Posted in Daily, Food

Of Macaron and Macaroon

“Orange pekoe flavor, with that gold confection dust on the top.” She holds one up to demonstrate. “Mascarpone filling.” She bites it clean in half and shows me the middle. “Rose jelly in the center.”
“Sounds good to me. What shall we call it?”
“I don’t know.”
I reach over and pick up a macaron, the texture, weight, and balance all perfect. Symmetry, lightness, both shells with excellent feet, wedded together with a smooth filling. Nodding with approval, I place it on my tongue. She is right; the orange and rose flavors melt lustily in your mouth. It’s just like Mama- all bright and full of surprises.” – Hannah Tunnicliffe, The Color of Tea

Known as “macaron” or “French macaroon”, this sweet meringue-based confection is made with egg white, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond powder or ground almond and food coloring. Typically served with a ganache, buttercream or jam filling sandwiched between two such cookies (similar to a sandwich cookie), macarons have been one of the little delights gaining wide popularity globally. Mildly moist, melting when eaten; this confection is characterized by a smooth squared top, a ruffled circumference, referred to as the “crown” (or “foot” or “pied”) and a flat base. Macarons can be made in a wide variety of flavors that range from the traditional vanilla, raspberry, chocolate to the unusual flavours of foie gras, matcha and so on. There is some variation in whether the term macaron or macaroon is used, and the related coconut macaroon is often confused with the macaron.

 

Macarons are a little different from macaroons, wherein both start off with a base of egg whites and sugar. But macaroons are with the base is typically whipped into a stiff meringue , like meringue cookies. Whereas, for macarons after the meringue is whipped, a combination of powdered sugar and finely ground almonds gets folded in, not too much or too little. The resulting semi-liquid batter is piped into exact rounds and baked.

The origin of the macarons are quite debatable. Although macarons today are credited to France, the first known appearance of the macaron in Europe was believed to be back in the Middle Ages. In those times, the macaron was a small sweet made of almonds, egg white and sugar, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. As some food historians believe that, these “macarons” were initially made in Italy as a consequence of the Arab troops from modern Tunisia ( around 9th century AD), landing in Sicily. They had brought new foods along with them like lemons, rice, pistachios as well as a rich repertoire of nut-based sweets like almond paste candies wrapped in dough. In fact, the term “macaron” shares similarity to the Italian macaroni, which puts a shadow of doubt over it being a French creation.

 

Since the 8th century, Macarons have been produced in the Venetian monasteries. Yet they gained wide popularity in the French court, when the Italian pastry chef who were brought by Catherine de’ Medici when she had married King Henry II of France, during the Renaissance Era. During those years of the 16th century, macarons were known as ‘priest’s bellybuttons,’ due to the pastry’s shape. Yet as per Larousse Gastronomique, the macaron was created in 1791 in a convent near Cormery. Legend says that two Carmelite nuns, seeking asylum in Nancy during the French Revolution (1792), baked and sold the macaron cookies in order to pay for their housing. Later these nuns were known as the “Macaron Sisters”. These early years saw macarons being served without special flavors or fillings.

Towards the early 1990s, the modern day macarons had began to take shape. Largely credited to Pierre Desfontaines, the pastry chef and owner of the Parisian café, Ladurée; the modern day macaron was made when he had decided to take two macarons and fill them with ganache. The result was an instant success. These original “Gerbet” or “Paris Macaron” were composed of two almond meringue discs filled with a layer of buttercream, jam, or ganache filling. Similar styles were also claimed to be started by another baker, Claude Gerbet.

By the 1930s, macarons were served in two’s with the addition of jams, liqueurs, and spices. Since then macarons have evolved from a humble almond cookie to a versatile treat, coming in a variety of colours and flavours; alluring both to the taste buds, the experimenters’ kitchen as well as the creative mind. Towards the 21st century, confectioners started offering macarons with a difference in flavor between filling and cookie, in both savoury (Basil mint or Thai curry) and sweet styles. Little wonder that there are two days devoted to macarons with Macaron Day (March 20th) and National Macaroon Day ( May 31st) being celebrated across the world. Explore this little treat to enter another world of desserts, more than sandwich cookies, little delights both flavour some and edible art.

