October 2005 archives

Chocolate Macarons from Laduree, in Paris

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After the end of a long week: I renewed my Carte de Sejour, braved the hectic but incredibleMarché St. Pierre at the foot of Montmarte…and tried to get an answer about why after 10 days, I still don’t have internet access or cable tv.

With all that stress, I felt it was an absolute necessity to visit Ladurée twice this week, especially since all my homemade chocolate macarons got wolfed down at a friend’s birthday party and I forgot to stash away a few for myself. I needed to get my fix…and I needed it fast.

But sometimes life tosses the weak a life preserver, namely chocolate-covered macarons – where have they been all my life?

Ladurée
16, rue Royale
75, avenue des Champs Elysées
21, rue Bonaparte



Links

-Coming to Paris? Check out my Paris Pastry App, your guide to the best bakeries and chocolate shops of Paris. It’s also available as an e-book for Kindle, Android, and other devices.

– Check out my recipe to make your own French chocolate macarons at home. Dipping in chocolate is optional…

Prune Recipes from Around the World

Welcome To Prune Blogging Thursday!

I was, frankly, a bit surprised that anyone but me participated…but most of the prune-skeptics out there seem to have been won over. Participants were from all over the world: Italy, Estonia, France, Scotland, Spain, Germany, Canada, and the United States. Thanks to everyone for sending me your entries and I encourage readers out there to visit their web sites to read about their prune-alicious adventures.

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In spite what I now see as a highly-organized, internationally-recognized conspiracy against prunes, here are entries from all over the world.
Hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

The divine Judy of Over a Tuscan Stove has a savory and amazing recipe for Cinghiale in Dolce Forte, adapted from an ancient recipe. Her wild boar stew has nice plump prunes…along with a suspicion of chocolate!

The zesty red-headed Laura of Cucina Testa Rossa began a torrid love affair with, what she writes, “the most expensive prunes in the world”, the famed Stuffed Prunes from Agen. Then she went on to make a creamy Glace de Pruneaux d’Agen et Armagnac, Prune & Armagnac ice cream, making full use of her new ice cream freezer.

Fellow Parisian Christine who resides at Chez Christine presents a stunning Terrine de Canard aux Pruneaux et a l’Armagnac (Duck Terrine with Prunes and Armagnac) along with the recipe, which sounds worth tackling for the holidays.
Or perhaps she’s taking orders?

Zorra, from Andalucia, Spain, made some fabulous tapas of Sherry-Soaked Prunes in Bacon, a variation of the delicious bacon-wrapped dates which I’ve had grilled and served in many tapas bars. I can’t wait to try it with prunes and it’s simple enough for anyone to make…no matter where you live.

My gal Alicat slinks in with two original tarts; Apricot & Prune Tart, and Dark Chocolate, Pecan, & Prune Tart. Both tarts look terrific and she and I did a mind-meld and were the only ones who combined chocolate with prunes in our desserts.

Peter at Tea Leaves found his own translation for pruneaux d’Agen. And even if a scholar of the French language might take exception to his method, his entry How To Eat Prunes had me eying my prized bottle of Armagnac in anticipation of making his boozy infusion.

I was almost afraid to open Lindy’s post at Toast since it was titled “Nightingale with Prunes”. But instead of something ‘fowl’, I found a delicate and delicious prune-presentation inspired by a recipe from pastry hero Pierre Hermé.

Pille, an Estonian living in Scotland, who’s captivating blog presents an I Am So Good For You Prune Cake called hapukoorekook kuivatatud ploomidega, (although she slipped once and called it ‘plum juice’ when she meant ‘prune juice’). In spite of the, er, high-fiber benefits of prunes, her recipe packs in some extra wheat bran!

My Amateur Gourmet Survivor, Melissa, survived her search for two prune recipes and discovered an Iranian Prune Stew and a ‘Plumb’ Cake that I could almost smell just looking at the pictures.
Merci Melissa!

Marc gave prunes, what he calls, “some X-appeal”, and he re-created my pal and baking guru Nick Malgieri’s X-Cookies, using a gift from his ex. Hmmm…he looks like he’s become an X-pert in cookie-making.

Ulrike made a stunning Couscous Tabbouleh with Glazed Prunes, a trans-Atlantic combination of organic California Prunes cooked up in Germany. (Check out the swirly Apfelrezepte carving off to the side of the blog too!) Ulrike wasn’t the only one who looked to the Middle East for inspiration…

Another Scottish import (seems like a trend, Scottish food bloggers!), Iain, presents a Beef in Beer with Guiness-Soaked Prunes that looks like just the thing for that blustery winter coming soon to Scotland.

