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.
My reason for asking Mike to do a post for Eat, Drink, Stagger was purely selfish. We’ve met briefly in person, but it was on Twitter that I learnt that he has a real love for cooking, but more impressively to me, he’d bought a blow torch specifically to finish bombe Alaska, the dessert of my dreams. I can picture it now my mother’s 70s cookbook and recipe cards – it looked impossible to make! I still haven’t tried the fabled dessert, but hope to one day. I was seduced by those meringue waves…
What also impressed me about Mike is that he really loves cooking and is a ‘nerd’, and thus living proof that the two attributes aren’t mutually exclusive. Bombe Alaska is clearly a dessert attempted by those who take their kitchen activities very seriously. I absolutely loved reading about Mike’s bombe endeavours, and hope you enjoy reading about them too. You can find him on Twitter at @unearthlymike, and he also has a website which details his professional life.
Why hello there! I didn’t see you come in! I’m Michael, your guest blogger for the evening. Come. Sit. Make yourself comfortable and I’ll tell you a tale. A tale of a man and his dessert.
It all started back in February of 1903, when I was a young lad growing up in the Bavarian Alps. No – it actually started one particularly unusual night in the September of 2009. Why was this night so unusual? Because I decided to rot my brain a little further with some so-called reality TV. Celebrity Masterchef to be precise.
Who were the celebrities appearing in that particular episode? I don’t remember. It’s not important. Please refrain from asking questions until I’m finished. It’s dangerous to interrupt a man as he rambles. You wanna get stabbed!?
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, growing steadily bored as the episode progressed, my interest returned when it came to the final challenge. Bombe Alaska.
I watched as the celebrities struggled to follow the recipe they had each been supplied with. I think this is what originally appealed to me – the apparent difficulty of the dish. If I could master this, I could cook anything. But more importantly, it seemed like a dessert that under the right circumstances could lead to a little boob groping.
So I gave it a shot and was promptly charged with indecent assault. Then I realised I had things in the wrong order and needed to make the dessert first. To cut a long story short, it was an average result. Thai dictionary . The first bombe turned out the best. As I continued, there was a steady decline in quality, as illustrated in the graph below.
For a long time after, I was haunted by the unforgiving face of Matt Preston, scoffing at my less than perfect bombes. I saw him everywhere (but mostly in advertisements, hawking products vaguely related to cooking). This just fuelled my urge to get this recipe right.
Now, many months later, I’m going to attempt the tricky dessert a second time. Yes, this is Bombe Alaska 2: Electric Boogaloo. Documented in Technicolour for your viewing pleasure.
Grab a stone tablet and a chisel, because the ingredients are coming up riiiiiiight…… n…. right nnn…………. NOW!!!:
The first step is to make the ice cream. I know, I’m excited too! Half fill a pot with water and bring it to the boil. Reduce to simmer and place a bowl over it.
Bust open the eggs and separate the yolks from the whites. Make sure not to get any yolk mixed in with the whites. If you do, you fail at life and your meringue won’t work. Store the whites in a refrigerated time-capsule for future generations. Combine the egg yolks, caster sugar, and vanilla bean innards in the water-heated bowl.
Using an old-school vintage hand beater (a whisk would also work) whisk the mixture off its feet with romantic gestures. Or just until it becomes thick and pale, like a chubby albino.
Once your mixture is ready, remove the bowl from the pot. Use oven mitts so you don’t drop it like it’s hot. Because it will be. Congratulations, you just made custard. If that’s what you were hoping to achieve, STOP NOW!!! Otherwise, mix in your crème de cacao and thickened cream. PROTIP: The alcohol in the crème de cacao will stop your ice-cream from setting too hard.
This is where the cocoa (sifted) should be added too. I didn’t put any in when I originally made this, and the crème de cacao didn’t give a rich enough chocolate flavour for my tastes. Or any chocolate flavour at all…
Pour this mixture into a plastic container. Old ice cream containers are great for this. Seal it with the lid (if you have one) or some foil and put it into the freezer until firm. A few hours should be fine. Go and watch Avatar or something.
After the credits roll, it’s time to churn the ice cream. Using a knife, slice it up whilst muttering, “Stabbity, stabbity, stab, stab.” This will not only help you release years of suppressed rage, but will also make the ice cream easier to mix. Fire up an electric beater and churn that mother like your life depends on it! Return to the freezer and watch Avatar again.
You can repeat the process as many times as you want. More churning will produce creamier ice cream and give you a better grasp of the Na’vi language.
Alternatively, if you are impatient (what, you don’t like Avatar?) and have an ice cream maker, use that.
For the purée, put your orange, sugar and juice in a saucepan and heat on medium. I actually used two oranges when making this recipe, but found the end result to be a little overpowering so I cut it back to one in the ingredients. Stir occasionally until the liquid is evaporated.
You can use this time to prepare your moulds. But don’t let your purée burn! Or so help me, I will come to your house and give you such a telling off!
