Rachael from pizzarossa made the intimidating task of mastering these French beauties a breeze.
So this may seem a little controversial, but I have come to the conclusion that macarons are a bit of a rort. This is not my first macaron rodeo so i’ve had a little experience with baking these finnicky little biscuits and I still think that the amount of time and emotional energy that is invested in these, albeit delicious, little sweets is a bit absurd. I know that there is a scientific method that we follow, but the number of variables that are utterly out of the home baker’s control and the significant impact that these variables have on the final product mean that I mostly put these in the ‘too hard basket’. For the sake of this challenge though, I dusted off my macaron stencil for a final go at them.
I’ve had zero success with the french method, so Rachael’s Italian Method was my chosen recipe. I know its all voodoo but I find something comforting in the stability of the italian meringue. But really, we all know that once that tray is in the oven, all you can really do is pray to the Mac Gods and hope that they are feeling benevolent and will bestow your little macs with some tiny little feet to stand on.
I decided to fill mine with a chai buttercream
so I flavoured a normal buttercream recipe with chai powder
(you can see how some of the tray behind went wonky and refused to pop up their sweet little feet)
and I was feeling a little bit artsy
so I decorated the top shells with some edible gold paint
So, lovely readers, how have your adventures in macaron making been? Many successes? Or is the formula to footed macs still as elusive as ever?
Macaron Shell Ingredients
140g ground almonds, room temperature
140g powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
100g egg white (from approx. 3 eggs), room temperature, divided 50/50
100g granulated (white) sugar
40g (weight) water
1. Mix the ground almonds and powdered sugar together in a bowl, then grind in a food processor until you have an extra fine texture. You may need to do this in batches, depending on the size of your food processor.
2. Sift into a large bowl, putting any bigger pieces of almond back into the food processor to re-grind.
3. Add 50g egg whites and mix thoroughly into the almond mixture. Set aside.
4. In another bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, scrupulously clean and free of any oil or egg yolk, beat the other 50g egg whites to stiff peaks.
5. Meanwhile, put the granulated sugar and water into a small heavy-based saucepan and heat on medium-low to 118°C / 244°F, without stirring.
6. While whisking constantly on low speed (to avoid splashing hot syrup), slowly add the cooked sugar mixture to the beaten egg whites, pouring it down the inside edge of the bowl. You’ll get a bit of it hardening on the side of the bowl, but that’s okay – just leave it there.
7. Whisk at high speed until the mixture is cool, about 3 minutes. About 1 minute before the end, you can add food colouring, if not done at the almond paste stage. The mixture should increase in volume and become firm and shiny, and it should be thick and marshmallowy when you lift the whisk.
8. Scrape the meringue onto the almond mixture and incorporate with a rubber or silicone spatula. You do actually want to get a lot of the air out of the mixture – you do this by folding and squashing the mixture against the side of the bowl, rotating the bowl a quarter turn with each fold. Be sure to firmly scrape the bottom of the bowl with the spatula, so you don’t leave a layer of almond paste there. Mix until you have a homogenous batter that runs from the spatula in a thick ribbon.
9. Transfer the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 7 – 9mm / #10 – #12 plain round tip (this is best done in two batches, so you don’t overfill the bag). Pipe 60 equally sized rounds, about 4cm / 1 1/2” in diameter, in staggered rows onto the prepared sheets. Hold the piping bag upright with the tip just above the sheet and pipe without pulling upwards or swirling in circles, so the batter comes out in a round blob around the tip, and give a little sideways flick at the end to break the stream.
10. Tap the baking sheet firmly on the bench several times to release air bubbles and obtain a smooth surface. If you have any tips sticking up, press them gently down with a damp fingertip.
11. Leave the tray to rest at room temperature for at least 20 minutes until a slight skin forms. If you touch it, it should be only just tacky.
12. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 150°C / 300°F / Gas Mark 2. Bake the macarons in the centre of the oven for 18 minutes (20 minutes if using cocoa in the shells), one sheet at a time, turning the sheet half-way.
