Saturday, June 19, 2010

Macarons are hard to make

I enjoy baking.

I think it comes from my days back at uni. Living in a self-catered dorm, and rushing between study, work, classes and socialising, there was a need to become efficient with cooking.

It was around this time I discovered the oven. The long forgotten cooking implement in a college full of students.

Baking seemed to provide with the ability to prepare, then walk away.

I would do the prep, shove it in the oven, wander off to do my study and come back to find a hot meal that didn't come out of a packet or a can.

Over time, as my abilities grew, so did my ambitions. I would start baking more complicated dishes and start challenging myself with more difficult recipes. It wasn't too long, before baking became more than merely a convenience, I actually began to enjoy it.

However, there was one thing I never tried to make.

French macarons.

I had always been told about how difficult these were too make. So now that I had a bit of time, why not? How difficult could it really be? Surely this would only take a couple of hours or so and then I would have some fresh macarons to eat.
The first mistake I made was not adjusting the volume in the recipe.

The next mistake I made was thinking that this was going to be easy.

Every single step of the way, I seemed to run into difficulty.

Forcing the almond meal through the sieve, getting enough egg whites, having large enough bowls for the mixtures, getting the egg whites to stiffen....

Two hours in, and there still didn't seem to be anything remotely close to a finished product.

I kept working, and eventually I managed to combine the mixtures and get everything in the oven.

Thankfully "some" of the macaron shells came out looking like I had hoped.
As I left them to cool, I started to make the ganache. I didn't want to make a simple ganache, so I had chosen a more complex recipe that was supposed to give a smoother and more velvety texture.

By the third attempt and two discarded disasters, I managed (with the help of Andy who had grown tired of hearing me screaming in the kitchen) to achieve what appeared to be a semblance of what I had hoped to make.

Time was ticking on past three hours since I had started now.

I slowly began filling the macaron shells with the ganache, boxed them up and put them into the freezer to set.

It had been almost four hours since I had started.

The simple job was clearly not so simple.

What I had was a small batch of macarons that I thought looked the part!
Crispy shells, nicely developed feet, chewy textures and silky smooth ganache.

I'm still undecided as to whether it was worth the trouble though!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A different view (part III)

I need to start carrying my camera with me again.

Part of the fun of taking photos is the spontaneity of finding the shot you like when you least expect it.

Unfortunately, the camera in my phone really doesn't suffice. The grainy photos it takes doesn't do justice to the images I am trying to capture.

One cold and wet night in Sydney, I was wandering out of the public swimming pool having completed some laps as instructed by the physio (Aussie rules football has wrecked my knee) when I noticed another of Sydney's landmarks being illuminated as part of the Vivid Festival.
Seeing St Mary's Cathedral glowing an eerie blue, with strange writing slowly scrolling across the front isn't something you see everyday.

Even though I was standing shivering in the rain, I couldn't help but think that the foul weather we had been having somehow added to this show, with the rain capturing more of the light and adding a glistening shine to everything.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Creating atmosphere

I used to hate buskers.

I found them annoying and generally a bit sad, garnering most of their money from pity rather than actual talent.

However, my attitudes began to change as I started to see that buskers were not merely school children and professional annoyers.

I started seeing genuinely talented performers, people who were dedicated to the craft of performing. Working at Cirque du Soleil also gave me a far better insight into the world of performers, with many of the top Cirque artists having honed their craft as street performers.

Then, my first trip to Europe truly opened my eyes. I was given a glimpse of a world where even the average street performers seemed plucked from concert halls. Walking through the train stations, I would be confronted by violinists and pianists who played with such emotion that I felt compelled to reach into my pocket for any loose change. I found myself in Bonn, standing in the town square once mesmerised by the Roma performers in their brightly coloured clothes and almost hypnotic music.

And now I find myself with a changed perspective towards the craft of the street performer.
.... even those who are clearly seeking to achieve more through novelty value rather than through skill in their craft.