La Vie en Rose
I was named after my grand grand mother Ewa.
She was one hell of the lady, I can tell you that. Well, I only knew her for few years, but as the only grand daughter she had I was her favorite one. We were living together with my parents and her in my early childhood, but she manage to engrave in my mind some hearst and flowers memories about herself and the life in general, by giving me the most precious guidance during our everlasting talks while she was brushing her long hair, colored with fifty shades of grey.
I always followed her advices when I felt my feats diverged me from the right path. I consider them universal because it doesn't matter in which century you live or how deep in troubles you sank.
"Remeber, Ewuniu, there is no such a thing as gin without tonic" - she used to say, pouring a thick, juniper scented liquid into her long cristal glass, just before her friends were about to come for a bridge game. It was usually on Thursdays. And always ten before noon.
"Never cross your legs while sitting, Ewuniu. It will give you varicose veins. My generation fought so you can wear short dresses and they simply don't match with varicose veins. Also, crossing legs is twisting your stomach and that, my dear, will give you gases" - was her way to discipline my posture during her desperate attempts of giving me some piano lessons. I never succeeded at music but I still wear some mini dresses at the age of almost forty.
My grand grand mother lived over 100 years. Some says it's genetic but she was convinced that she owned her longevity to three major things: having a glass of cognac every single day, surrounding herself with family and roses.
"Never buy fake flowers, Ewuniu. Flowers are the mirror of your soul. And you don't wan't it to be fake" - she was telling me during those hot summer days, when we were sitting on the bench in the public garden. The scent of roses was her favorite. You could recognize she was at some place even several hours after she left it by the odor of rose perfume wandering in each corner.
She was also the one who spoke to me in French, when the only foreign language allowed behind the Red Curtain was Russian. "One day you will have to leave us, Ewuniu. You will travel the world and you will see wonders but remember, there is no place like Paris...
She went to heaven when I was five, maybe six. She took with her some part of me but somehow I always knew I will have it back one day.
Life followed it's path, I grow up and moved to Paris after I saw wonders. Just like she said. I met my husband, we founded our own family and memories about grand grand mother Ewa disappeared in moving boxes, left unopened in the garage and covered with a thick layer of dust.
And then, two years ago, we moved to "La Villeneuve", the house in the middle of the countryside, far from the city lights. We moved with no furniture to fill this huge space but we carried two rose plants my husband and friends offered me without knowing the whole story.
About a year ago, when I was expecting our second son, Aiden, I got mad about the scent of roses. I could spend hours in the small village of Giverny, just few km from our place. The whole place is covered with flowers from the early Spring to the late Autumn and this is where Claude Monet spend the most of his life and painted his beautiful flower themed paintings. On the late evenings I used to sat next to my rose plants, inhaling their perfume. Even the soap for the kitchen sink was rose scented at this time. When I went into labor and were forbidden to receive flowers during my stay at the clinic, our garden was the thing I missed the most. It was a canicular summer that year and the garden didn't make it through, turning to pale yellow few months to early. As soon as four of us came back home I discovered the ravage the mother nature did but I spotted my rose plants in a surprisingly good shape. I looked on them, then I looked at my three men and suddenly I felt whole again. This was the right time and right place for my grand grand mother Ewa to give me back the missing part of me. And that was the moment she came back to my life once again.
She wasn't very much into cooking, my grand grand mother Ewa. I think she would be surprised I turned to be a quiet good cook. But she loved the biscuits. And tea. Depending of the weather, we used to sat in a living room or at the balcony, in those huge wicker chairs at 5 o'clock. We were having butter smelled shortbreads with marmalade from rose petals. And when times were tough, we only had tea with sugar and a tiny spoon of marmalade.
During my pregnancy's "I can eat anything I want" period, I felt in love with tiny little French almond meringue cookies. I ran the personal contest of the best macaron in Paris area. Of course, the famous Ladurée macarons or those ones from Pierre Hermé were hard to beat but I found quiet enjoyable loosing my paths in 6th arrondissement, walking to those tiny bakeries that look like from the early twenties of previous century with their perfect Art Deco window display. All of the macarons I've tasted at this time were deliciously addicting and my contest never ended up with a winner but from all flavors I've tasted the rose water was the one I cherished the most.
