A rosy dot placed on the "i" in loving;
'Tis a secret told to the mouth instead of to the ear.
Ah, the mystery of a kiss. Soft and sweet, tender lips pressed gently against a forehead like the kiss of a parent given to a child, then slowly covering each eyelid, warm and romantic, one by one, breath tickling the cheek, lips wordlessly speaking of love. A nuzzle, lips curved into the neck, a perfect fit, honeyed words whispered barely loud enough to be heard, and finally lips brushed against lips, a quick caress, hearts beating, the affectionate kiss of a sentimental fool or of the well-beloved.
Or hard and wild, passionately pulled into his arms and held fast against him, lips greedily searching, eagerly tasting, possessing. Burning with desire, the kiss is returned, enraptured, exhilarated, head spinning, knees weak. A certain urgency sweeps over us, hands grabbing, groping, clinging, lips, mouth in ardent yearning, heart pounding, impatient.
Besotted, charmed, we give way to our better judgment at times, losing ourselves in the perfect kiss. If we are ever so lucky, the lips belong to us, and only to us, the lover a part of our life, always with us, the kisses ours for the asking, warming up a cold winter day, bringing sunshine to the gray and gloomy, sweeping away our cares and worries in a single, breathless touch. Languid kisses, slow and easy, like sleepy summer afternoons, a cool drink sipped, something dainty nibbled on, sugary, pale, the color of lavender and mint, mild and warm like a soft breeze rippling through the tall grass. Or kisses falling like rain, rat-a-tat-tat, quick and warm, like candy poured into cupped hands, making us giggle and squirm, anxious for more. Or strong, turbulent, heated like showers of dark chocolate, bittersweet, spicy and exotic.
And if we could package the kiss? What form would it take? Like a fairy tale magician or storybook Fairy Godmother how would we brew the Perfect Prince Charming Kiss? Sugar and spice and everything nice? Frog’s warts and eye of newt and a few drops of golden rays of sunshine? A red, red apple dipped in magic potion, sprinkled with fairy dust and offered to the fair maiden, pressed into her delicate hands, urging her to taste of its goodness, watching from the shadows as she hesitates, rejoicing as she bites into its juicy flesh and savors its sweetness. Soon, we know, she’ll be swept off her feet by the handsome fellow on horseback and off they’ll ride, off into the happy-ever-after sunset of eternal kisses.
I am not capable of this type of magic. My powers are limited to what I can brew, create in my own homey, warm kitchen, blending, mixing, stirring, kneading, flour, sugar, eggs, popped into the oven, warm cinnamon and vanilla scents floating through the house. Being married to a Frenchman, maybe my friends think that I have special insider’s knowledge of the making of the perfect French Kiss… well, I do not kiss and tell (contrary to what my Prince Charmant thinks…), but I do know that the perfect French macaron may just be the embodiment, the sugary and almond translation of the French Kiss.
Delicate, tender and sweet, the size of a kiss, hold one in the palm of your hand like lips touching your skin, any flavor you like, sweet as a kiss, salty as tears. Bring it up to your mouth, to your lips, hesitate, but only briefly, knowing that ecstasy is not far behind. Bite down into the gently domed cookie, formed of the perfect union of a feminine froth of white, white meringue, gently, tenderly, lovingly folded into fine almond meal, fine like sand on a beach, like arms wrapped around your body, barely scented with whatever you choose, whatever your mood, your desire, your urge. Piped out into beautiful shiny mounds, creamy smooth, to puff up in the warmth of the oven – bite down * crack * into the crispy barely-there outside and find yourself pulled into a tender chewy center, a burst of flavor and you are utterly swept off your feet. Choose your flavor, intense and exotic, dark chocolate or tangy raspberry, or something more subtle, sublime, a hint of cinnamon or nuts. Or something wild and dreamlike, white truffle or saffron, tomato or cheese. Let your imagination run wild!
Macaron Madness began for me at the end of the summer when the heat must have gone to our heads and my wonderful bevy of twitter friends and I decided to try our hand at making French Macarons together. We braved the challenge and I fell in love. My first try, my Shrinking Violet Macarons were a rousing success. Onward and upward! A month later I made my second batch, coffee and chocolate, and they were scrumptious. I love the whipping of the whites, the folding and the piping, watching the magic as each tiny round of batter bakes, rises, crisps up and becomes the perfect macaron shell. Filled with ganache and it truly is as sweet as one tender kiss.
This month’s Daring Bakers Challenge, chosen by Ami S. of Baking Without Fear, is none other than the wonderful French Macaron. There are so many flavor combinations that I dream of trying, but I decided to make a personal favorite flavor combo: chocolate-coffee-sea salt. Quite a while ago, I received a cute little sachet of Espresso Sea Salt from Heather at girlichef and it has been crying out to me to use it with chocolate. I love chocolate and sea salt together. So I made a simple chocolate macaron shell with just a pinch of the espresso sea salt, and I filled them with a simple chocolate buttercream flavored with more espresso sea salt. Outrageous! The macaron was full of flavor and tender and chewy, like an elegant brownie bite, with a subtle hint of espresso and a wonderful salty tang. One bite of this macaron is like the perfect stolen kiss.
