Sunday, March 18, 2012

Almond blossoms

I've written about almond trees once, but I had no idea what I was writing about.  Not really.  Now I do.  Les amandiers were in full bloom last week in Provence.  Pink ones and white ones.  The smell is heavenly.  I had no idea what they even smelled like.  We don't have almond trees in North Carolina.  Or if we do, I don't know where they are and have never seen them.  The only thing I could possibly compare them to are the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC.

When is someone going to invent a camera that records a photo and a smell?  Hurry up, smart people!
I went to L'Occitane En Provence at Southpoint Mall yesterday in search of almond scented lotions and potions.
They give out beautiful little shopping bags with your purchase--
And these shops really are found in Provence.  I've seen them all over- Arles, Villeneuve-lez-Avignon, Avignon, Uzès...
I found two almond products, shower oil-

which I plan to use this morning--
and Savon Gourmand (yes, they had me right there with the name)- Delicious Soap- exfoliant et stimulant aux eclats d'amande - exfoliating and stimulating with flaked almonds.  It does smell delicious.  They got that right.

It's even in a beautiful little ceramic soap dish.

I also searched for a candle but didn't have any luck in that department.
Somewhere around my house I have some Burt's Bees almond milk beeswax hand creme.  I just need to find it.  And then sniff it and see if it really smells the way it should.
All the sniffing made me hungry, bien sûr.  And instead of making something relatively easy with almonds, I tackled macarons once again.  For really only the third time.  But these little gems are not easy to make.  I can almost see why Pierre Hermé charges a small fortune for his lovely little delights. (Arles Lucy bought me a box of them at Galeries Lafayette in Paris.  I tried not to wince when I saw the price.  I did keep the box.  And I did eat all but one of them.  I gave one to Mme P's adorable daughter.)

My photos do not do them justice.
I pulled out one of my books on macaron-making, made a shopping list, and off I went in search of almond flour.

I didn't find any, but I didn't look very hard.  I hate driving around all over town.  I just bought almond slivers, toasted them, and ground them in my coffee grinder (that I do not use for coffee, only spices and almonds).
(Note:  This almond soap sitting right next me smells really good! Merci, L'Occitane and sales associate Avanti!)
I decided to make my macarons green in honor of St. Patrick's Day.  And I like mint and chocolate together.  They are not as pretty as I would like, but I am not very good with a piping bag and goopy stuff.  I guess I just need more practice.
Almonds, of course-
Macaron batter-
 Macaron on the cookie sheet "drying"-
Book photo-

My finished product-
I think I will have one with my morning coffee!

Mint Chocolate Macaroons
from Macaroons:  30 Recipes for perfect bite-size treats, Love Food, Parragon Books Ltd, Bath, UK, 2011
Makes 16 small cookies

3/4 c. ground almonds
1 c. confectioners' sugar
2 extra large egg whites (should be at room temperature; if possible, separate them and let them sit out, covered loosely by a paper towel, for a few hours to allow some of the moisture to evaporate from the whites)
1/4 c. superfine sugar
1 tsp. peppermint extract
Green food coloring paste or liquid
Chocolate sprinkles

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. confectioners' sugar
2 oz / 55 g milk chocolate, melted and cooled for 15 minutes

Place the ground almonds and confectioners' sugar in a food processor and process for 15 seconds.  Sift the mixture into a bowl.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place the eggs whites in a large bowl and whip until holding soft peaks.  Gradually beat in the superfine sugar to make a firm, glossy meringue.  Beat in the peppermint extract and enough green food coloring to give a bright green color.

Using a spatula, fold the almond mixture into the meringue one-third at a time.  When all the dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated, continue to cut and fold the mixture until it forms a shiny batter with a thick, ribbonlike consistency.

Pour the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch / 1-cm plain tip.  Pipe 32 small circles onto the prepared baking sheets.  Tap the baking sheets firmly onto a work surface to remove air bubbles.  Top with chocolate sprinkles.  Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 325˚F / 160˚C. (You can, of course, make them any size you wish.  Just try to be consistent so you can match them up.)

Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes.  Cool for 10 minutes.  Carefully peel the macaroons off the parchment paper and let cool completely.

To make the filling, beat the butter until pale and fluffy.  Sift in the confectioners' sugar and beat thoroughly until smooth and creamy, then fold in the melted chocolate.  Use to sandwich pairs of macaroons together.

They go quite well with café au lait, just in case you are interested.
 (my breakfast café au lait at the Hôtel Princesse Caroline in Paris)
I will have to seek further opinions on them.  Volunteers?

Bon appétit, les amandiers, Provence, et les macarons!

No comments: