Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Je me présente

Allow me to introduce myself.  (Meet my fingers, pictured above.)  I am a French teacher.  I just finished my 34th year of teaching middle school.  Truthfully speaking, though, what I really do is brainwash 11-14 year olds. It is not a secret.  I am pretty honest and open about it.  I warn the parents on Parent Night each fall.  I am lucky enough to be at a great school.  My students choose to take French in 5th grade.  Taking a second language is mandatory and is part of our core curriculum.  A few years back, we started making 6th graders new to our school take French if they aren't able to place into our Spanish classes or if they want to try a different language.  I usually get to teach that class.  I really brainwash them and most of them stay with French and I teach them for three years.  Tears are shed at the end of 8th grade when I have to tell them good-bye and send them off to high school.  Waterproof mascara is a must.  Anyway, back to the purpose of today's blog.  I have to find ways to interest middle schoolers in conjugating verbs and learning how to use object pronouns in a language other than their mother tongue.  Some of them buy my speech about language learning being like putting together a puzzle, some of them look meaningfully at me and nod their heads while they are wondering what is in their lunchbox or thinking about who danced with whom at the last middle school dance, and some of them just stare.  I call this the "The lights are on but no one's home" syndrome.  Once in a while, I get a slap in the face glimpse into how their little minds work.  Three years ago, in the 6th grade class, I was in front of the little darlings enlightening them on some fine grammar point, I'm sure, and one boy's hand went up in the air.  Ah bon, une question!  I thought.  The question... Why do you always wear black, madame?  One of the girls didn't miss a beat and answered for me... Black is very slimming. Not what I would have said to a class of 6th graders, but I decided just to go with it.
In case you are new to this blog and don't know me, cooking is one of my passions and I share that with my students.  Food is a huge part of French culture and we have several vocabulary lessons centered around it.  Eating is their passion.  Each quarter, my kids can do an extra credit project worth a 15 point quiz score.   Books, movies, researching artists, these are some of the ideas I throw out, but cooking, baking in particular, is the most popular project.  Most of the time, the kids bring in samples for their classmates.  We sample madeleines, chocolate mousse, palmiers, and chocolate truffles, but the most popular treat is macarons.   The beautiful little sandwich cookies made from almond flour.  I have several cookbooks that friends and students have given me and I lend them to the kids to find recipes (or to just drool over the photos).

A few years ago, one young man would bring me a macaron or two on a weekly basis from A Southern Season, a wonderful store in Chapel Hill.

They are such pretty colors and so much fun to photograph.
I spent an hour or so going through the 33,890 digital photos on this computer to find my best macaron shots, going back to 2008.  I have quite a few shots of Parisian Pierre Hermé's creations.  I have a crush on him.  He sent me an autographed picture a couple of years ago in response to thank you letters written to him by some of my 8th graders.  (As part of their final exam, they have to write a 20-sentence thank you letter in French.)  Okay, he sent a picture to each of the kids, too, not just moi...

Oui, that says Pour Teresa.
I love the artwork on his cute little boxes.

During our spring break trip,we always either stroll by a shop or visit his section in Galeries Lafayette so the kids can get their fix and taste the real thing.

Sometimes, while we are on our spring break trip one of the students will actually share one of theirs with me.  If you insist...  I would never be rude and refuse such a gift.  This one was savored on the TGV from Paris to Avignon.

I've also admired the displays at Fauchon.

Arles Betty would argue that Ladurée's macarons are best.  Oh yes, they are good.  Taste tests had to be done.  Unfortunately, I never had the two side by side to test.  Maybe next trip.

They have a kiosk at Charles de Gaulle airport, as well as little tea room and shop in the new Air France terminal.  Très chic.  While in NYC last summer, we walked up to the shop that had just opened on Madison Avenue.

 Arles Lucy and I had macarons at Angelina's once.  With hot chocolate.  Yum.

We also were very civilized and had macarons and tea in our hotel in Nice a couple of years ago.  

Those macarons came from the Arles market, I believe.  And they were really, really good.

Up close.

Even McDonald's in Paris sells macarons.  I snuck in to take a photo, but I didn't buy one to taste.

Arizona Tammy took a macaron-making class while the rest of us roamed the streets of Paris in the summer of 2012.  She even shared with us.

One day, I chose one from a bakery on Rue Cler.  A work of art.

I found these in Villeneuve-lez-Avignon.

Just a couple more window shots--

Up close again.