ESPRESSO SEA SALT CHOCOLATE MACARONS
This recipe is based on a recipe from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Grammercy Tavern as given to the Daring Bakers by Ami. I cut back proportions for 3 egg whites. I will give both quantities here. I also relied on Aran’s recipe for her chocolate macarons on her beautiful blog Cannelle et Vanille for the cocoa proportions.
Daring Bakers Challenge:
Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)
I cut back to:
Confectioner’s sugar: 200 g, 7.2 oz
Ground almonds: 110 g, 4 oz
Granulated sugar: 30 g, 1 oz
Egg whites: 3 large
Cocoa powder: 15 g (about 1 Tbs)
Espresso Sea Salt: a pinch, about 1/8 tsp *
* You can replace the Espresso Sea Salt with a pinch of table salt or eliminate it completely for wonderful chocolate Macarons.
Prepare 2 large baking sheets. On 2 large pieces of white paper the size of your baking sheets, trace 1 ½ inch-diameter circles (I used the wide end of my pastry tip) evenly spaced, leaving about ¾ - 1 inch between each circle. This will be your template to help you pipe even circles of batter onto the parchment paper. You will be able to reuse these endlessly. Place one paper on each baking sheet then cover with parchment paper. Set aside. Prepare a pastry bag with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809).
Sift the powdered sugar, the ground almonds and the cocoa powder together into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the espresso sea salt if adding. Set aside.
In a standing mixer or with a hand mixer, whip the egg whites for 30 seconds on low speed then increase speed to high and whip until the whites are foamy. Gradually add the granulated sugar as you are whipping the whites until you obtain a glossy meringue. Mine was just stiff.
Gently but firmly fold about 1/3 of the whipped whites into the powdered sugar/ground almonds/cocoa. Add the rest of the whipped whites/meringue and fold, using a silicon spatula or the equivalent, turning the bowl as you lift and fold, making sure you fold in all the dry ingredients completely. When the batter is ready to pipe, it should be flow from the spatula like lava or a thick ribbon. To test to see if you have folded it enough, drop a small amount onto a clean plate and jiggle it slightly. The top should flatten, not remain in a point. If it doesn’t flatten, give the batter a few more folds and test again.
You can also fold the powdered mixture into the meringue if it is easier for you.
Fill your pastry bag with the batter. Pipe circles onto the parchment paper, using the traced circles on the template sheets to guide you, holding your pastry bag above each circle and piping into the center. When you have piped all of your batter out into even rounds, sprinkle half of the shells with some espresso sea salt if using. These will be the top half of each “sandwich”. DO NOT FORGET TO CAREFULLY REMOVE THE WHITE PAPER TEMPLATE FROM UNDERNEATH THE PARCHMENT PAPER. YOU DO NOT WANT THIS TEMPLATE TO GO IN THE OVEN!
Preheat your oven to 280°F (140°C).
Allow the macarons to sit out for 30 minutes to an hour. The top of each shell should form a “skin” (it will feel like it hardened a bit when gently touched). Bake the shells for 15 – 20 minutes, depending on their size (when I touched macs that were not quite done, the top jiggled a bit as if there was still a bit of liquid batter between the top and the “feet” so I let it continue to bake another minute.) I turn the trays back to front halfway through the baking.
Remove the tray from the oven and immediately slide the parchment paper with the shells off of the hot baking sheet and onto a surface, table or countertop. Allow to cool before sliding the shells very gently off of the parchment by slipping a cake spatula under the shell as you lift it up. Be careful or the center of the shell risks sticking to the parchment.
SIMPLE CHOCOLATE ESPRESSO SEA SALT BUTTERCREAM FILLING
6 oz (175 grams) powdered/confectioner’s sugar
3 1/2 Tbs (50 grams) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 Tbs (25 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbs very hot water
¼ to ½ tsp Espresso Sea Salt or plain instant espresso powder to taste
Using an electric hand mixer, cream the butter and the powdered sugar together. Add the cocoa powder and the hot water and beat, scraping down the sides as necessary, until well blended and fluffy.
When the macaron shells are cool, pair the shells up evenly, each with a partner. Pipe a dollop, about a teaspoon, of buttercream filling onto half of the shells, the bottom shell in each pair. Carefully sandwich the shells together with the buttercream. If you didn’t sprinkle the top shells with the espresso sea salt, then shower a bit of cocoa powder over the macarons to decorate.
Love is to be tasted.
There are some you love, I know;
Be not loathe to tell them so.
Lips go dry and eyes grow wet
Waiting to be warmly met.
Keep them not in waiting yet;
Kisses kept are wasted.