Everyone has their weaknesses. For some it’s drugs. For others it’s drink. For still others, it can be something as seemingly innocuous as surfing the internet, head massages, or shirtless albino guys. For me, it’s ice cream and macarons. I’ve never been much of a drinker and, to be honest, golf and drugs hold equal non-appeal as both expensive and uninteresting, but there’s nothing like the rush of partially melted vanilla Haagen Dazs ice cream with a spoonful of Nutella or the exquisite delight of a Pierre Herme pistachio macaron.
I’ve been a lifelong ice cream addict but it wasn’t until five years ago that I made the leap from casual user to manufacturer. At first, it started with those quickie frozen dessert recipes I’d found online. I soon graduated to actual ice cream makers with special freezer storage components, motorized units and built-in timers that would allow me to produce 2 liter batches at a time. I went beyond the gateway flavors and began experimenting with unique particulates and liquors: caramel popcorn vanilla-galliano, maple butterscotch schnapps bacon, bananas foster. I tried to get my friends hooked, mass-producing three, often four flavors a week and bringing them into the office for lunch on Fridays. I was out of control.
My wake-up call finally came on the evening my ex hosted a dinner party in which I served 13 different flavors of home made ice cream. Of course, I had to sample them all. As if that wasn’t enough, one flavor so impressed, it proved to be my undoing because one bowl of the Michel Cluizel premium milk chocolate with crumbled Flake chocolate topped with Advokaat (eggnog) liqueur just wasn’t enough. Neither was two. I hit the wall at three – but only because I’d already sampled those thirteen other flavors. By the time the party wrapped, I was physically ill. I’d hit rock bottom.
Fortunately, with the support of friends and family, I’ve been able to overcome my addiction. I still make ice cream, but rarely more than two flavors at a time, and now limit myself to a mere five bowls a week.
As for macarons, my passion for the little meringue and buttercream/ganache confections began during a business trip to Paris. It’s there I sampled one for the first time – the Pierre Herme pistachio that still ranks as my favorite. Since then, I’ve become a little obsessed, tracking them down in every city I visit, sampling flavors ranging from straight vanilla bean (revelatory in its simplicity) to foie grass and white truffle, and now – progressing to the obvious next step – making them myself, again graduating from recreational user to manufacturer.
First things first though.
THIS is a macaroon:
And THIS is a macaron:
They’re two very different things and yet people confuse them all the time. They sound very similar, so I suppose it’s forgivable for someone who doesn’t know any better to refer to a macaron as a macaroon, but what drives me nuts is when professionals (a.k.a. people who SHOULD know better), can’t distinguish between the two. In a recent episode of Top Chef Canada, one of the competing chefs won a challenge by making what he called a “macaroon” that was actually a “macaron”. When it came time for the judges to weigh in on his creation, not one of them corrected him. In fact, head judge Mark McEwan even called it a macaroon! On another Food Network show, Cupcake Wars, one of the judges (a pastry chef and Frenchman no less!) is introduced as the owner of Mad Mac Macaroons. A 2010 Wall Street Journal article on the macaron’s rise in popularity concludes with a quote from yours truly. Asked if I saw a silver lining to its popularization, I answered: “”Maybe people will stop calling them ‘macaroons.’ ” [Macarons New Popularity Worries Fans - WSJ.com].
And then again, maybe not.
I was surfing the net a couple of weeks ago in search of untested macarons offerings in Vancouver, when I happened to come across the website J’adore les Macarons – French Macarons & Macaron Baking Classes …, a home/online business that not only sells macarons, but offers classes in macaron-making as well! I signed us up and, yesterday, Akemi and I attended the class.
We were told to bring a big container to hold the 20 (in our case, 40) macarons we’d be making over the course of the four hour lesson. “And an apron,”Akemi suggested before we left the house. I assured her that aprons weren’t required, but she brought one anyway – along with her fluffy dalmation slippers.
We arrived for our lesson five minutes early, met the two women who would be taking the class with us, one a parole officer (Great connection. You never know.), the other the owner of her own custom cake pops and cupcakes business (Beautiful creations: http://www.carmensediblecreations.com/). We were instructed to wash our hands and choose an apron. ”See?!”I was reproached.
Okay, granted, aprons aren’t exactly manly, but I figured I might be able to salvage some of my pride with something remotely masculine like, say, one with a “Real Men Don’t Use Recipes” message emblazoned on the front or a “Hook ‘em and Cook ‘em” alternative or even a simple “Licensed to Grill.” No such luck. ”Take the black one!”advised our instructor, Connie. I grabbed the black one, put it on, and started toward the kitchen island when she stopped me with a: “Oh God! Not THAT one!”. I looked down. It was plain black – with darling little white ribbons on the front. I returned to the rack and perused the selection, passing on the pink cherry motif and “Will Cook for Bling” in favor a relatively inoffensive green and yellow lemon apron.
Some of the highlights of our instructive afternoon:
A great time was had by all. We packed up our macarons and headed out, looking forward to sampling the fruits of our labor. But only after the macarons had rested for 24-48 hours.
Or on the car ride home.
If you’re interested in taking the course, go here: http://www.jadorelesmacarons.com/index.html
And if you’re looking to sit down to some tea and Vancouver’s best macarons, might I suggest:
With the fourth issue of SF comic book series, Dark Matter, poised to hit the shelves tomorrow, I give you the full preview of the opening arc’s final installment. Say the gang at http://www.mtv.com/geek/: “DARK MATTER #4 wraps up an intriguing new scifi universe series with a rather big twist, that demands we get a Dark Matter #5 ASAP.”