I have to sadly admit, I don't master the art of pastry baking as I should. Of course, I can make some delicious raspberry or lemon meringue tarts and ice creams or even a great chocolate cake but it seems like a childhood play compare to those awarded pastry chefs who officiate in most beautiful palaces of French capital like Cedric Grolet in Le Meurice at rue Rivoli or Christophe Michalak at Plaza Athénée next to the Le Bon Marché - the most beautiful of Paris department stores. But they aren't the places you go very often to when you are a mother of two, starting her own company. So I decided to learn. No, not those breathtaking and tasteful cakes but the ones I loved so much a year ago. It wasn't my first attempt to make macarons but let's just say I was too proud and insolent about them so, of course they turned me down. I know it seems quiet odd to talk about pastries like about human beings but if you ever challenged yourself with French patisserie you know that every single French dessert has his own personality, making moods and is capable of stretching your nerves at the very top of their capability to stretch. Anyway. I undasted a magnificent cook book, forgotten on the shelves of our library, written by Pierre Hermé himself. And I started my quest for a perfect macaron. I felt not once but many times. I wasted a lot of egg whites and almonds. I used words I shouldn't be using in a presence of my kids. But I also learnt from my mistakes, each time my failure was smaller as well as my pride and insolence.
The first time I took the impeccable batch of macarons from the oven I couldn't help my joy and luck and I started to dance. My body was filled with some kind of sweet energy I had to express and spread all over. This jubilance turned out to be very contagious and soon our kitchen looked like a dance floor with more or less skilled party people. I was proud of myself and just couldn't wait 24 hours to taste my first macaron's achievement.
We ate them all.
Rose Water Macarons
Note: it is extremely important to follow the recipe step by step. It will save you time and ingredients. Use only the best quality egg whites as well as almonds. That will give you the best texture and smoothness. Recipe requires some preparation a week in advance (I marked this step with*). Have that in mind.
For about 70 macarons
- kitchen scale (go for digital one, weighing your ingredients is a very precise thing when it comes to make macarons)
- sifter (the smallest the holes the smoother your batter will be),
- candy thermometer (to get the right syrup's temperature, you will need it to make the delicious italian meringue),
- small pastry brush
- spatula (I use the flexible one, made from silicon)
- 2 piping bags (I usually avoid a disposable utensils in my kitchen but I do an exception for the piping bags. Filling the piping bag is kind of a messy thing, beside, you can ajust the disposable one to any size of piping tip)
- piping tip n°10, roundly shaped
- 2 large baking trays
- baking paper sheets
- the gabarit (to make it, just draw 3cm diameter circles on a paper, spacing them for about 2 cm)
300g of powdered almonds,
300g of icing sugar,
110 g of egg whites* (you will need to separate egg whites a week in advance, in the order to make them less elastic. Keep them in the fridge, in a bowl covered with cling film in which you will make some small holes)
1/2 tsp of red food colorant
300g of caster sugar
75g of water
110g of egg whites*
Making almond biscuits:
Sieve almond powder and icing sugar together. Mix together the food colorant with first weighing of egg whites. Add dry ingredients. Don't blend.
Boil water with caster sugar in casserole, brushing out small sugar bits from the sides with pastry brush dipped in water. Stick a candy thermometer and when the sirup will heat up to 115°C, whisk second weighing of egg whites until they form stiff peaks. As soon as the sirup reaches 118°C, pour it over the egg whites with a thin stream while you continue whisking. Congratulations, you just accomplished an Italian Meringue.
Fold carefully both preparations with spatula until your batter is smooth and even.
Fill the pipping bag (with pipping tip attached) with batter. Put the gabarit on a baking tray and cover with baking paper. Fill the marked circles with batter. Do not overfill as the batter will spread a little bit more and the biscuits will enlarge while baked. Take of the gabarit sheet.
Set aside for 30 minutes. That will allow the batter to dry so your macaron's surface will be smooth.
Heat up your oven to 180°C. Bake biscuits for about 12 minutes, opening your oven twice in the meantime (that will chase the steam). Take off biscuits from the oven and off the baking tray (they will continue to cook if you leave them on the hot baking tray). Let them cool completely.
Making rose water filling:
200g of caster sugar
75g of water
150g of egg
90g of egg yolks
400g of very soft, unsalted butter
2 tbs of rose water
Boil sugar with water in the casserole, brushing out small sugar bits from the sides with pastry brush dipped in water, until it reaches 120°C. Whisk together eggs and egg yolks until yellow pale and fluffy. Pour the syrup and continue whisking until the preparation cools completely. Whisk the butter until it becomes very creamy. Add egg preparation and rose water and whisk all together to make a smooth filling. Fill pipping bag with rose cream.
Fill generously one almond biscuit with rose water filling. Cover with second biscuit. Keep in the fridge for 24 hours (Yeah, this isn't the easiest part...). Pierre Hermé says that this is time the macarons need to refine. Maybe I'll try next time.
Et voilà! Bonne dégustation.