French Macarons, Cookbook Review & Holiday Giveaway
I recently received a copy of an ebook with a playful and intriguing title – Sugar Baby. The printed edition of this beautiful cookbook written by Gesine Bullock-Prado was published in January 2011, and as of October 2012, the book has its electronic counterpart – the Sugar Baby ebook. The book itself is beautifully done. Its colorful and cheerful cover followed by a pretty and whimsical design carefully paired with lovely photographs by Tina Rupp won me over at a first glance.
If you thought the author’s last name sounds a bit familir, you guessed it right. Sandra Bullock’s sister, Gesine Bullock-Prado left Los Angeles, where she worked as a lawyer and film executive for many years, to move to a farm in Vermont and start her own bakery and confectionary. Aparently, she’s had a lifelong sweet tooth. “I swear I popped out of the womb screaming for a piece of candy, a natural-born sugar baby,” she tells us in the introduction. It is only naural that her first collection of recipes for candy, cakes, and other fun sugary treats is called Sugar Baby. For the visual types among you, here’s a short video where Gesine talks about her book and explains the motivation behind it.
Sugar Baby is not your regular baking book. It’s a book about cooking with sugar and not about baking with it. It is not just a candy book either, because “cooking with sugar goes far beyond candy,” Gesine says. This book is all about the magical transformation of sugar and its metamorphosis into all sorts of fabulous treats, from chewy caramels, rock candy, marshmallows and fudge to all sorts os frostings, custards and parfaits, as well as the notorious Parisian macaron shells.
The book offers detailed recipes and instructions, followed by step-by-step advice and know-how. All of the recipes come with numerous tips and facts to further enhance the experience of making sweets, and are followed by a list of possible variations and flavors, which I find particularly useful. I love the fact that all recipes are writen both in American cups and the European metric system. It really makes life easier for everyone. What impressed me the most, however, was the author’s charming sense of humor and her hillarious voice. The book is full of clever and witty remarks, as well as funny childhood memories and other amusing bits and pieces. “My mother was formidable. She was German and an opera singer, which translates into loud and occasionally scary—with an accent,” Gesine recalls in one of her introdutions. I’m telling you, Sugar Baby is a fantastic read by itself, even if you discard the recipes.
Sugar Baby is organized pretty brilliantly, too. Contrary to what one would expect, this cookbook is organized by temperatures and chemical stages of the sugar, and not by types of sweets and confestions it contains. In each of the six stages of sugar you will find detailed explanations of the temperatures and chemical reactions, as well as a myriad of recipes and practical advice. However, the Sugar Baby chemistry class is far from being boring or complicated. On the contrary, the explanations are clever, funny and down-to-earth. The six main sections of the book are as follows: Simple Dissolve to Thread Stage; Soft-Ball Stage; Firm-Ball Stage; Hard-Ball Stage; Soft-Crack Stage; Hard-Crack Stage (and Beyond).
The last section of the book is called Put It All Together. It’s where you get to play around and combine different recipes and sugar stages into mouthwatering desserts of your choice. Think Salted Dulche de Leche Cupcakes, Mango Mousse Cake, Strawberry-Basil Napoleon with Olive Oil Ice Cream, Dark Chocolate Fudge Cake and so much more! Although most of these recipes require less equipment than you would need for traditional baking, there are a few items you can’t do without. One of them is clearly a candy thermometer. The rest are all neatly listed in the introduction.
Because I enjoy good quality food photography and love cookbooks packed with loads of pretty photographs, I am a bit dissapointed that Sugar Baby does not contain more photographs. The photos sometimes speak to me much more than a detailed or elaborately written recipe. Apart from that, Sugar Baby is a great resource for all home cooks and bakers who have always wanted to know more about cooking with sugar and I would recommend it anytime.
As I was flipping through the Sugar Baby pages, I kept coming back to the Parisian Macaron Shells recipe. I made quite successful French macarons a couple of times before, but never using the Italian meringue method. I just knew I have to try it. Macarons are notorious for being finicky, but with Gesine’s detailed recipe and instructions, you cannot fail. The recipe works like a charm and the macarons were a success.