 

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Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Of Origin and Evolution…”Soufflé”

“You can’t make a souffle rise twice.” Alice Roosevelt Longworth

One of the main dishes that declares one’s success in the kitchen is the “souffle'”. Although records have traced its’ appearance to the early eighteenth century in France, soufflés may have been around ever since flour, milk, eggs and butter have been whipped up into different concoctions to please the palate. Essentially a soufflé is a baked egg-based dish made with egg yolks and beaten egg whites combined with various other ingredients and served as a savory main dish or sweetened as a dessert. “Soufflé” is the past participle of the French verb souffler which means “to blow”, “to breathe”, “to inflate” or “to puff”.

 

While, few food historians state that the first appearance is by the French master cook Vincent de la Chappelle in the early 1700s; the popularization of souffle perfected to an art was credited to the French chef, Marie-Antoine Carême, who was “a product of post-revolutionary Paris.” As per Antoine Beauvilliers, who is credited with the “first grand restaurant of Paris, had described the soufflé in “The Art of the Cook” (L’Art du Cuisinier, 1814) as,

“Put in the size of an egg of good butter, a little nutmeg and the yolks of four fresh eggs, the white of which must be whipped apart as for biscuit; mix them by little and little into the puree though hot, mix all well, and pour it into a silver dish or paper mould, put it in the oven. When the soufflé is well risen, touch it lightly, if it resist a little it is enough; it must be served immediately, as it is apt to fall.”

Baked in individual ramekins or typical dishes, soufflés are typically prepared from two basic components; the base as a flavored crème pâtissière, cream sauce (or béchamel) or a purée and the egg whites beaten to a soft peak. While the base provides the flavor, the egg whites provide the “lift” or puffiness to the dish. The base can be flavored with varied ingredients including herbs, cheese and vegetables for savory varieties or jam, fruits, berries,chocolate, banana or lemons and the like, for dessert soufflés. In fact, the savory soufflés can incorporate poultry, bacon, ham or seafood for a more substantial dish.

“The only thing that will make a souffle fall is if it knows you’re afraid of it.” James Beard

 

One of the main defaults while preparing a souffle’ is when it fails to rise. Yet as most chefs will say, one thing to keep in mind in soufflé preparation is that it really doesn’t matter how high the bubbly mixture poufs up while it bakes as long as the ingredients hidden inside should taste heavenly and cloud-like.

“If a dish doesn’t turn out right, change the name and don’t bat an eyelid. A fallen souffle is only a risen omelette. It depends on the self-confidence with which you present it.” Lionel Blue

For avid movie watchers as well as fans of the movies of the black and white era, one may have seen “Sabrina”, the 1954 film starring Audrey Hepburn. One of the scenes is where Hepburn is humiliated at the Parisian culinary school when the master chef humiliates her (and almost everyone) and critiqued their failed efforts at soufflé from “Too low; too high; too heavy; sloppy”. Hepburn sighs to her French baron friend (whose soufflé is perfect) “I don’t know what happened.”
He explains to her that she forgot to turn on her oven. “Your mind has not been on the cooking,” he says. “It has been elsewhere. A woman happy in love, she burns the soufflé. A woman unhappy in love she forgets to turn on the oven.”

While “the fallen soufflés” may be depicted in cartoons, comedies and children’s programs as a source of humor; the process of making it will be easy and fun if one learns to proportionate the ingredients and time the baking right. As they always say “Practice makes perfect”, trying a souffle’ for the National Cheese Souffle’ (May 18th) or Chocolate Souffle’ (February 28th) Day would be a first step towards mastering this art. If not to master, then at least experimenting to make one can result in some “kitchen fun” and good use of leftovers; or simple have and enjoy the “heavenly and light as air” experience.

 

Posted in Daily, Food

“Raisin” It Up

“Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.” O. Henry

Being simply dried sweet grapes, raisins were the second in choice as a sweetener till the medieval times with honey being the top choice. The majority of the world’s supply of raisins comes from California, dried from Thompson seedless (95 percent), muscadine, or Black Corinth (Zante) grapes. Other main producers of Mosctael grapes are the USA, Turkey, Greece and Australia.

Originating from the Latin Racemus, from the ancient times raisins were in use. As evidence from history shows, raisins were an accidental discovery when they were found dried on the vines as early as 2000BC. The ancient Phoenicians and Armenians had taken the first steps in perfecting viticulture, the process of grape growing and selection.

