Today I went shopping. By accident. I was going in to work to try a few recipes while the resto was closed because it’s been too busy to get any work done on the fall menu during regular hours. I walked into the mall by mistake. Then into a shop I worked in about 8 years ago, before I started working in kitchens. Actually, that’s the job I quit to go work in a kitchen. I was terribly naive back then.
But I had a great wardrobe.
I walked in with the intension of looking. And then I saw myself in the mirror.
Oh kitchens, what have you done to me?
No workout time means I’m not as…muscular as I once was, this was not a surprise. But in just a threadless tee, jeans, and Onitsuka Tigers, I resembled…a teenage runaway.
I knew things had gotten bad when the Sous and I went to a Fashion Show on a canapé mission and wore these:
Silly me. I’ve been living out of a suitcase for 15 months and it’s starting to show. I buried my shame in my work as I am so good at doing. I kinda forgot how I’m a mess.
So today instead of frantically hightailing it out of the shop embarrassed of being alive, a determination grew inside me to become a fuckingadultgoddammit. So I bought a sweater that came with instructions.
My pastry skills are not a mess. Requiring a new petit four every night to end the meal began as a challenge for me but is not often the highlight of my day.
A petit four is a tiny, baked item (the name directly translates to “little oven” though many mistake chocolate bonbons or truffles to be a petit four but I will keep my trap shut about the terminological misuse), often used to finish a meal. Traditional french petit fours are usually madeleines, macarons, tiny buttercream or jam layered cakes dipped in glaze, or a canelé. A dry petit four (“sec”) are basically dainty, wafer-thin cookies with chocolate, dried fruit or nuts, or shortbreads.
At first, I’d shit my pants every afternoon when I’d remember I needed to make petit fours for dinner. After I got my shit together (job adjustment is never pretty), I started making elaborate plans for the final touch of the meal; after all, most people don’t order dessert, but everyone gets a petit four, so this was my chance to make my mark on their night. The kitchen, however, is not ideal for…elaborate. Like my bonbon station. On the chest freezer. In the hall. Sigh.
Eventually I hit a rhythm, mostly using up product I had too much of, or was easy and at hand, or that we had but didn’t have on the menu so no added costs would be incurred.
I ran out of cocoa powder when I had truffles planned, so I rolled them in cookie crumbs. Personally, I prefer this to cocoa as it adds a textural element, and they totally look more like truffles. I now roll a select few in cocoa for gluten-free diners but finish the rest in cookie.
Sometimes I have fun with childhood themes, as cooks are bound to do given our maturity level, so I’ve made Kids Breakfast macarons and Movie Theatre Popcorn macarons. I’d have never known you can successfully steep melted butter with popcorn then whisk it back to a happy homogenous state and toss it into a buttercream without it breaking had I not insisted it was possible.
So here’s the most popular macaron of the season, the Strawberry, Balsamic, and Black Pepper. There isn’t anything super crazy about these guys.
I take dried slices of strawbs, whiz them up into a powder in the spice mill, about 2 tbsp worth for this recipe, and blitz that in with the almonds, icing sugar, and salt.
Proceed with the regular making of the macaron – I like this recipe, adapted from Wild Sweets, because it has more sugar whipped in with the whites, there is less chance they will over-whip.
90g Egg whites
140g Icing Sugar
good pinch salt, as always
Sift blitzed almonds and icing sugar through fine mesh. Whip whites till frothy, then add sugar in stages. Whip until glossy and full. Fold in dry in three stages, then proceed to deflate the mixture by pressing and folding. When it is ready it will have a shine, but still have body, a thickness. When you pull up the batter and let it fall, it breaks like a curtain, it is almost as smooth as pâte à choux, but mounds remain. As you pipe it the mixture will collapse further so don’t overdo it before it gets into the bag.
After piping, I crack a good deal of black pepper all over them, then give them a fine spray of red colour — I’m not the biggest fan of food colour, I will use it sparingly only for a boost, and only if there is no way to do so naturally. If you add colour to your shells, add liquid colour to the whites before whipping, gel when the whites are almost done.
For the buttercream, I use an italian style then whip a strawberry glaze into it. This is how this treat came about, I make fried-to-order doughnuts at lunch and with an abundance of strawberries on hand, began glazing them in the seasonal fruit, but then what to do with leftover glaze at the end of the week? Strawberry Macarons.
300g Puréed strawberries
Place both in a sauce pot on medium heat and boil until it reaches 100C; it will be thick but still runny. I find keeping the temp at 100 means you maintain a good deal of ripe strawberry flavour without it becoming jammy, or ‘cooked’. This recipe works well for berries and stone fruits.
As I’m a fan of flavour not sugar, I wanted these to have the most strawberry flavour possible, so I stuffed them with strawberries. Making a little indent in their top side accommodates the extra baggage. You can seal the freshness for 48h with the buttercream on either side. And no one knows till they eat them.
Finish with a drizzle of reduced balsamic and a flake of dried strawberry.
Problem is, now I want to stuff all the macarons all the time.