Before you embark on a macaron bake off, it is important to read through the recipe a few times, just to familiarize yourself with the process. Carefully weighing all of your ingredients is crucial, even the egg whites. “All egg whites are not created equal,” Gesine tells us. It’s also best to use aged egg whites, which basically means you have to separate the eggs the night before and leave the egg whites at room temperature covered with a kitchen towel That way they lose some of their moisture and macaron shells will be more successful. The recipe asks for 2 tablespoons of powdered egg whites, which I didn’t have, so I substituted them with real egg whites. Just so you know, 1 tablespoon od powdered egg whites + 2 tablespoons of water equal one regular egg white (30g).
I decided to flavor my macarons with Matcha green tea powder and sandwich them together with a chocolate ganache. I embellished the shells with a sprinkle of cocoa nibs and few dried hibiscus flowers. We loved them. They make a really nice holiday treat. The adapted macaron recipe is below, and if you’re still feeling a bit unsure, check out Gesine’s macaron video. I discovered this video only after I had made my macarons.
There’s just one thing that bothers me about this recipe. The book says that the recipe makes about 200 macaron shells, that is 100 finished French macarons. I ended up with approximately 160 shells, that is 80 macarons. I piped them quite small, about 2,5-3 cm in diameter, and there’s no way you can get 200 of them. Well, I at least I couldn’t.
And now for the promised holiday giveaway. The Sugar Baby ebook publisher, Open Road Integrated Media, is giving away one copy of the Sugar Baby ebook!
To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below saying why you would like to win this ebook, or what your favorite French macaron flavor is. For additional entries you can do as many of the following as you want but make sure you leave a separate comment for each thing you do! Please, also make sure to include your e-mail address in your comments so I can contact you if you win.
- Like BakeNoir.com on Facebook and share this post with your friends, then leave a comment below about it.
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- Tweet about this giveaway, tagging me @BakeNoir, then leave a comment below. Please include a link to the post in your comment.
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The giveaway is not limited and is open to all readers, no matter where you live. It will close on Monday, December 31 at midnight. The winner will be chosen randomly via random.org and announced on Tuesday, January 1.
Good luck and happy holidays to y’all!
Matcha Green Tea Macarons
Prep time: + resting time
200g confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons Matcha green tea powder
150g egg whites (about 5)
pinch of salt
200g granulated sugar
When the sugar temperature reaches 98°C (210°F), turn the mixer on high speed and begin beating the egg whites. They should be foamy before you add the sugar syrup. Continue heating the sugar until the mixture reaches 116°C (240°F). Immediately remove the sugar syrup from the heat. Carefully pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the egg whites as they are whipping. Whisk until you achieve soft, white peaks – the tips of the peaks should still fall easily.
Just before the egg whites are finished whipping, add the remaining 60ml of egg whites to the almond flour mixture and combine to make a paste. Don’t do this any earlier or the paste will harden. Transfer one-third of the egg white mixture to the almond flour paste and stir well, making sure there are no white streaks remaining. You needn’t be overly gentle during this addition – you are mainly loosening and lightening the batter. Add the remaining egg whites and gently fold them into the batter. You want a loose but not runny consistency. When you eventually start piping the batter, you’ll want it to move easily from the piping bag but it shouldn’t pour out. So if you think that your batter is too stiff, continue stirring until it loosens a bit.
Transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip. Pipe round, 2.5 – 3cm dollops about 1cm apart on a nonstick baking mat or parchment-lined baking sheet. Once every last bit is piped,let the macarons sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 135°C. Bake the macarons for 20 minutes, rotating the tray once for even baking and to avoid browning. After 5 to 10 minutes of baking, you’ll notice little ruffles forming along the perimeters of the shells; in French these are called pieds, or “feet.”
Remove the shells from the oven and allow to cool completely. Leave them at room temperature over night before filling, if you have time.
For filling, pipe a small blob of chocolate ganache on one shell and then smoosh it with another shell, just to the point that the filling reaches the edge. Once the shells are filled, serve immediately. You can store them in an airtight container at room temperature. Do not keep them in the refrigerator or else they will become soggy.
120ml heavy cream
20g butter, at room temperature
Add butter and stir until smooth. Let cool until piping consistency, about 20 minutes. Stir every once in a while.