Adventures with French macarons

By March 23, 2014 Food Photography

Lemon Macarons

Learning to make macarons has been on my baking to-do list for a while now, and I think I can safely say I’ve succeeded. I did indeed make the macarons pictured in this post! There are still plenty of details to perfect, but I no longer feel intimidated by these cute little cookies. The ones pictured here are basic vanilla macs with lemon buttercream.

Lemon Macarons

My friend Adrienne (of A Big Mouthful and Tacoma Foodie) was willing to attempt macarons with me, so we got together last December to give it a go. She suggested a recipe from a pastry chef and blogger who made it seem so much more accessible than the complicated book and recipe I previously tried. And hey, we succeeded! So now it’s my go-to recipe, and I’ve made it almost half a dozen times with success.

Lemon Macarons

If you decide to make these yourself, definitely check out BraveTart’s recipe. In the meantime, here are some things I’ve observed:

Sifting the almond flour is the most time-consuming part of the process. I use Bob’s Red Mill almond flour and put it through a mesh sieve. Supposedly, putting it through a food processor helps, but I’m afraid my “food processor” is kind of a wimp. (Side note: This is the third time this weekend I’ve considered getting a real one. Maybe it’s time.)

Folding the dry ingredients into the egg whites is the make-or-break step. Under-mix, and you get cracked shells. Over-mix, and the pretty circles you pipe onto your pan will ooze together into one giant macaron mass. I’m a chronic over-mixer, so I have to stop well before I’d like to. I force myself to regularly check the batter by lifting the spatula and letting some batter plop back down into the bowl. If it reincorporates itself, it’s probably good to go.

Parchment paper is the way to go. I’m not giving up entirely on the silicon macaron mold I’ve been using, but I regularly have to scrap at least half of the macs piped onto it. They’re very difficult to remove without crushing. There could be other factors going on here, so I’ll continue to experiment. But I’d recommend starting with parchment paper. Just trace circles onto the back as a helpful guide when piping—I use a spice jar lid.

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10 signs you are Monkeyshines obsessed

By February 3, 2014 Local People + Places
Photo courtesy Jonny Eberle

Photo courtesy Jonny Eberle

Like every other Tacoman right now, I, too, want a Monkeyshine of my own.

Every Chinese New Year, Tacoma glassblowing artists create hundreds of glass floats and medallions and hide them around the city. Each one is stamped with that year’s animal sign (this year is the horse). The tradition began in 2004, and may end next year, when the full cycle of the zodiac (12 animals total) is complete.

Photo courtesy Kacie Leacy

Photo courtesy Kacie Leacy

I’ve spent countless hours over the years hunting down the beautiful glass orbs while operating on very little sleep, but the excitement and anticipation are always worth it. In 2011, a few days after my husband proposed, I found my first Monkeyshine orb. It was the Year of the Rabbit. It felt like it was meant to be.

No luck for me this year, but I did find a pretty green and white marble placed by the “Marble Man,” another mystery Tacoman who hides treasures around town during this time of year. Others have found 12th Man stones, octopus marbles, and ceramic figures. I decided to hide something myself this year, and I hope it’s found and treasured.

Monkeyshines 2011

This is what I’ve realized over the years: it’s not entirely about the physical object you get to keep. It’s about the joy of discovery. Each time I catch a glint of a shiny object, my eyes grow wide and I feel like a kid on an Easter egg hunt. (Then I realize it’s another discarded Red Bull and move on.) It’s addicting, the hunt for this feeling, this accomplishment.

And though each year I claim I will only search the first morning, I continue to go back out with hope. So, with all the Monkeyshines fun happening this weekend, I wanted to share my top 10 signs you’ve become obsessed with the hunt. I should know, as it happens to me every year.

Photo courtesy Kacie Leacy

Photo courtesy Kacie Leacy

Good luck looking, if you’re still out there! I hope you enjoy it, even if you don’t find a thing.

