I hesitated about whether to publish a post this week. With everything that is happening around the world with Coronavirus, my little old blog posts certainly seem trivial. What’s more, I’ve also found it hard to concentrate and focus. The constant news cycle and messages from friends and colleagues are distracting and often anxiety-inducing. But in a climate which is feeling increasingly surreal and apocalyptic, taking a break from all of that and indulging in something a little lighter might just help us preserve our sanity and morale.
On that note, let me regale you with a tale of my macaron mess.
Last week, I attempted to make raspberry macarons (or Macarons framboise Mamitou). The intention was to take them to a friend’s place for dessert. And dessert we did eat. But I can’t really claim we ate macarons. Instead, I cobbled together a sort Eton Mess from bits of strangely coloured, flat, chewy, macaron-esque substance and raspberry coulis, along with plenty ice cream.
One man’s macaron is another man’s macaroon?
You say macaron and I say macaroon? Not quite. We’re talking about different biscuits here. As explained on Berries.com (their website also has some great pictures and graphics):
'macarons and macaroons are entirely different cookies. First off, a macaroon is coconut based, whereas a macaron is meringue based'
There are definitely similarities between the two, and it’s likely the macaroon was modelled off the macaron, which itself originated in Italy, although it’s more often associated with France. Interestingly though, the Larousse Gastronomique uses the spelling ‘macaroon’ to refer to the ground almond, meringue based biscuits, rather than the coconut-based one. However, numerous other websites, recipes, and blogs, use the different spelling to distinguish the two different biscuits. So I chose to do this as well.
Tantalising tidbit: In New Zealand you can also buy a commercially made macaroon biscuit, which is a thin chocolate coated coconut biscuit.
Mamitou – Gran’s recipe?
I took my source recipe from Marmiton, a widely used recipe website which allows users to upload their own recipes. My source recipe’s name was Macarons framboise Mamitou, and it’s this last word that gave me some trouble. I’d never seen this word before, and had trouble tracking it down. I did find it cited in an encyclopedia as the name that Algonquins give to genies or spirits. But this seems unlikely to be relevant here. Unless perhaps the author was alluding to the macarons’ taste as being almost spiritual or heavenly.
My two other guesses are:
It’s a reference to ‘Marmiton’ – the site’s name, and has been used as an adjectival derivation of this. For example, on the site, they use the term ‘Marmitesteurs’ to refer to people who test products for Marmiton. It’s similar to how the term Beliebers was coined to refer to fans of the musician Justin Beiber. But if this were the case, it would make more sense to be: Marmitou or Marmitonneux. Plus, if this is used as an adjective, it would be unusual for this to be capitalised.
It’s someone’s name for their grandmother. Mamie is a common name for grandmother, and mamitou isn’t too dissimilar. Although a French friend I consulted hadn’t heard this before, it’s not uncommon for all sorts of names to be used for grandparents. Just think how many are commonly used in English: gran, granny, nan, nanna, grandma, grandmother, and the list goes on. To that we add new creations all the time. My nephew’s name forhis granddad was ‘gaddie’ for a while.
In my translation, I went with option number 2, naming it ‘Gran’s raspberry macarons’.
Homogène – not always homogenous
The word homogène crops up rather a lot in French recipes. Every time I see it, I think of this phrase:
Il faut que ce soit homogène
(word-for-word translation: it needs to be homogeneous)
This was something of a mantra to my Belgian host father, Jean-François. I often helped him with cooking, and as I made béchamel or pureed soup, this instruction was sure to accompany me. It was a double whammy. It taught me both key European cooking skills, and the finicky French subjunctive.
Generally-speaking, homogène can be translated as homogeneous. But this is very formal in English, and I don’t think it quite fits with the English recipe genre. Instead, it can often be translated in numerous different ways, depending on the context. For example, my source recipe included this instruction: Former un mélange homogène, and I chose to translate this as ‘Mix until combined.’
Somewhat regretfully, onto cooking. It was a comedy of errors.
My red food colouring, newly purchased from Sainsburys, turned my mixture an unappealing grey
My piping bag turned out to be permeable, so mixture oozed out as I tried to pipe
My piped blobs were too big, so spread and joined one another
A small nozzle forced the mixture out in thin squiggly lines, which probably contributed to the macarons being incredibly thin and chewy
I timed things poorly so my filling set into a jelly-like substance by the time I went to use it
The thickened filling meant I had to press down onto the macaron shells to spread it, cracking them even further
So, the end result was far from fantastic...
Although I nearly binned them out of frustration, I decided to keep them, and fashioned an Eton Mess, which actually tasted pretty good. What is it they say? When life hands you lemons…
Next week’s recipe will be much simpler, and confinement-friendly.