Here comes Peter Cottontail,
Hopping' down the bunny trail,
Easter's on its way.
Bringing' every girl and boy Baskets full of Easter joy,
Things to make your Easter bright and gay.
He's got jellybeans for Tommy,
Colored eggs for sister Sue,
There's an orchid for your Mommy
And an Easter bonnet, too.
I don’t celebrate Easter. Never have, never will. While my school friends were coloring eggs, waking up Easter morning and hopping excitedly out of bed looking for signs that the old Easter Bunny had passed through the yard leaving goodies hidden among the tall grass for them to find, we were preparing the house for Passover, tossing out bread and cookies and replacing them on the kitchen counter with matzoh and macaroons. Not that I didn’t love Passover. I did. I loved the rituals, the meals, even the matzoh. But when I would find myself in the grocery store with mom in the weeks running up to Easter, I would pull her over to the Easter candy display and stare longingly at the luscious treats, marshmallow and chocolate, pink and yellow and pale blue, and beg her to let me buy just one or two. In the end, we would return the day after the holiday and snap up Peeps and Eggs at half price and enjoy our own little holiday.
I’m still a kid at heart and Easter candy still thrills me. Garish marshmallow chicks and bunnies in neon green and purple and pink like colors right out of the psychedelic Sixties, chocolate eggs filled with marshmallow cream or candy-coated malt balls in pastels that crack under your teeth and turn your tongue a lovely pale pink or blue, milk chocolate eggs wrapped in delicate shiny foil tucked into colorful cellophane nests or wrapped up in bright crinkly cellophane wrappers and tied with a plump ribbon bow. And the chicks, the tiny fluffy yellow chicks with the tiny red feet, their sharp little toes splayed gaily out in front of them yet refusing to hold them up, I loved those tiny little chicks.
Easter in France is otherworldly and, as in everything, oh so elegant. The French may have adopted the American custom of hiding chocolates in the yard at Grandma’s house, but Easter is formal and sophisticated. No marshmallow treats for giddy children, no pockets stuffed with brightly-colored treats. No dizzyingly high displays of garish, gaudy eggs nestled in baskets at the supermarkets. Pass in front of any candy shop window and you’ll be offered a romantic vision of graceful chocolate sculptures, eggs and bells and chickens in dark chocolate, glamorous concoctions delicately wrapped in cellophane and bows, lined up like obedient school children waiting to be carried home carefully like the oeuvres d’art they are and handed to friends and lovers and children alike to be gazed at, cherished, guarded over jealously until finally, one day, when one cannot wait any longer, the treasure is gently unwrapped, the chocolate caressed and the egg cracked open and all the tiny chocolate eggs tumble out to be greedily snatched up and eaten one after the other joyously.
The French are the kings of praline. They love dark chocolate enclosing a creamy smooth milk chocolate center studded with nutty, caramel-infused, crispy praline. Walk into any fine chocolatier and request the specialty of the house, or select a mixed box, pull off the elegant ribbon, pull back the cover and choose one. Invariably you will find yourself savoring a rich chocolate-coated praline filling. And whether a gorgeous box or a kid-sized treat, Easter means praline-filled chocolates shaped like eggs (the symbol of life, eggs are forbidden during Lent in France so they have become an Easter treat), bells (church bells are silenced beginning the Thursday before Easter up until Easter Monday. In France, it is the church bells who fly off to Rome and carry the chocolate eggs back to the little French children), fish or chickens.
April’s Mac Attack challenged us all to be inspired by an April holiday, festival or special day. Mathilde, my macaron assistant and fellow enthusiast, came up with the idea for our April Mactweets project: Easter in France. Yes, I know, I don’t celebrate Easter, but I am always intrigued by the differences in cultures around holiday times, and Easter is no exception. Nothing says Easter in France more than creamy praline-studded milk chocolate filled dark chocolate eggs offered to loved ones, adult and children alike, nestling in pretty little beribboned baskets or elegantly wrapped up in clear cellophane. And as Mathilde is still learning her way around macarons, tip-toeing ever so gently, I used my tried and true favorite recipe for chocolate macaron shells so she could participate and learn. I had an old jar of whites in the refrigerator and, after having sifted the powdered sugar, almond meal and cocoa powder, we began to whip the whites into meringue. But we knew something was wrong with the whites right away. They were a strange shade of yellow tinged with greenish brown and murky. And once whipped no fluffy white froth of meringue welcomed us. No. Rather a spongy mass of icky yellow mush. So down the drain they went followed by the rest of the jar. Back to the drawing board.