13. Remove from oven and remove the parchment from the tray with the shells still on it and place on a cooling racks for at least 30 minutes, until completely cool, then remove macaron shells carefully from the parchment.
Chai Spiced Buttercream Ingredients
125g unsalted butter (softened)
1 1/2 cup icing sugar
2 tbsp milk
1 sachet chai powder (1-2 tbsp depending on your taste)
1. Beat the butter and icing sugar until combined
2. Add the milk, one tablespoon at a time and beat on high until light and fluffy
3. Mix in the chai powder
4. Fill those macarons!
I’ve never been one for learning languages. Its like maths, I can learn the rules but I find it ridiculously difficult to apply them in contexts that don’t require me to list the conjugations of a specific verb. But, as we were visiting family in Italy, I thought I should make a concerted effort to at least be able to say some basic things to them in their own language. I began using the DuoLingo app on my phone which actually got me quite far because each level is broken down into tiny lessons that I could do on the short train trip to work or while waiting for dinner to finish cooking. It was also great to be able to practice speaking the language through the app as well. All this meant that I came to Italy is a decent understanding of some (quite basic) Italian. The longer we were in Italy, the more confident I got with trying to speak some of the language while we were out and about. Mostly, my translations of the menu and attempts to order food (my primary goal) were met with kind smiles and reassuring nods. Until the day we went out for a roast chicken lunch.
We decided to venture slightly further out of the city centre and try some of the food that is served in the suburbs when people go home for lunch. My research led us to Giannasi, an old school kiosk serving rotisserie chicken from a recipe that they had used since the shop opened in 1967.
Really, looking at that succulent, golden chicken, why would you change the recipe? After all, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it!
There was a huge crowd of locals waiting to buy their lunch but it was quite orderly and, when we had reached the front, I felt confident enough to try ordering our meal in Italian. It went a little like this:
Me: “scusi, due polli e mezzo”
Me: “si, si! E due te pesci”
Him: *quizzical look* “pesci?”
Me: “Oh! No! PescA!”
In my enthusiasm, I ordered two half chickens cut into quarters and two FISH teas. Not quite the PEACH teas I was going for! The server was kind and laughed off my mistake and I left triumphantly with my chickens and teas but a little red faced too.
As most people seem to return to their apartments to eat, there is no seating at the kiosk. You can sit down in the small park nearby but there is little shade from the hot Summer sun so be prepared to tan it up a little while you eat. Really, you will probably be so involved in sucking every last shred of gorgeously marinated chicken off the bone that you won’t notice anything else! Apparently these chickens are “aromatized” for 24 hours before they are broiled again before serving.
But, if you’re not a huge fan of chicken, there is still plenty of choice for you. Giannasi are also renowned for their arancini and risotto, as well as their vast array of marinated and chargrilled vegetables. We wanted to try some of the grilled eggplant but were so full of tasty chicken that we just couldn’t fit it in! The prices are very reasonable too. I can’t quite remember how much but I think our lunch was something like 6 euros all up?
And how was the fish tea? I hear you asking cheekily!
I feel like I need to begin an immediate petition to bring San Benedetto Peach Tea to Australia
This stuff is delicious. And cool to look at too!
So, my lovelies, have you had any embarrassing ‘lost in translation’ type moments in your life? Please spill the beans!
Now Lunch At Your Desk is clearly not part of my series of travel posts but I thought we needed some more lunchspo to keep us on track! We will resume normal programming in the next post.
Im going to go out on a limb here and say that I think my number one problem that often prevents me from bringing my own healthier lunch to work is Time.
Or lack thereof.
Is this true for you too?
Well, if it is the case and you don’t fancy the weird deliciousness of the last minute apple and peanut butter sandwich that I shared with you last time (and I can only partly blame you for that because it does sound weird – but delicious! I promise!) then perhaps this little lunch might be your saviour.
