Tag Archives: cooking

macarons are not macaroons and there’s a whole zine to tell you

Macarons Are Not Macaroons

When Melbourne food blogger matriarch Claire of Melbourne Gastronome egged me on (haha, see what I did there) to purchase a copy of the zine Macarons Are Not Macaroons, this newbie food blogger did so. Sadly, I was once one of those who didn’t really know the difference between a macaron and a macaroon, and had no qualms about admitting it on Claire’s blog via comments a few months ago. Thus, financial damage occurred and zine nirvana Sticky Institute was the richer for it.

You only have to check the Masterchef hashtag on Twitter to see how much ire the show inspires. I haven’t seen all that much of it (somewhat weird given every Tom, Dick and Harriet of the slightest foodie leanings is watching it) but yes, I have noticed that it attracts a lot of critical (as in bitching and moaning -not high-brow analysis) commentary, much of it warranted.

The author of Macarons Are Not Macaroons is no different. On the first page of the zine some of her mission statement reads:

“…And for anyone who watched Master Chef in 2009 that stood up and yelled at the TV as that panel of Professional Chefs and Eaters crunched into burnt macarons and called them macaroons.”

What follows is the author’s part-instructional guide, part-life story bound up in macaron obsession.

She starts off by explaining a bit of her involvement and interest in the Lolita subculture, and how everything has to look doll-like and cute, and sugary. Macarons apparently fit this subculture’s aesthetic perfectly – indeed, they are delicate, morsel-sized and very pretty in their pastel colours. All of these things are also very high-maintenance: macarons are, according to the zine, very fiddly bastards to make. I wouldn’t stand a chance in the Lolita subculture, preferring to be dressed for comfort (read: scruffy). I suspect that macaron-making would also drive me a little batty.

I find there is something quite carnivalesque and sinister about a world made of candies, sweets, ruffles and consummate prettiness – think Sofia Coppola’s film Marie Antoinette. The main protagonist constructs a gorgeous candy-pastel world but she does not have a happy life. If we want to go down an even more grotesque path, I can recommend the Korean film Hansel and Gretel – a modern take on an evil witch seducing and entrapping children using the lure of sweets. At first the kids think it’s fantastic that there’s always cake and all these pretty sweets to eat, but then it becomes a bit weird…even they twig that cake and cupcakes isn’t suitable for every meal.

So…I ask you, is the macaron a delightful being, or a beast designed to bring you to your personal downfall? The zine author would argue the latter. Doctor Faustus turned to Mephistopheles in pain despite all his knowledge. Macaron makers would, I fear, be inspired to do the same – chase the perfect macaron but turn to the dark side in despair…

The bulk of the zine is devoted to educating the reader upon the subtle differences between macarons and macaroons, saving up for expensive equipment to cook these tricky buggers and inadvertently driving the people she lives with mad with her own obsessive hunt to perfect her technique. There’s a lot of different recipes, and she also discusses where to get good macarons in Melbourne, and where to avoid getting substandard ones.

My major gripe with this zine is that…if the macaron is held up as the object of obsession for the length of the zine, then how on earth is it that the author never spells ganache correctly? The ganache is an integral part to the macaron, and it’s not misspelt just once but throughout the entire zine, except where she’s pasted recipes gleaned or ripped out from other books or magazines. The macaron pedant in me rages (the pedant more than the macaron-lover, admittedly). However, if you don’t mind shelling out $4 for a nice, thick zine on macarons, then you can find it at Sticky Institute in the city, or online via their mail order department.

(cheers to the tech guy-monkey for some editorial clarification)

ghetto sous-vide

Why walk when you can run? Or to put it in a more cooking-centric manner, if it’s good enough for Heston Blumenthal et al, then it’s good enough for me.

