Saturday, January 29, 2011

You say Macaroon, I say Macaron!

There is this cookie called a coconut macaroon….

                                        there is also the delightful Italian Almond Macaroon…..

Italian Macaroon
 and then there is a heavenly bit of pleasure called a French Macaron.

Yes,  all 3 are cookies, but that is about all they have in common.  
The first macaroons were almond meringue cookies similar to today’s amaretti, with a crisp crust and a soft interior. They were made from egg whites and almond paste (a combination of equal parts of ground blanched almonds and sugar, mixed with egg whites—today glucose or corn syrup can be substituted). The name of the cookie comes from the Italian word for paste, maccarone (mah-kah-ROW-nay), and is also the word for pasta/macaroni and dumplings.
While origins can be murky, some culinary historians claim that that macaroons can be traced to an Italian monastery—where they were modeled after the monks’ belly buttons!

Macaroons came to France in 1533 with the pastry chefs of Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henri II. Two Benedictine nuns, Sister Marguerite and Sister Marie-Elisabeth, seeking asylum in the town of Nancy during the French Revolution (1789-1799), paid for their housing by baking and selling the macaroon cookies, and thus became known as the “Macaroon Sisters” (the French word is macaron, pronounced mah-kah-RONE).

Of course, Catherine didn’t tell me this story herself….so who knows, and today both the Italians and the French claim the cookie as their own. Both are wonderful and in my humble opinion, a hundred times better than America’s Coconut Macaroon. So, I am going to remove the coconut version from the table for today.

Colmar, France
In 2002, I experienced my first French Macaron in Colmar, France. I was immediately captivated by the luscious colors and fillings. It may well be the Queen of the versatile cookie!

Colmar is located in the Alsace region of France. Surrounded by vineyards, full of spectacular restaurants, Colmar is known as the Venice of France. Lovely canals meander through the town, making Colmar one of the world’s most beautiful cities in Europe as well as one of the most photographed. But to me….it was the sparkling glass and glistening highly polished brass of the dessert display cabinets full of beautiful French pastries in delicate pastel colors that I remember the most. I must have stood before that display for 20 minutes trying to decide which flavor and color of Macaron that I wanted. Unless you’ve experienced it, there is no way to imagine the joy of that moment! An absolutely perfect pastel yellow lemon macaron and a cup of hot tea in a beautiful porcelain tea cup, so thin you could almost see through it. The tablecloths were starched and ironed to perfection as was our server’s long apron. All together, it was a beautiful experience!

Ortigia, Sicily
As for my introduction to the Italian Macaroon, it came in 2008 in Ortigia, Sicily. We stayed in a beautiful old hotel with a 4 star rating. There, resting on my pillow each evening, was a Italian Macaroon. Throughout Sicily, we found these little cookies individually wrapped and left in our rooms to say goodnight.

So what brings all this chatter about Macaroons/Macarons? Let me tell you how I spent close to 4 hours of my day.

About 8 years ago, I became a member of Les Dames D”Escoffier, a world wide philanthropic society of professional women leaders in the fields of food, fine beverage and hospitality. The invitation-only membership, composed of 27 individual chapters across the United States and Canada, is highly diversified and reflects the multifaceted fields of contemporary gastronomy and hospitality. We are so fortunate to have a chapter here in the Kansas City area. I thoroughly enjoyed the organization, the programs and my fellow members, until Arch was diagnosed with cancer. I found my time for organizations was limited, so I chose to take a leave of absence.

Chef Carter Holton

                                       Here it is 6 years later, and I finally returned to the chapter.
Today I attended a class and demonstration by Chef Carter Holton, held in the beautiful kitchens of Portfolio Kitchen and Home at 8027 State Line, Kansas City, Mo. Portfolio is owned by Geri Higgins.
Chef Carter prepared literally dozens and dozens of French Macarons, all in beautiful colors and amazing flavors. Carter Holton is the pastry chef for La Fou Frog, as well as The River Club here in Kansas City and teaches for The International Culinary School at The Art Institutes International - Kansas City. He received his degree from the Culinary Institute of America, the CIA.

He started the class by preparing a dark chocolate ganache with lime zest as the filling for the lime macarons he prepared afterwards. The flavors for the day were Strawberry, Lemon Poppy Seed, Orange, Almond, Chocolate and Lavender.
With humor and authority, Carter prepared our treats. explaining his procedure as we watched carefully. Making a perfect Macaron is not the easiest thing in the world. Those small colorful pillows held together with creamy ganache are a lot of work! Most of the class attendees declared their desire to order the Macarons from Carter rather than rushing home to make their own! In all honesty, I was pretty fired up as I left Portfolio, but on returning home I had second and possibly third thoughts. I haven’t given up totally, I just need to get my ducks in a row, hopefully insuring success. I need to go shopping for perforated bottom sheet pans for baking, several more Silpats for lining those sheet pans, and a scale for measuring ingredients by grams. This making Macarons is not like throwing together a batch of chocolate chip cookies!

For now, I am not going to give you Carter’s recipe. I need to make them a few times, working with his written recipe and instructions as well as trying to incorporate the notes I made as he spoke about the procedure for making the finest macaron. So, stay tuned, I will keep you posted! In the meantime, if you have a French bakery near you, go have a cup of tea and a French Macaron; I’ll be doing the same.

While most food blogs are featuring food for Super Bowl Sunday, there are a few who are not out there with recipes for dips, chili and brisket. Now I love dip, I love chili, I love brisket….but it is refreshing to see a recipe for something else!

Take, for instance, one of my favorite blogs ,Proud Italian Cook. I don’t know the name of the proud Italian cook, but I do know I love the way she looks at food and cooking. She describes herself as “ a wife, mother, Gramma, mother-in-law, and self proclaimed "Foodie". Especially Italian foods!” She is in Real Estate in the Chicago area.
Go to her blog by clicking on
Check out her recipe for Marsala Baked Pears posted on Wednesday the 26th. Of course I am a big fan of Marsala and I adore pears, but doesn’t that cover everyone? Check out her blog, I think you will enjoy it.

Yes, I know the guys aren’t going to be thrilled with a dessert to go with their beer and football, but once they taste these pears, they may feel you have scored a touchdown!

Marsala is a fortified wine produced in Sicily. During my trip to Sicily in 2008, I drank wine from one end of that big island to the other, but it wasn't until I tasted the Marsala that I became dedicated to learning more, tasting more, experimenting in the kitchen more! Every now and then, I Google "Marsala recipes" just for the fun of it and always enjoy some of the inventive ways to incorporate Marsala!

Okay, now for the guys and their Super Bowl food....hey, I have a lot of male readers. I must keep them happy! So, here is a warm beer cheese dip. Get out the chafing dish or fondue pot!

BEER-CHEESE DIP because you can't have a Super Bowl without Velveeta....I think it is a law

1 lb. process cheese spread loaf, cut into pieces
1/2 cup regular or non-alcoholic beer (any brand)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper sauce (make it as hot as you like)
bite-sized vegetables, bread cubes, or pretzels for dipping

Heat cheese and beer in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly, until the cheese is melted and the mixture is smooth. Stir in the red pepper sauce.
Remove mixture and place in an earthenware fondue dish, electric cooking pot, or chafing dish. Keep warm on low heat setting.
Serve with vegetables, bread, or pretzels!

If you would prefer using cheddar, try this one.

1 round pumpernickel bread (unsliced)
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
8 oz. Sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 c. beer
Garlic to taste (1/4 tsp.)

Mix all ingredients together except for the bread. Cut off the top of the bread, then pull out the soft center of the bread, making sure you leave the wall of the bread bowl at least an inch thick. Pour the beer/cheese mixture into the bread bowl, replace the top and wrap in foil. Bake in 400 degree oven for 30 minute. Place bread bowl in center of platter, suround with crackers and or corn chips. Place a serrated knife on platter also for cutting the bread bowl into bite sized pieces.  Dip pieces of bread in cheese.

If you prefer a cold beer cheese, mix the same ingredients in above recipe, chill and serve with chunks of the bread
  As for me....I'm going for the Marsala Pears!  Thank you Proud Italian Cook!

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy
oil painting by Kay Tucker

Somerset Autumn on Wea Creek

Somerset Autumn on Wea Creek
Oil Painting by Kay Tucker, Private Collection


oil painting by Kay Tucker

Kansas Storm

Kansas Storm
oil painting by Kay Tucker, Private Collection

Watercolor Collage

Watercolor Collage

Tempo al Tempo....All in Good Time

Tempo al Tempo....All in Good Time
48"x36" sculptural painting by Kay Tucker