Over in LA, Rachel makes one of my favorite snacks, Dried Plum Financiers and offers an explanation of their mysterious journey from ‘prunes’ to ‘dried plums’.

Sarah Lou from Canada made a flaky Moroccan Basteeya Pie, which is one of my all-time favorite dishes; layers of filo dough brushed with butter then filled with shredded chicken, cinnamon, and a touch of sweetness.

Michele said I gave her the courage to tackle prunes in a Lamb Tagine with Prunes. While I appreciate her kinds words, I think comparing me to her grandmother in her post means I deserve some delicious gift, don’t you?
Perhaps some salted-butter caramels Michele?

And Melissa said , “Okay, David, you’ve won. Then she came out with a lovely Whiskied Prune and Custard Tart that features a juicy prune filling spilling out from a flaky tart filling. She did mention she still felt unease when cooking with prunes (wait ’til tomorrow if you want to feel uneasy, Melissa…)

When I’m not using his blog for my socio-political rants, fish-headed Brett stewed up a lovely melagne of Masala Chai Poached Prunes which combines sublime Indian spices with smoky Assam tea, creating a nice warm bath for his prunes from Casa Gispert in Barcelona, one of my favorite food places in the world.

I will forgive Fatemeh for calling me neurotic (after all, Woody Allen’s made a career out of it…why can’t I?) Especially since she’s driving me across the Bay Area soon in our pursuit of the best Chinese dim sum soon. So I was afraid she might make Prune dim sum, but instead found inspiration in a recipe from her childhood, which Prune Blogging Thursday happily rekindled: Toss Kabak, a savory Meat and Prune Stew with the addition of quince.

Molly of Orangette, I thought, would dip her prunes in delicious dark chocolate, but instead stewed up a storm with Stewed Prunes with Cinnamon and Citrus, which she’s going to “stew us into submission” with. Glad she overcame her friend’s giggling fits when she told them about prunes. I mean, when her friend gets old and wrinkly, I hope no one’s giggling at her!

And a few late entries…

Cathy sent in her recipe and photos for Prune Bread from her blog at My Little Kitchen.

Spicy Prune Mole from Jocelyn at Brownie Points using Dagoba organic chocolate, which is one of my favorite chocolates.

Alanna from A Veggie Venture has a Prune Tsimmes.

And from Barrett at Too Many Chefs, Bleu Cheese, Prune, and Onion Tart, and from Meg, who actually loves prunes and is under 60 years old (it was our visit to the farm expo here in Paris that prompted prune-madness) and posted her idea of The Best Thing To Do With Prunes. Find out for yourself at Too Many Chefs.

And from Elizabeth, there an Icelandic Prune Layer Cake and a savory Chicken (or Lamb) Couscous with Prunes and Apricots from another part of the world. Prune lovers unite!

Ok…and finally…
Prune Blogging Thursday gave me the courage to perfect my recipe for making chocolate French-style Macarons with your choice of a creamy chocolate ganache filling, or an Armagnac-scented prune filling.

Whew!
Thanks again to everyone for participating in the first, the original, (and the only) Prune Blogging Thursday.

(PS: All my chocolate macarons are gone! They were quickly wiped out at my friend Heather’s 30th birthday party this weekend. Thanks for asking.)

French Chocolate Macaron Recipe

french chocolate macarons

One of the most vexing tasks some bakers come across is making the perfect Parisian macaron, those ethereal little domes of almond meringue seen all over Paris, often filled with buttercream, ganache, or a fruity filling of jam. Although the original macaron didn’t have filling, but were simply fused together while warm.

So I decided to create two recipes for chocolate macarons: one with an Armagnac-scented prune filling, and another with the a pure, dark chocolate filling.

prunes on spoon

Tender, picture-perfect macarons are not easy to make. Les Macarons are all about technique, rather than about just following a recipe. Armed with a good recipe, almost anyone can make a decent brownie. You just mix, pour, and bake. I’m also a firm believer in cultural divides; there are some foods from other cultures are best left to their home turf. I’ve never had a great Madeleine in America and if you’ve ever had a ‘croissan-wich’ in the US, you know what I mean.

Using my anti-globalization stance as an excuse, I’ve never tackled macarons until I moved to France. But here I am and I have no excuse.