While the Phoenicians started colonial vineyards in the areas of Malaga and Valencia of Spain and in Corinth (Greece)around 120-900BC; the Armenians founded their vineyards in Persia. These high yield growing areas had the perfect climate for making raisins and were also close to Greece and Rome, the first markets for raisins. Muscat raisins (over-sized with seeds and of fruity full flavor) were the primary crop in Malaga and Valencia. Corinth had grown the “Currants” which were tiny seedless, tangy raisins, where historians believe they got their name.

As the Phoenicians and Armenians began to trade raisins with the Greeks and the Romans who consumed them in large quantities; their popularity grew as well as their value. From being given as prizes to barter to trade or cure for ailments; raisins were always in demand. Raisins were a part of Hannibal’s troops rations when he had crossed the Alps.

“Raisins are a thing that lasts, they come in small boxes, and you always feel like eating raisins, even at six in the morning. A raisin is always an appropriate snack.” Fran Lebowitz

Although in popular demand, it wasn’t until the 11th century that raisins were seen in Europe. One of the reasons were the difficulty in maintaining the quality of the raisins for the long travel. By the 11th century, with improved packing and shipping techniques as well knights returning home from the crusades bringing back raisins with them, a huge market and demand was created.

By mid-14th century, the English cuisine included raisins and currants as it’s integral parts. As viticulture spread to France and Germany, grapes and raisins had entered the European cuisine spreading over to their colonial conquests. As viticulture had been perfected in Spain, grapes were being used to make products such as dry table wine, sweet dessert wines and Muscat raisins. With the colonization of the Americas and Mexico of today, their knowledge of viticulture had followed them there. By the 18th century, the Franciscan fathers had settled as far north as present-day Sonoma, California. Viticulture and its strong influence on California agriculture, was one of the enduring legacies left behind by the colonial rule. With the seedless grape variety (thin-skinned, seedless, sweet and tasty) being grown by the English immigrant William Thompson, newer variants of the products were created. By the late 1800s, once the Armenians (descended from the first founders of vineyards in Persia) began settling in the San Joaquin Valley, viticulture had progressed in California with supplies for raisins to nearly half the world, making it the largest producer anywhere.

“The wrinklier the raisin, the sweeter the fruit.” Alan Tudyk

Like most dried fruits, raisins can add the flavour to most recipes, ranging from the breakfast menu to elaborate meals as well as desserts. While buying raisins, their freshness can be determined by the containers being squeezable less hard and less rattling when shaken. Being blanched or plumped up (soak in hot water), sliced or chopped, added midway or at the end; the mode of introducing them into the recipes alters the flavours of the cooking giving a different effect at each step. Their popularity is marked by April holding two raisin days as National Raisin & Spice Bar Day (April 5th) and National Raisin Day (April 30th) celebrated by foodimentarians. Either way, into recipes or had directly, raisins spruce up the meal, both for the palate and nutrition wise.

“My indulgences are Skittles and rum raisin ice cream.” Sanya Richards-Ross

Posted in Daily, Food

Jelly with the Beans

“You can tell a lot about a fellow’s character by his way of eating jelly beans.”  Ronald Reagan

What happens on hybridization of Turkish Delights ( sweet, chewy candy with powdery sugar coating) and Jordan almonds ( almonds encased in a crunchy sugar shell) ? Possibly it may lead to the creation of “the classic candy with a soft chewy center and thin crunchy coating” , famously known as “jelly beans”. For avid Harry Potter readers, “Bertie Botts” may sound familiar with flavours of Banana, Black Pepper, Blueberry, Booger, Candyfloss, Cherry, Cinnamon, Dirt, Earthworm, Earwax, Grass, Green Apple, Marshmallow, Rotten Egg, Sausage, Lemon, Soap, Tutti-Frutti, Vomit and Watermelon.

The exact origins of jelly beans aren’t known. While the Mid Eastern confection of Turkish delight has been there since B.C.; the shell coating process known as “panning” can be traced to the cooks of the Royal Court in 17th century France. Over time, as the two process made its’ way to the Americas and the earliest known appearance of Jelly Beans has been credited there. One commonly cited but unconfirmed proof was an advertisement (1861) for William Schrafft (Boston) promoting the delivery of jelly beans to soldiers in the Union Army duting the Civil War.