Girlies enjoying their first Paris macarons.

Several students have attempted to make them.  They aren't easy because of the egg whites, folding, piping, hoping they puff up while baking...  This chocolate one, made by an 8th grade boy, was really good.  His classmates were very pleased.

This year's 4th quarter brought out several bakers in one of my 7th grade classes.

When one of the girlies got home from this year's trip to France, she discovered that her dad had experimented with macaron-making.  Très bien fait, papa!  (She did roll her eyes when she gave them to me.  I chastised her properly.)  Délicieux.

Laura Florand had a book reading at the Regulator Bookshop here in Durham and she had a chocolate-tasting to go along with it.  A macaron made it into the mix. 

After tasting that little yellow one, I went to Miel Bon Bons and bought some lavender ones.

Macaron mixes can be found at the supermarché in France.

I made some Chez Fanny for one of our dinner parties.

I've tried my hand at them several times.  Some were colossal failures and either stuck to the pan or the silicone mat that I bought at Galeries Lafayette, didn't rise and have the nice "legs" they are supposed to have or were just horribly piped and misshapen.  Some turned out nicely.

Well, the cookies turned out nicely but the salted caramel filling didn't work out so well.  It became topping for ice cream and I made a quick chocolate ganache filling.

My most recent attempt was a lime zest-lemon curd concoction.  Pretty, I thought.

My piping skills are improving and parchment paper works better than my silicone mats.

As weird as this may seem, macarons remind me of the galets or small stones that fill some of the vineyards in the south of France.  This shot was taken in Tavel.  I love these stones and have a collection of them.  (I love Picpoul wine, too!)

This past Christmas, the BFF gave me a watercolor done by Paris Breakfast's Carol Gillott.  Isn't it beautiful?

This is one of Carol's works, too.  I do not own this.  I just "borrowed" the photo from her blog.  She has a thing for macarons, too.

You may not live where you can just run out and buy one (or six) and sample the different flavors, but you can give macaron-making a try if you are patient.  Bon courage and bonne chance!

I have a small kitchen scale that measures in ounces and grams.  I bought it at Bed, Bath and Beyond. I think that it is much better to weigh the ingredients with a scale.  It is more accurate.

Lemon Curd Macarons

110 g almond flour
200 g confectioner's sugar
90 g liquified egg whites (placed in a bowl and put in the refrigerator for 2-3 days)
200 g granulated sugar
Yellow food coloring
Grated lime or lemon zest, optional

Lemon curd: (I cheated and bought mine at Harris Teeter)
3 large egg yolks
1/2 c. confectioner's sugar
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces

To make the cookies:
Sift the almond flour and confectioner's sugar together.  Set aside
Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until they begin to foam, about 1 minute.   Slowly add the granulated sugar, a tablespoon at a time, with the mixer set to medium speed.  Beat until the egg whites form stiff peaks.  They should be thick and glossy.
Gently fold the sifted almond meal-confectioner's sugar mixture, the zest, if desired, and the food coloring to the whipped egg whites using a spatula.  It should take about 50-60 strokes for the batter to reach the right consistency. (or you can sprinkle the zest on the top of the cookies after you pipe them)
Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a large round tip and pipe into small rounds onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  The rounds should be no larger than 2-inches in diameter. Pipe them at least 1/2 inch apart.  (You can draw circles onto parchment paper and use as a template underneath the sheet of parchment paper you are piping onto, if this will help.)  Try to make them the same size since you will be matching them up when you put them together.
Gently tap the bottom of each baking sheet on the counter to release trapped air, then let the macarons dry for 30-45 minutes until a skin is formed on the surface.
Place the macarons in a 350˚F oven and bake for about 10-12 minutes until the shells harden.
Let the macarons cool completely on the baking sheets and then gently peel them off the parchment paper.

To make the lemon curd:
In the top of a double boiler filled with about 2 inches of simmering water, combine the egg yolks, confectioner's sugar, lemon juice and zest.  Cook over medium low heat, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and whisk in the butter.  Strain the curd into a heatproof bowl.  Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface and refrigerate until chilled.

To assemble, match the macaron shells in pairs.  Pipe a small round of lemon curd, about half a teaspoon, on the flat side of a shell and sandwich together with a matching shell.  Repeat with the remaining macarons.

I found this quote attributed to Marilyn Monroe.  It has nothing to do with macarons, but I like it.

Bon appétit to all French teachers, French students and macaron-makers!  Bonnes vacances!

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