Ah, France! Doesn't it conjure up images of beautiful, picturesque countryside, the elegance of Paris, the musical language, and of course, wonderful food?
Today is Bastille Day in France, so to mark the occasion, I have made two French-style recipes.
Pictured at the top of this post are macarons with white chocolate and raspberry ganache. I have wanted to make macarons for a very long time, but I have read about how difficult they are to get right (for example, see Duncan's article on Melbourne's "finest"). (For a list of desirable macaron qualities, see this article on Serious Eats.)
I decided to bite the bullet and aim just to make them, rather than for perfection. After all, I have never made them before! And for the record, I think I did OK - it's not Laduree, but it's not bad either. My macarons tasted very good (IMHO), and - best of all - they had feet!! (To read about feet on macarons, which puzzled some of my friends no end, see Helen's terrific article on demystifying macarons in Desserts Magazine.)
I used the recipe for Macarons with White Chocolate and Raspberry Ganache on page 40 of the July 2009 edition of Australian Gourmet Traveller. Interestingly, the recipe said that I would end up with 40 macarons (presumably counting each half as one) - I ended up with 19, so I halved the ganache recipe.
If you would like to take up the macaron challenge, the recipe that I used is as follows:
130g pure icing sugar
110g almond meal (I made my own from blanched almonds)
105g (~2) egg whites left at room temperature overnight*
65g caster sugar (I used granulated sugar - probably made my macarons coarser, but it worked)
4-5 drops pink food colouring (or perhaps more - note that mine are a pale egg shell colour)
(To see why, read Helen's article referenced above. She mentions that you can age them quickly by microwaving them on medium heat for ~10 seconds - but be careful, because I ended up cooking half of my first batch of egg whites.)
50ml heavy cream
100g white chocolate
45g raspberries, coarsely chopped
Line baking trays with baking paper.
Put the almond meal and icing sugar in a food processor and pulse until finely ground, then sift into a separate bowl and set aside.
Whisk 90g of egg whites with the whisk attachment of a stand mixer to the soft peak stage (or if you are me, you forget and whisk all of them!) to the soft peak stage. Add the caster sugar in tablespoon batches while continuing to whisk the egg whites, until the mixture is thick and glossy, then beat in the food colouring (if using).
Remove the bowl from the stand mixer, and fold in the almond meal/icing sugar mixture in batches until well combined and the mixture slides down the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining egg white to loosen the mixture (if you remembered to save some!), then spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm plain tip. Pipe 3cm diameter circles onto the paper lined baking trays, leaving 3cm between each one, and tap the trays on the counter to remove air bubbles. Leave the raw macarons to stand for 4-5 hours or until a crust begins to form. (This crust will seal in the heat and cause the "feet" to form at the base of the macaron.)
Preheat your oven to 140 degrees Celsius and bake the macarons in it for 10-12 minutes until they are firm but not coloured. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool completely on the trays. Use a small flat egg lifter to carefully remove the baked macarons from the trays once cool (or follow Helen's tips for loosening them).
To make the ganache, bring the cream to the boil in a saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate. Leave the pan to stand for 5 minutes to give the chocolate time to melt, then stir the mixture until it becomes smooth. Refrigerate for about 45 minutes, then stir again until smooth.
Stir the chopped raspberries through the ganache, then spoon one teaspoon of ganache onto one half of the macarons, and spread it out to the edges. Place another macaron on top of each half, then refrigerate the macarons until set. (They keep in the fridge for 1-2 days.)
My other Bastille Day recipe was a Hearty Lamb Stew (Civet d'Agneau). This recipe is from page 314 of On Rue Tatin by Susan Loomis, a delightful autobiography peppered with recipes. The recipe is from Susan's butcher in Louviers, M. Jean-Louis Richard. It is a truly wonderful stew - it is rich and full-flavoured, and smells devine. Susan states that this stew is "an uncommonly delicious treatment for lamb". If that doesn't tempt you, I don't know what will!
My only tip is - be prepared to wait. The meat marinades for 48 hours before cooking (I only had 24 hours up my sleeve), and it rests for an hour outside of the fridge before you begin to cook. You also need to cook the prepared stew for 1 1/4 hours, so this dish is best made over a leisurely weekend.
I altered the recipe by using less meat, correspondingly less wine and garnishing with baby spinach rather than parsley. However, the original recipe is as follows:
1.5kg lamb, diced
750ml red wine
2 dried bay leaves
20 sprigs fresh thyme
20 black peppercorns
3 tablespoons butter
2 carrots, peeled and cut into thin slices
1 onion, cut into thin slices
3 tablespoons plain flour
salt and pepper
1/2 cup parsley for garnishing
Put the lamb in a shallow, non-corrosive casserole dish, and pour over the wine. Add the herbs and peppercorns, mix to combine, then place on the regrigerator to marinade for 48 hours, stirring every now and again.
On cooking day, remove the lamb from the fridge an hour before cooking.
Preheat your oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Remove the lamb from the marinade (which you should reserve) and pat it dry. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed frypan, and lightly brown the lamb. Remove the lamb from the pan.
In the same pan, cook the carrots and the onions until golden and soft, then remove from the pan.
Still using the same pan, add the flour and cook, stirring, until it becomes golden. Pour the marinade into the pan with the flour, and cook until it thickens into a sauce.
Put the lamb and vegetables back into the casserole dish used for the marinating process. Season with salt and pepper, and pour over the thickened marinade. Cover the casserole dish, then place into the oven to cook for 1-1 1/4 hours.
Remove the cooked stew from the oven and allow it to stand for 5 minutes before sprinkling over the chopped parsley and serving.
I served my stew with mashed potatoes, but you could try a traditional French potato dish in its stead.
I loved this stew - it was thick and rich and delicious, and except for the time factor, I would make it often.
Happy National Celebration to those who are French. Vive la France!