I phoned my friend Rob who worked at Fauchon, and he warned that the batter for perfect macarons needs to be folded just-so. One extra fold, and it’s all over. Not enough, and you won’t get that little foot. And he also advised that the chocolate macarons were the most difficult of all to get right But since those are my favorite, I was determined to get them right, no matter how many batches I had to make.

piped french chocolate macarons

Curiously, many recipes warn to let the piped cookies sit for two hours before baking to develop a shell. Testing that theory, I baked one tray right away which rose nicely but didn’t have the perfect ‘foot’. Two hours later, I baked the second baking sheet, the same mixture, the only difference was letting it sit. The second batch rose and had a nice little ‘foot’ around each.

I spoke with my friend from Fauchon again, who said, “Let them sit for a few hours? No way, we just popped those suckers in the oven right away.”

So I tried another batch, baking them off as soon as I piped them out. This time the first batch had the perfect ‘foot’ and the second batch didn’t. Then I made yet another batch, where I tried rapping the baking sheet hard on the counter top to flatten the batter before baking, and that first batch looked great with little ‘feet’ but the second batch I baked later formed little domes.

french chocolate macaron

Determined, another batch followed. I took the advisement of Pierre Hermé who says to begin baking macarons at a very high temperature, then turn it down quickly. That caused all the macarons to crack (ouch!) which I knew could be alleviated by using double-baking sheets but I didn’t feel like trying it again and washing all those dishes.

Anyhow, to make a long story short(er), here’s the successful recipe I came up with after seven tries, which are perfect. You can choose from either filling.

Chocolate Macarons

Makes about fifteen cookies

Adapted from The Sweet Life in Paris (Broadway) by David Lebovitz

Macaron Batter

  • 1 cup (100 gr) powdered sugar
  • ½ cup powdered almonds (about 2 ounces, 50 gr, sliced almonds, pulverized)
  • 3 tablespoons (25 gr) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 5 tablespoons (65 gr) granulated sugar

Chocolate Filling
½ cup (125 ml) heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
4 ounces (120 gr) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon (15 gr) butter, cut into small pieces

Prune Filling
15 medium prunes (pitted), about 5 ounces (150 gr) prunes
2½ ounces (70 gr) best-quality milk chocolate, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Armagnac

Preheat oven to 350º F (180º C).

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and have a pastry bag with a plain tip (about 1/2-inch, 2 cm) ready.

Grind together the powdered sugar with the almond powder and cocoa so there are no lumps; use a blender or food processor since almond meal that you buy isn’t quite fine enough.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they begin to rise and hold their shape. While whipping, beat in the granulated sugar until very stiff and firm, about 2 minutes.

Carefully fold the dry ingredients, in two batches, into the beaten egg whites with a flexible rubber spatula. When the mixture is just smooth and there are no streaks of egg white, stop folding and scrape the batter into the pastry bag (standing the bag in a tall glass helps if you’re alone).

Pipe the batter on the parchment-lined baking sheets in 1-inch (3 cm) circles (about 1 tablespoon each of batter), evenly spaced one-inch (3 cm) apart.

Rap the baking sheet a few times firmly on the counter top to flatten the macarons, then bake them for 15-18 minutes. Let cool completely then remove from baking sheet.

To make the prune filling:

Cut the prunes into quarters and pour boiling water over them. Cover and let stand until the prunes are soft. Drain.

Squeeze most of the excess water from prunes and pass through a food mill or food processor.

Melt the milk chocolate and the Armagnac in a double boiler or microwave, stirring until smooth. Stir into the prune puree. Cool completely to room temperature (it will thicken when cool.)

To make the chocolate filling:

Heat the cream in a small saucepan with the corn syrup. When the cream just begins to boil at the edges, remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate. Let sit one minute, then stir until smooth. Stir in the pieces of butter. Let cool completely before using.

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Assembly

Spread a bit of batter on the inside of the macarons then sandwich them together. (You can pipe the filling it, but I prefer to spread it by hand; it’s more fun, I think.)

I also tend to overfill them so you may or may not use all the filling.

Let them stand at least one day before serving, to meld the flavors.

Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or freeze. If you freeze them, defrost them in the unopened container, to avoid condensation which will make the macarons soggy.

Recipe From:

For further information, troubeshooting, and tips about making macarons, visit my post Making French Macarons.

Related Posts and Recipes

I Love Macarons!

Pierre Hermé’s Ketchup Macarons (Recipe)

The Cookie That I Couldn’t Eat

I Love Macarons (Recipe Book)

10 Insanely Delicious Things You Shouldn’t Miss in Paris

Sweet & Stinky: White Truffle Macarons

Ladurée

Chocolate-Coconut Macarons (Recipe)

Bon Appétit Holiday Desserts

Got your knickers in a knot trying to find new dessert ideas for the holidays?