I used disposable cups lined with Glad Wrap, but a hollowed out human skull would do the same job.
Once your orange is ready it’s time to ask yourself, “Will it blend?” You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find out that [spoiler alert] it does!
Remove your ice cream from the freezer or ice cream machine. You may need to let it soften a little, or churn it one last time before folding in the blended purée. Don’t over-mix it though, I know how excitable you can get. We just want a ripple of orange running through the ice cream.
Transfer the mix to your moulds and return to the freezer. I ended up with enough for three bombes. So that’s one each for you, your date, and the camera guy.
Meanwhile… start preparing the optional presentation part of the dish. Or don’t. I’m not going to tell you how to live your life.
Spend a quiet moment reminiscing about your custard-making past. Use that same ‘bowl over simmering water’ technique to melt the chocolate. Dip orange wedges into the chocolate but only coat half of each slice. Place them on a plate covered in Glad Wrap and shove it into the fridge. Eat any remaining chocolate as you wait for the ice cream to set again. You know you want to.
When the ice cream is solid, start preparing the meringue. Dig up your time-capsule and put the egg whites in a bowl. Using an electric beater, beat them like a misbehaving child. Staying with the same metaphor, gradually add sugar to keep them from telling anyone. Your meringue should be ready when it forms soft, white peaks.
Remove one bombe from a mould and place it on the ugliest plate you can find. Doing this one at a time (and leaving the others in the freezer) will keep them from melting.
Grab a knife and spread a thin layer of meringue (about a half centimetre thick) onto the bombe.
Brown this using a blow torch whilst singing Pat Benatar’s ‘Fire and Ice’. I picked my torch up from House, who sells kitchen products when he’s not solving medical puzzles.
Any leftover meringue can be baked in mounds on a tray at 90 degrees Celsius for 90 minutes, so as not to waste it.
Arrange three of your choc-coated orange wedges on the side of the plate. Repeat the spreading, browning and wedging for the remaining bombes.
If you followed these directions exactly, you should have gained at least 10,000 EXP. More than enough to level up and face the end boss.
Finally, grab some lube and contraceptives because you are going to get laid!* Even I want to have sex with me for making this!
*Actual results may vary.
As an afterthought, this would also be great with strawberries instead of oranges. Next time Gadget, next time…
I don’t quite recall why, but on what was supposed to be a lazy Saturday after months of constant activity, myself and my partner ended up going to Westfield Doncaster. We did in fact have our hearts set on Crust Pizzas for lunch, but the ruddy joint wasn’t open! The drive to the nearest one, in Doncaster, is at least twenty or so minutes from my house.
Plan B was to hang out at Westfield Doncaster till Crust Pizza opened. Of course our stomachs got the best of us, and so after agonising decisions in the food court (I swear relationships can be broken by less!) and in an attempt to prove that I don’t just eat Japanese food, Grill’d was settled upon. I love gherkins and mustard (though I prefer the latter seeded), and so chose the ‘Mustard & Pickled!’ and partner had the ‘Kung Fu Fighter’. A side of herb-laden chips to share with herb mayonnaise was also ordered.
My burger was delicious and oh so juicy. Instead of the standard fast-food pissy little slices of pickle, I got these massive sideways-sliced pieces – I’m pretty sure an entire gherkin was used (they are usually half the size of a slender carrot). It was most satisfying, especially if you’re a pickle fiend. My partner kindly let me have a bite of his burger which was fragrant with the promised coriander. My standard MO unfortunately means I can never eat gourmet burgers without them disintegrating towards the end, but that’s because it’s hard for me to fit the dastardly thing into my mouth.
The chips are very moreish and I may have greedily scooped up more than my share of the mayo (sorry T!). They smell and taste deliciously rustic.
Naturally, they take longer to make Grill’d burgers, and I look forward to sampling more of them in the future. As if being treated to gourmet burgers for lunch wasn’t enough, not long after we nipped into Koko Black. The partner thought it might be a nice way to sample their wares if we shared the Summer Spoil platter they currently have available. For this, you get your choice of hot (chocolate) drink, two chocolates, a shortbread, a miniature white chocolate raspberry cake, raspberry sorbet, and some chopped strawberries. Perfect, really!
The strawberries and sorbet really refresh the palate when you’ve had enough of the sweetness and richness of your hot drink (we both had the standard hot Belgian chocolate) though I must say I’m extremely partial to raspberry sorbet. The two chocolates we had were a simple chocolate praline-type, and a dark chocolate encasing a mango-flavoured filling. I felt spoilt! The staff were extremely polite and helpful and there’s a lovely old-world feel in the decor of Koko Black – whichever one you go to, as they are decorated similarly. Good food and drinks don’t always have to be fancy, and it certainly is nice to be reminded thus. I’m still looking forward to trying Crust Pizza for this very reason. Well, till I can afford to go out for some true posh nosh!