Initially, (late 1800s, early 1900’s) jelly beans were sold by weight as penny candy in general stores and taken home in paper bags. By 1930s, jelly beans became part of the Easter holiday partially as it fit in well with its’ round egg-like shape, which was a symbol of the renewal of spring.

Why “jelly” and “bean” ? With candy-makers trying out novelty shapes for candy, the Goelitz family candy-makers has archive lists with candies as vegetables, chestnuts, carrots and turnips as well as bunnies for Easter. Once the bean shaped soft jelly came with shell that won’t let them stick, the name “Jelly beans” have stayed on.

Ever since 1976, there have been two types of jelly beans, gourmet (smaller, softer with shell and middle both flavoured) and traditional (only shells are flavoured). Their basic ingredients include sugar, tapioca or corn syrup, pectin or starch with relatively minor amounts of the emulsifying agent lecithin, anti-foaming agents, an edible wax (carnauba wax, beeswax), salt, confectioner’s glaze and flavouring agents. Depending on the type and flavours, jelly beans take approximately six to ten days to be made. National Jelly Bean Day has been celebrated (April 22nd) by foodimentarians worldwide. With endless flavour possibilities available as well as satisfying the palate and creating edible works of modern art, their popularity still holds true today.

“Jelly beans! Millions and billions of purples and yellows and greens and licorice and grape and raspberry and mint and round and smooth and crunchy outside and soft-mealy inside and sugary and bouncing jouncing tumbling clittering clattering skittering fell on the heads and shoulders and hardhats and carapaces of the Timkin works, tinkling on the slidewalk and bouncing away and rolling about underfoot and filling the sky on their way down with all the colors of joy and childhood and holidays, coming down in a steady rain, a solid wash, a torrent of color and sweetness out of the sky from above, and entering a universe of sanity and metronomic order with quite-mad coocoo newness. Jelly beans!” ? Harlan Ellison (“Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman)

Posted in Daily, Food

“Cobble” it Together

“Cherry cobbler is shortcake with a soul.” Edna Ferber

With summer round the corner and plenty of fruits to go around, desserts are always the reason why the meal gets completed in the twinkling of an eye, especially for the children. Even with the lack of time or frozen products over, dessert can be done soon, especially when bits of fruit over biscuit dough, batter or dumpling are baked to give the warm “cobbler” feel of the spring and summer skies.

Believed to have originated from the archaic word “cobeler” (recorded from 1859) meaning wooden bowl, cobblers were essentially a byproduct of the early years of European settlement in the Americas, especially by the English and the Dutch. They had initially emerged as a makeshift version of the popular pie recipes as a trail-modified desert.

“My earliest memory is making peach cobbler with my grandmother. A wonderful memory. I grew up in a restaurant family – B.B.Q. restaurant.” Rick Bayless

Unable to make the traditional puddings or pies, due to lack of ingredients or equipment as the settlers moves westward, modifications were made to the original methods. Consequently various ingredients were “cobbled together” with the available fruit, more common as peaches, plum or cherries, which were dried, preserved or canned, leavened dough (using baking powder) and an open fire. The initial cobbler were being made with a covered stewed filling with a layer of uncooked plain biscuits or dumplings, fitted together.

“Chocolate’s okay, but I prefer a really intense fruit taste. You know when a peach is absolutely perfect… it’s sublime. I’d like to capture that and then use it in a dessert.” Kathy Mattea

Cobblers were meant to be more palatable and sweet than pretty. Fruit, however it came, was dumped into a Dutch oven, topped with globs of biscuit dough and baked over an open fire until golden brown. Soon cobblers were quickly integrated into the settler diet, with the sweet dish being eaten for breakfast, as first course or as a main dish. Towards the late 19th century, the cobbler was officially labeled as a dessert.

“My earliest memory is making peach cobbler with my grandmother. A wonderful memory. I grew up in a restaurant family – B.B.Q. restaurant.” Rick Bayless

With modern technology of preservation, trade and transport; cobblers today have been vastly modified to include many fruit varieties including raspberries, blackberries as well being topped with cinnamon or vanilla essence, adding colours and flavours to the original version. Variants like grunts, pandowdy and slumps are Canadian Maritimes and New England varieties of cobbler are labelled when they are typically cooked on the stove-top or in an iron skillet or pan, with the dough on top in the shape of dumplings. The name originates from the grunting sound they make while cooking. Other popular variants include the apple pan dowdy (an apple cobbler whose crust has been broken and perhaps stirred back into the filling), the Betty or Brown Betty ( made with breadcrumbs or bread pieces or graham cracker crumbs and fruit, usually diced apples, in alternating layers, baked covered with a consistency of bread pudding) and the buckle (made with yellow batter like cake batter with the filling mixed in with the batter) among many others.