Pick up the November 2005 issue of Bon Appétit magazine, which features some of my absolute favorite new dessert recipes…

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The November Bon Appétit is available now at newstands, or visit Epicurious.

Reminder: Prune Blogging Thursday…this week!

Remember the prunes!
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This week is Prune Blogging Thursday (October 27).

If you have a prune recipe or entry on your blog or web site, don’t forget to email me the link for posting.

(…and is that blinking annoying or what?)

Ô Chateau: Wine Tasting in Paris

Ô-Chateau Wine Bar in Paris

Sometimes I go back into the archives and pull up a post to refresh it. Perhaps the hours have changed, they’ve moved, or something else prompted me to tweak the entry. But a lot has happened since I first wrote about Ô Chateau wine tasting programs. First off, since I wrote about them, they’ve moved – twice.

Ô-Chateau Wine Bar in Paris Ô-Chateau Wine Bar in Paris

Continue Reading Ô Chateau: Wine Tasting in Paris…

Foie Gras with Black Truffles

I was recently given the gift of a jar of extraordinary foie gras with summer truffles…

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The foie gras was mi-cuit, meaning it was just partially cooked (to between 175°F and 200°F, or 80°C to 90°C), which is considered the best way to preserve foie gras, so only the finest quality livers are used. Once sealed in jars, the foie gras needs to be eaten within a few weeks, it’s so fresh and delicate.

So what does one do with a whole, entire jar of foie gras?

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This was a very special jar of foie gras indeed, and perhaps the best in the world.
It was preserved by Monsieur Pebeyre, a forth-generation truffle hunter in the Dordogne (we used to have him ship black truffles to us at Chez Panisse). As you can see, he generously overloaded it with fragrant and elusive black summer truffle slices that he hunted and bits of tasty, yellow-gold duck fat.

I didn’t hesitate a moment to decide that this was the special occasion I’d been waiting for and popped open a special bottle of wine that I had been saving from California; a Navarro Late-Harvest Gewürtztraminer (from one of my favorite California winemakers)…spicy, fruity, and complex. Served very cold, it was the ideal companion to the rich duck liver, which we simply spread on toasted baguette slices, sprinkled with a few flecks of fleur de sel, and savored as an accompaniment to the nectar-like wine, which we enjoyed as an apéritif.

15 Things I Don’t Like About Paris

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“Paris. The most gorgeous place in the world. The CIty of Light. Romantic and sexy, Paris beckons people from all over the world to bask in it’s splendor. But scratch beneath the surface…”

1. Everyone’s always in a big hurry.

…except the ones who are waiting on you.

2. Could there possibly be any light more unflattering than the lighting on the Paris métro?

3. All the newspapers are in a funny language.

And the Sunday New York Times is 13 euros.

4. The coffee is universally awful.

Yes, much of the coffee in America is horrid and/or disgusting, but at least the possibility exists of finding decent coffee in America.

5. Parisians will just walk right into you. Even if you’re on a deserted sidewalk, they’ll veer away, then curve around, and bam!…walk straight into you.

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“Remember what happened the last time I tried to walk around Paris minding my own business…taking great care with my freshly-baked cake?”

6. Les Madames.

I don’t mean hookers, I mean those mean women of a certain age who wield their shopping chariots and expect you to move outta their way. You can easily spot them; they wear squared-off wire-rimmed glasses and are proudly bundled up in overcoats, and cut in line pretending not to see you. Then when it’s their turn, they spend 5 minutes arguing with the vendor over the price of one fig or a slice of cheese (and then take forever trying to count out the centimes to pay, acting like it’s a big surprise and inconvenience when they have to fork over the cash.

As my pal Kate pointed out, this is the last generation of them.

Good riddance.

7. Everything is so damn expensive (except bread, wine, and cheese).

Le Creuset cookware, made in France, is cheaper in America than in France. My Delonghi heater (Italian) was 3 times the price it is in the US… and why is a Phillips Sonicare (Dutch) toothbrush twice the price?
Can’t they just truck stuff across the EU border?

8. Dog crap is everywhere…and it’s disgusting. Even most French people think so.

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“Ah Paris, isn’t it beautiful? Yes, I think I’ll just step over here and admire the view of…hey…oh my God…what-the-f%$k!…what did I just step in? That is, jeez, like so gross. Oh man!”

If you have a dog, pick up after it. I had a dog. I picked up after it. It’s part of ownership. If you have kids, you clean up after them. It’s a unknown concept called “responsibility”.

(Although I should let you know that with all the dog poo here, the last time I stepped in some was in, of all places, San Antonio.)