10 signs you are Monkeyshines obsessed

1. While out driving, you constantly scan the streets for anything round and shiny—even when you’re not even in Tacoma.

2. When you do spot something that even remotely resembles a glass float, you get wide-eyed and dash toward it (or pull over immediately).

3. You’ve stopped caring about looking suspicious and poke around in every planter and bush you find.

4. You regularly check the comments on Exit133’s Monkeyshines post, as well as the #monkeyshines hashtag on Twitter and Instagram.

5. You’re weary, sore, and sleep deprived.

6. You don’t care about being weary, sore, and sleep deprived, so you keep going out to keep looking.

7. You schedule time off work months in advance of the Chinese New Year.

8. You can list a few dozen locations where Monkeyshines have been found in previous years.

9. You’ve revisited the same spot a few times … just in case.

10. You dream about Monkeyshines.

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Year in photos: 2013

By December 29, 2013 Life + Travel

It’s the time of year to reflect, so here are some of my favorite shots from 2013. You’ll note a definite exploration into food photography (and tons of vertical shots, for some reason) this year. My prop closet—which is actually a closet now, not just a few shelves in a buffet—is growing, and I’m excited to continue learning more about food photography. P.S. Stay tuned for some changes to the blog, coming soon!

JANUARY

Lily

FEBRUARY

Banana Cake

MARCH

Ice Cream

APRIL

Lemon Bar

MAY

Dandelion

JUNE

Lemon Cheesecake

JULY

Cherries

AUGUST

Victoria Sponge Cake

SEPTEMBER

Macarons

OCTOBER

Fall Leaves

NOVEMBER

Conservatory

DECEMBER

Macarons

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The Depressed Cake Shop: A pop-up bakery with a good cause

By October 5, 2013 Food Photography, Local People + Places

Depressed Cake Shop

The Depressed Cake Shop, a pop-up bakery raising awareness of mental health issues, came to Seattle this weekend. The Sole Repair Shop in Capitol Hill was host to tables full of gray-colored goodies, some with a surprisingly colorful interior, like this rainbow cake my friend Deirdre purchased. The proceeds benefited the Seattle branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

I bought a random assortment of of gray goodies and we took everything back to Deirdre’s. After our resident chef, Jeff, attempted to repair the damage done to the cake in transit, we sliced into it to reveal six layers of rainbow, plus some M&M’s in the center.

For fun, I arranged the other treats around the cake. On top: a chocolate-covered Oreo (must have been the Halloween variety, as it was orange) and a googly-eyed cake pop. Below, a caramel Earl Grey macaron and pumpkin cream cheese cupcake topped with two “pills” filled with sprinkles.

I’m really inspired now to start a Depressed Cake Shop Tacoma. If you’re interested, please leave a comment!

Depressed Cake Shop

Depressed Cake Shop

Depressed Cake Shop

Depressed Cake Shop

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Local dessert spotlight: Abeille Baking

By October 4, 2013 Food Photography, Local People + Places

Macarons

When my husband and I took our first international trip together to Paris in 2009, I experienced my first macaron—those cute and colorful French cookies pictured above. (I even used a little bit of mispronounced French to order it!) The cookies seemed so whimsical and fun, yet complicated to create, so I never considered trying to make them myself.

A few years later, I received a macaron book for Christmas. I convinced myself I could do it, and put forth the effort—with comically bad results. I’m going to get them right eventually, I just need more practice. Until then, I’ll be buying macarons and other French pastries from Abeille Baking, who made their debut at the 6th Avenue Farmers Market this year.

Salted banana caramel macarons? Yes, please. The others pictured are Earl Grey and strawberry rhubarb, and they’re all divine. The lightly crunchy cookies with a silky smooth, rich filling are a delight to eat. Thanks, Abeille Baking, for bringing such uniquely flavored macarons to Tacoma.

Macarons

Macarons

Macarons

Macarons

You can read more about Abeille Baking and their other desserts in this write-up by Tacoma Foodie.

The 6th Ave market is closed for the season, but you can order macarons and other French pastries directly from Abeille Baking. Find them at the link below:

Abeille Baking
facebook.com/abeillebakingco.biancasanders

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