On the other hand, the scone-topped cobbler predominates in the UK where they are made both as sweet or savoury. While the common sweet fillings include apple, blackberry or peach; the savoury ones consists of beef, lamb or mutton as a casserole filling, sometimes with a simple ring of cobbles around the edge, rather than a complete layer, to aid cooking of the meat. The savoury versions may be topped with cheese or herb scones.

Over the years, cobblers have remained popular especially as they were quick to make for the luncheons and brunches. Little wonder then that the Georgia Peach Council declared April 13th National Peach Cobbler Day. Taking a bite of the rosy fruit cradled in warm pillows of cinnamon-scented dough and blanketed with the melted vanilla ice cream brings rich splendor to the senses, giving warmth and happiness all the way. For all the foodists at heart, have a little bite of cobbler to revel in the taste of sunny skies and warm sunshine.

“There are a couple of different types of food I eat a lot. I was raised in the South, in Tennessee, so I’m going to go with comfort food, soul food. I would probably start with collard greens and candied baby carrots and then have some biscuits and white gravy – and for dessert, probably blackberry cobbler.” Megan Fox

Posted in Daily, Food

Little “Bits” of Cake

“Cake on stick, once in a while, never hurts the diet.”

Baking a cake involves getting the right ingredients, weighing them and mixing them in the right proportions. For the more elaborate cakes, the icing, food colouring as well as the shapes of the base cakes needs to be set right. Ever tried making a “football field” cake without leftover crumbs. No matter how accurate and sharp the knife is, there are still inevitable crumbs of cake left behind.

Gather all the crumbs, crush them and mixed them with the leftover icing and chocolate, shape them and coat them with sprinkles or gems depending on one’s choice. put them on sticks like lollipops and freeze. Voila, cake on sticks like candy or more popularly known as “cake pops” are ready.

Although there is no recorded date for the creation of cake pops, this confectionery craze took over the industry from 2009 to 2011. Often credited to “Bakerella” a baking blog, “cake pops” rose in popularity. While the regular “round or spherical shapes” of cake pops are easy to make, tools are needed for making various cartoon cake pops, cubes or emoticons. Add little notes or messages on them makes the routine more interesting and surprising, something like the fortune cookies. Variations of cake pops are cake balls, cakesicles (cake sand Popsicle), cupcake pops and cake-on-a-stick. The evidence of their popularity is globally felt with March 25th celebrated by foodimentarians as “National Cake Pops” Day. 

With the changing diet trends and necessity of sticking to “little dose of sugar”; the possibility of having these tiny delicacies puts the strong cravings to rest.

Posted in Daily, Food

Delights of “Oreo”daphne

The first week of March is awaited by foodimentarians globally, from peanut butter to banana cream pie and ending with pound cake, cheese doodles, Oreo and cereal; there is absolutely nothing better to start and end the week with. At least one favourite of each person is there to indulge in, as part of observing the food holidays.

“Health food may be good for the conscience but Oreos taste a hell of a lot better.” Robert Redford

One of the most favored foods (for comfort or mini-sized treats) Nabisco’s “Oreo” have taken the world by storm. Interestingly, the origin of the word “oreo” (cookies or biscuits) can be traced to the French word “or” (means gold) or “ωραίο” from Greek meaning tasty, beautiful, nice or well done. Or from the Latin Oreodaphne, a genus of the laurel family evidenced by the design of “the laurel wreath” on the cookies, as noted by food writer Stella Parks.

From the on, Oreo biscuits to pancakes, cakes, sandwiches and ice-cream have been on the food trends, landing its’ own special place on the table, ranging from breakfast, snacks to desserts.

For an interesting “kid or adult” twist to the routine, add oreo crumbs and cheese doodles to pancake batter, cereal or cake, ice-cream or simply milk and enjoy a “foodimentarian” week of desserts or mini-treats and splurge.