9. The French language has 14 verb tenses. English has 6.

Really, how many past tenses does one language need?

10. The French are explosive.

An organic bakery I visit often, Moisan, is lovely. Everything is picture-perfect. Glistening, caramelized fruit tarts, rustic hearth-baked breads, golden croissants, and little savory pizzas bubbling with melted cheese and fragrant with fresh herbs. I go in there all the time and the saleswomen could not be nicer.

Last time I went in, there was a lovely tray of fresh-baked Madeleines; deep-golden, buttery, and still warm from the oven. And they were picture-perfect.
So I complimented them, “Ce sont très jolie, madame.” (“Those are very beautiful.”)

The saleswoman, who’s always been so very nice to me, snapped back, “Ce ne sont pas jolie, Monseiur. Ce sont delicieux!” (“They’re not beautiful, they’re delicious!”)

And with that one little interchange, she will no longer wait on me or speak to me. If she happens to get me in line, she ignores me.
Salope

NEWS FLASH: At a dinner party tonight, I asked some French friends about this. They said if you use the word jolie (beautiful) to describe something, it’s rather pejorative. Like saying it’s ‘cute’, in a trés-Disney kind of way.
Who knew? (see #9)

11. The French don’t seem to be as interested in coming to conclusions, instead preferring to discuss things forever without resolution. Everything takes a lo-o-o-o-ong time.

You also realize that it’s not about helping the customer, but about employing as many people as possible to keep them working (25% of the people in France work for the government.)

Last week, for example, I needed shoelaces.
Simple task. Right?
The enormous BHV department store has everything.
Sure enough there’s a wall of shoelaces…every variety, material, width, brand, color, and size imaginable.
Except, or course, the one I needed.

(And forget asking for help; it’s non-existent. Their normal tactic is to send you to another floor just to get rid of you. Now I’m on to that ruse and don’t fall for it.)

12. Why does it take 2½ hours to wash your clothes in a French washing machine?

(See previous entry. Perhaps the washing machines are also more interested in the “process”, rather than the “results”.)

And good luck finding unscented laundry detergent. I took me months and months to finally find some. The smell of the normal laundry detergent was so strong and fragrant that I couldn’t sleep in the same room with my freshly-laundered clothes.

13. Charles de Gaulle Airport is consistently rated the worst airport in the world. It’s a major embarrassment that one of the world’s greatest cities has an airport that would rival one in a third-world country. Gee, I wonder why?

For two years, all the bathrooms were broken in the Terminal #1 Arrivals terminal, where you pick up your luggage. After sitting on a plane all night, you gotta go.

How many years does it take to fix a bathroom?

Last time I arrived, each and every elevator in the terminal was hors service (broken). People in wheelchairs and those with luggage carts were scratching their heads figuring out how to get downstairs.

How long does it take to fix an elevator?

And once you check in and go through security in Terminal #1, there’s no bathroom. Since you need to check in two hours in advance, you have to leave the waiting area and re-go-through security.

Gee…that’s efficient.

(I am sure the Olympics organizers who arrived at the primitive and crumbling Charles de Gaulle were as shocked as most visitors, and it sealed the fate for Paris hosting the games.)

14. Le President™ Camembert

France has the greatest cheeses in the world. Walk into any cheese shop, or even a supermarket, and you’ll find a bounty of delicious products from dairies and cheesemakers across France.

camembertparis.jpg
C’est magnifique, le vrai Camembert de Normandie!

So why do the supermarkets stock some of the worst cheeses in the world right alongside the good stuff?

Because people buy them. They’re vile, rubbery, flavorless cheeses with little resemblance to the real thing. It can’t be the price difference, since they’re roughly equivalent or a few centimes more.

15. French people smoke too much.

I don’t mind cigarette smoke. Really I don’t. I’m used to it. But recently, the past few times I’ve been out for dinner, the people next to me as soon as they sit down they drop their packs of cigarettes on the table and chain smoke the entire night. I don’t mean one to two cigarettes, I mean lots of cigarettes. The other night the woman next to me had six cigarettes during the course of her meal.

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Read it and weep, Frenchies!

I’m not on an anti-smoking crusade, but how many cigarettes does one person need to smoke during a dinner out?

And did you know that one-third of all people in France smoke, and 50% of all teenagers between the ages of 15-24 years old smoke too?

The French parliament is taking up the no-smoking ban in restaurants this fall, as they’ve done in Italy and Ireland. I think it’ll pass.

What are the French going to do? Take to the streets and go on strike in support of smokers?

Whew!
Once you get started, it’s hard to stop.