I introduce, The Bitsa Lunch. Im not sure if the term ‘bitsa’ is used widely elsewhere but in Australia it’s often used to describe a dog that has no discernable breed. Its a ‘bitsa’ you know, bits of this and bits of that…
And that is that way that I would describe this simple and tasty lunch. Its a little bit of this and a little bit of that and a whole lot of stuff-I-found-at-the-back-of-my-fridge. It comes in many different variations, but the beauty of this lunch is that with a few pantry staples, you can pick and mix everything you have in your kitchen to make a filling and nutritious lunch.
First we begin with a base, something bready and filling like:
Then we add some veggies like:
Then we have some extra tasty things like:
I always keep a plate in my desk drawer at work as well as a knife, fork and spoon in the mug that I use to store my pens and pencils. That way I can bring a bunch of small tupperware containers or snaplocks with each part of my lunch and then just lay them out on the plate for some leisurely eating. It is hands down the quickest fresh lunch that you can prepare and will make you the envy of all your coworkers with their greasy takeaway. It also has the added bonus of making you calm down, slow down and enjoy your food. What better way to begin the second half of the day?
So peeps, what pantry staples would you include in your bitsa lunch? Leave a comment for me below!
As I sort though all my travel memories to decide which ones to share with you, they’re basically all related to food. I defy anyone to go to Italy and pass any moment of the day with an empty stomach. It just wont happen. Mostly because of places like Eataly.
Eataly is everything you want in Italian food under one roof. The three level building combines a bookstore and cookware shop with myriad dining counters, a deli, bakery, fishmonger, grocer, olive oil dispensary and many, many more culinary delights! We were too late for lunch here but stopped by to pick up a few things for a casual dinner before going to the opera that night. Actually, considering the time we spent wandering through the store, its quite amazing that we made it to the opera at all. Let me walk you through some of the highlights…
Seriously, Italy, well played.
Walking through Eataly was like disappearing down the rabbit hole. The delicious and mesmerising rabbit hole. We must have spent hours there annoying the poor workers who were trying to restock from the lunch crowd to prepare for the deluge of diners that would inevitably descend in the evening. It took all my strength not to fill my suitcase with jars of olives, chocolate spread, oil and try to sneak in a few cheeses. Surely customs couldn’t begrudge a girl a leg of authentic Italian prosciutto bigger than her head? Surely!
But instead we satisfied ourselves with a hotel-room picnic dinner of bread, crackers, cured meats, cheeses and tapenade.
Dear Eataly, I love you and i’m coming back. I promise.
Address: Piazza XXV Aprile, 10, 20121 Milan, Italy
Nearest Metro: Garibaldi
Opening Hours: 10am-midnight
I freaking hate coffee. Actually, it’s probably not that serious, more just that i’ve never had a coffee that i’ve enjoyed drinking. Until now.
Yes, this is me enjoying a cappucino with my breakfast in the garden of the San Francisco Hotel in Milan.
There was nothing super special about this coffee but I enjoyed sipping on it in the cool morning air, fortifying me for the day of sightseeing ahead. My husband’s family is Italian and he took the opportunity to show me the true Italian way that some things are done. Like only drinking the milky, frothy cappucinos with breakfast. As a milk-and-cereal girl (something the Italians don’t really go in for) this was the best way to get my hit of milk for the day with a little bit of a kick to get me going. Don’t get too excited though, now that i’m not in holiday mode, i’m still thoroughly unimpressed with coffee in general. It must have just been the magic of Milan!
After leaving overcast Berlin it was a relief to touch down under the clear, blue skies of Milan. Italy was where hubs and I were to spend the bulk of our trip and I have so many things to share with you all! Once we had checked in to our hotel, we were right back out the door to visit one of the most anticipated stops of our whole trip. The very first thing we did was hop on the underground to go to Fondazione Prada and get a drink at Bar Luce, a bar designed by my hero, director Wes Anderson. If you’re not already a fan, the films to watch are Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom, Rushmore just to start you off. Anderson’s aesthetic is wonderfully quirky and beautiful. I was super excited to be in a place designed by him and feel like a character in one of his films.