Sunday, February 21, 2016

Marvellous Macarons and Me-Day Weekend :)...

Not only was I anticipating this weekend to celebrate my birthday but three of my closest girlfriends and I were so looking forward to taking Macarons For Everyone-- Macarons Made Easy (finally...) taught by friend and fellow Food Revolution Toronto Ambassador Mardi Michels at St.Lawrence Market. Lovely Mardi embodies everything French. She teaches French to kids in school, she loves teaching adults to cook, mainly French food (she runs a cooking club for kids too) and she has a house in Southwest France she rents out as a holiday home. And when it comes to French patisserie-favourite macarons, she calls herself a big macaron-ophile :). She explained to our class of 16 on the bright Sunday morning that she endured countless batches of trial and error before landing on this tried-and-true always-perfect basic macaron recipe adapted from Stella Parks ( which she has been teaching with for several years. I will not go through what we learned in step-by-step detail as her recipe commentary is so eloquently written on her blog posts, rather provide my key takeaways from the fun session. Her journey from unpredictable to spectacular can be read here. Key tools to her macaron-making success can be read here.

I've first tried macarons in Paris many many moons ago, but it wasn't until recent years when they've became addictively popular in Toronto did I start admiring them again. Always pretty to look at, but not always tasty-- some made them too sweet (a big factor in my enjoyment), other times the flavour hit was not as per described, shells crunch but lacked chew, and some were just plain bad! Really it's all about mastering the shells, because the filling such as buttercream and ganache is relatively simple to make (along with flavoured add-ins). And, that's what we were here to learn... demystifying the secret magic to perfect macaron shells. (⊃。•́‿•̀。)⊃━☆゚.*・。゚The magic simply is precision and technique (duh, yeah you think? :P ). When Mardi's class became available around my birthday, there was no way I was passing up on attending and making it a fun activity with my girls paired with a celebration brunch afterwards. I always think and say homemade is best, and the bottom line here is... follow the recipe instructions to a tee, familiarize yourself with the common mistakes & problems and they'll be gold! My friends and I agreed these were the best macarons ever-- the trio harmony of crunch, slight chew and sweetness! And the other parts of Me-Day weekend went deliciously swell as well... plus I didn't have to lift a finger to cook :)

Instructor Mardi Michels' site:

Macaron-making as with any baking is a science. The ingredients, technique, temperature and timing are all meticulous factors you can't fudge around. Macarons are essentially made with egg whites, sugar, colouring and ground almonds. Instead of cup measurement or the number of egg whites, a scale is pertinent for a weight measure. Powdered colouring was preferred over liquid so to keep with the exact quantity of liquids for a recipe batch.

Beating the egg whites, adding colouring powder and folding the mixture and pressing down to remove air bubbles in 40 strokes to get the desired consistency (described as lava-like).

Mardi demonstrating how to pipe consistent spheres. Press filled piping down with the tip on an angle to parchment-lined baking sheet and squeeze lifting to create a comma tip.

We were divided into three groups of six, each taking turn to engage in the process. 

With one of my best pals Kaitlyn.

Rapping the trays four times on each side hard on a countertop
removes any remaining air bubbles.

Oooh la la... resting for 30 minutes before popping in a preheated 300F oven.

Some big, some small.. that's ok... find a match and it's a marriage! 
(See the purple siamese twins or are they triplets?)

Even when you follow a macaron recipe religiously, you can still end up with ugly or underdeveloped macarons just because you used your oven incorrectly. You really need to experiment with your oven in order to get your macarons just right-- not over brown or undercooked. Just five degrees can make the difference. Always set your oven on convection bake where the fan helps to distributes the air around the oven. There is a “true convection” (a.k.a European convection or third-element convection) which uses an additional heating element behind the fan to blow heated air to your wares. This method produces more even heat distribution and better baking results.

A colour by itself is pretty, but together they are gorgeous...

Hot out of the oven... The P.E.R.F.E.C.T rise, N.O. cracks... but even if there were 
you can use those imperfect ones for the bottom. Either way, they will still taste delicious!

Having cooled, we paired up the shells and filled away.... there were three options 
of white chocolate ganache, cream cheese frosting and classic buttercream. 

Squeeze filling onto macaron bottom, top and twist when pressing down
to form your cute mini whoopie pie-ish!

Let the paparazzi shots begin....

Are these absolutely stunning or what? Bravo everyone-- we made macarons!

After trying my hands on macaron-making, I can say it's not as intimidating as it appears. Look beyond the French chichi-ness and it's really not rocket science... a science but not mission impossible... It takes practice, persistence and some patience unlike anything else you've learned for the first time. If you want to see it to believe it, here are Mardi's multi-video tutorials to inspire you.

Photo Credit: Mardi Michels

We head over to George Street Diner for a well-deserved brunch!

It was the Ultimate Irish Breakfast for me with all the usual suspects, baked beans and their house Irish soda bread.  
Mmmmmm!! (๑ˇεˇ๑)•*¨*•.¸¸♪

Then there was my birthday birthday... My dear husband taking the reign on making the family dinner Saturday slow-cooking his way to his version of Chicken & Beans Cassoulet-- a classic French crockpot of chicken thighs with mixed beans in tomato sauce, served with slices of French baguette. 

Slow-Cooker Chicken & Beans Cassoulet

This was simply delish and thoughtful. I had my cassoulet over my ever-growing love for quinoa!!

To end the birthday weekend Sunday, a super casual dinner at my parents with my siblings and their fams. No one cooked, everything was store-bought and heated up... pizza, rotisserie whole chickens and fries-- welcomed greasy cravings at times and honestly I loved it because it made for more conversation and drinking moments :).

My mom did make her delish Chinese red bean dessert soup-- one of my faves!


Feeling incredibly blessed not sleepy :)!

Homemade grape and sour plum wine brews by my mom and sis-in-law.

This was certainly one of my best birthdays ever with a series of delicious eats starting Friday reuniting with my dear past friend who is the owner of Lobster Monster, then learning to make something new, a rockin' brunch, and home-cooked & casual feasts with the favourite people in my world! Looking ahead for my next milestone-- this time for Susan's Savour-It! going onto our second anniversary early March! More fun and eating awaits! 

(❀∩´◔‿ゝ◔`⑅)⊃―☆ *’“*:.。. .。.:*・゜゚・♡♪+*.

smile emoticon

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