Out came the carton of fresh eggs, 3 were cracked into a bowl sitting atop my new and improved digital scale and, as one white slithered into the bowl after the other I realized that 3 large egg whites did not 90 grams make! Nope! We had closer to 112 or so grams. Well, I heaved a sigh of “what next?!” and simply decided to use the full 3 whites. After all, I had been making perfect macs until I started weighing my whites, so, after a trail of less-than-perfect shells I decided to see if more whites was the secret to the perfect ones. And indeed….
We then made 2 different fillings, a luxurious caramel-scented milk chocolate ganache and a simple chocolate buttercream. To both we folded in finely crushed pink pralines, a gift from Pam The Cooking Ninja.
I must say that these were my best macarons yet. Maybe not as fabulously intriguing as the Blueberry Hibiscus macarons, but these had a much more satisfying texture, dense and chewy like macarons made with Italian meringue. I loved the deep chocolate flavor and the nuttiness of the praline. The praline also gave the filling a wonderful crunch.
For detailed step by step instructions and photographs link here or here)
7.2 oz (200 g) confectioner’s/powdered sugar
4 oz (115 g ) ground blanched almonds
3 large egg whites (about 3.8 – 4 oz/ 110 – 112 g)
1 oz (30 g) granulated sugar
1 Tbs (15 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
Prepare 2 large baking sheets. On 2 large pieces of white paper the size of your baking sheets, trace 1 – 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. 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 continue to whip the whites until you obtain a glossy meringue and all of the sugar has been beaten in. The meringue will be very stiff (turn the bowl upside down over your head and they shouldn’t move) and be dense like marshmallow.
Gently but firmly fold the whipped whites into the powdered sugar/ground almonds/cocoa, 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 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. 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!
You can dust some of the shells with crushed praline to decorate.
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 metal cake spatula under the shell as you lift it up. Be careful or the center of the shell risks sticking to the parchment.
CHOCOLATE PINK PRALINE FILLING 2 ways
Finely crushed pralines (caramel-covered hazelnuts), not quite a powder. To taste.
Simple Chocolate Buttercream:
5.5 oz (150 grams) powdered/confectioner’s sugar or more to taste
3 1/2 Tbs (50 grams) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 Tbs (25 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbs very hot water
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. If the buttercream is a bit too loose to spread, chill in the refrigerator until piping/spreading consistency.
Caramel Milk Chocolate Ganache:
½ cup (125 ml) heavy cream
4 1/3 oz (125 g) milk chocolate (I used Nestlé Dessert Caramel Milk Chocolate)
We doubled this recipe to fill all of the macarons.
Chop the chocolate and put in an appropriately-sized pyrex (heatproof) bowl. Heat the cream in a saucepan gently until it comes just to the boil. Pour the cream over the chopped chocolate and stir until all of the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth and luxurious. Allow to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. It should thicken to a spreading/piping consistency. If you need to, speed up the process by placing in the refrigerator until desired spreading/piping consistency, stirring occasionally.
Whichever chocolate cream filling you use, stir in a few tablespoons or more of finely crushed praline or praline powder (preferably pink if you can find it) to taste. It is nice to feel the crunch and extra texture by using finely crushed but not powdery praline.
Any leftover ganache makes wonderful truffles!
Finish the macarons:
When the macaron shells are cool, pair the shells up evenly, each with a partner. Pipe a dollop, about a teaspoon, of buttercream or ganache 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 crushed praline, then shower a bit of cocoa powder over the macarons to decorate if you like.