After watching many an hour of Heston’s Feasts (or Great British Menu or Hell’s Kitchen or…, yeah, you get the picture), I’d noticed that a particular cooking method was particularly en vogue at the moment – sous-vide. You know the method, that one where they take an incredibly good looking piece of meat and vacuum seal it and then pop it into a temperature controlled water-bath. An hour (or three) passes and they retrieve the bag of meaty goodness and plate it up. The piece of meat that looks so incredible you (briefly) consider crash tackling your television with an animal-like desire (or perhaps trade a sibling / partner / parent) so that you might possess and consume the delicious morsel. Yeah, that method.

After seeing sous-vide used by the best and brightest chefs on multiple occasions my interest was piqued, but unless I happened to find myself trapped in a commercial kitchen overnight (you remember! those childhood fantasies where you get trapped in the toy store at night and run amok) I’d have little chance of getting to ascend to cooking nirvana that the sous-vide method would grant me. That was until I stumbled upon Cook Your Meat in a Beer Cooler: The World’s Best (and Cheapest) Sous-Vide Hack.

To say I was excited about the hack would be a massive understatement; I may have ranted to my partner about the wondrousness of sous-vide le coól boxe (French for sous-vide in an Esky) on more than one occasion. Incessantly. Relentlessly.

Thus I was forbidden to talk about it, on pain of death.

Now, given my proclivity to talk (especially about things that interest me), for my own safety I felt it was best to dip my toes (terrible pun intended) into the sous-vide water as soon as possible.

So on a particularly lazy Sunday, with the blessing of the ‘missus’, I set out to pick up my apparatus.

For the ‘hack’ you require very few things:

  • Esky (or any suitable insulated vessel)
  • thermometer
  • zip-lock bags
  • measuring jug
  • meat!

 ghetto sous-vide apparatus

So after scuttling about trying to locate the required equipment (every store had sold out of cooking thermometers, apparently), I was down to the important decision – the cut of meat! I had already picked beef as the animal, wanting to cook an ‘epic’ steak, but I was less decided on the cut; a tough cut that could be made better through the long cooking, or a good cut that could be sous-vided to excellence.

I chose the latter, getting a nice looking t-bone.

So with all the required pieces I sourced, I returned home to prepare my experiment. Now the procedure is straightforward enough – place your cuts of meat into the zip-lock bags, remove all air from the bag, and seal. This is quite an important step for two reasons – firstly, the bag of meaty goodness won’t sink and settle with air in it. Secondly, and more importantly, air is a poor conductor of heat, meaning your meat will take longer to cook and will cook less evenly.

So with the meat sealed, I set about getting the ‘oven’ prepared.>

Now in the recipe I was following it called for the steak to be cooked at 54C for one hour. So after scratching my head to recall Year 12 physics I came out with a handy rule of thumb: equal parts boiling water and cold tap water will result in combined temperature just south of 60C. Being a punctilious soul that I am that was close enough for me!

So the meat was dropped in, timer set, and thumbs twiddled. Sixty minutes later I returned to this find this ‘beauty’.

 cooked t-bone

Now while she may not have been stunning with a less-than-perfect appearance it did have a beautiful even cook throughout, just as sous-vide promises. The meat was juicy and perfectly medium rare.

 nice and bloody

To ‘gussy’ her up and make her look as beautiful on the outside as in I decided to place it on a smoking griddle plate to brown off and give it grill lines. This is step is mostly cosmetic – the only comment against sous-vide being that the low temperature isn’t sufficiently high to melt the fat.

But, no matter – a minute on the griddle on each side made her beautiful!

 ghetto sous-vide t-bone (with hand model)

Now to the important part, the taste! Knowing I wouldn’t be an impartial judge (c’mon, she’s my baby…err…girl), I enlisted my partner to be the taster. To put it delicately she inhaled it, which in my books is a big endorsement.

I found the experience entirely satisfying and I will definitely be sous-videing again, whether it be ghetto or otherwise and to honest the whole experience makes me feel just a little bit fancy – watch out Heston, here I come!