I learn to make MACARONS

October 16, 2015 at 11:55 am | Posted in cooking | 2 Comments
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Lynne arrived with two bags full of gear and a shiny chromed food-mixer under her arm. She’s a self-taught macaronier – ‘I just thought, they’re not going to beat me’ – and Medici Macarons specialises in weddings, creating bespoke towers delicately flavoured and coloured with all-natural ingredients. Her macarons are the most unfathomably delicious things I’ve ever tasted, and I’m not just saying that because she’s my chum: I’ve eaten many others, and none are a patch on Lynne’s. Now she’s offering one-to-one macaron tuition. I couldn’t have been more excited to have her in my kitchen. If Paul Hollywood had shown up, I’d’ve been all, ‘Sorry, but I’m just a bit busy; could you come back?’

She’d sent me a list of instructions in advance, so I’d stocked up on ingredients and dug out bits of equipment. She was delighted that I had a milk pan (‘You’d be surprised how many people haven’t’) and declared my ancient, chipped, scratched Mason & Cash mixing bowl ‘perfect’ (‘You can’t do it a in plastic bowl’).


Making sugar syrup

Oh, you can’t be making macarons with any old tat. These exquisite, otherworldy mouthfuls demand precision and perfection at every step. Of course, like the divas they are, they have their contradictions: old eggs are better than fresh ones, and the finished macarons like to snooze in the fridge for a couple of days to mature before you eat them. But still. It’s not a job for those who like checking twitter while they’re cooking.

We got settled in my kitchen. Lynne teaches people in their homes, because ovens are unpredictable beasts, and what works in one may fail in another. We had a cup of tea, and I wondered if my oven would be up to the task. Then it was on with the weighing and mixing and heating and beating.


Lynne demonstrates expert piping

I’d love to give you a detailed breakdown of everything we did, but, well, this is why I’m not a cookery blogger. Despite macarons having only three main ingredients, there are an AWFUL lot of stages. Mostly, this is because eggs are Nature’s multitool; the whites go into the macaron shells in two different states, while the yolks make the lemon curd for the filling. If you’re the geeky type of baker, making macarons is DEFINITELY for you. The oven must be EXACTLY the right temperature. The sugar syrup can’t overheat by a SINGLE degree. The batter has to have PRECISELY the right consistency. Lynne is the perfect teacher, jolly and strict in equal measure; even flighty types like me know they’re in good hands.


Action shot of macarons about to hit the work surface

There were some unexpectedly fun bits in amongst the worrying about whether the sugar syrup was crystallising and whether the batter was over-whipped and whether the shells were going to come out hollow. I really enjoyed piping the macarons onto the sheets, following the printed guide underneath. There’s also a great bit where you drop the tray of newly-piped lovelies onto the work surface with a CRASH, to encourage any trapped air to come to the surface. Then you get a cocktail stick and prick the tiny bubbles before the macarons go in the oven, a process which can become completely obsessive (Lynne likened it to picking spots, which brought me back to reality with a thud).


Every… little… bubble…

I’m immensely proud to say my oven proved itself worthy, turning out two trays of really-not-at-all-bad macaron shells. We washed up and had another cup of tea, and Lynne told me how to make lemon curd, which I later piped into the middle of a tiny ring of buttercream for her trademark ‘secret centres’. About half of the finished product disappeared into my family’s gullets before they’d had a SNIFF of the fridge. Boyf: They are SUBLIME. 7yo [mournfully]: I wish I could have another one.


The take-home message from the day is that macarons require a) precision b) concentration c) practice. My approach to cooking is generally fairly slapdash: I’m not used to weighing things out to the gram, or putting them back in the oven for another thirty seconds. But I just might be hooked. I’m off to google food mixers. Stay out of the fridge while I’m gone, okay?

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The finished product [proud face]

  • Personalised tuition costs £120 for a 3-4 hour one-to-one session or £180 for 2 people for a 4-5 hour session, excluding travel costs. Contact Lynne through her website or Facebook page to book.
  • Full disclosure: Lynne is my friend, and she offered me this session for free.

Le test formidable de vocabulaire Spiral-based!

January 10, 2015 at 7:59 pm | Posted in language | Leave a comment
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(An updated version of this test is now on the Guardian TV & Radio blog.)

Get into the mood for the return of Spiral with my French slang test. Below are a set of phrases you may hear as Laure, Tintin, Gilou, Pierre, Joséphine et al. go about their business. Just pick a translation for each and check your answers at the end. Bonne chance!

Disclaimer: this quiz contains strong language from the start, mild peril, and scenes of a sexual nature.

1. T’es niqué, mon pote!

a. You’re fucked, me old beauty!

b. Put your trousers on, sunshine, you’re nicked.

c. Ooh, you’ve cut yourself! That looks nasty.

2. J’en ai marre de tes conneries!

a. Enough of your idiocies!

b. Enough of your lies!

c. Enough of your Bond impressions!

3. Je bosse demain, quoi.

a. I’ve got work tomorrow, innit.

b. Might have a duvet day tomorrow, yeah.


4. Merde! Ce sont des échangistes!

a. Shit! They’re foreign students!

b. Shit! They’re swingers!

c. Shit! They’re cross-dressers!

5. Putain! C’est quoi, ce bordel?

a. Heavens, this is tedious. Anyone fancy a game of bowls?

b. Goodness! Are these the courtesans of the Russian president?

c. What the fuck’s this fuckup, for fucksake?

6. Dégage, espèce de salaud!

a. Goodbye, and thanks for your call!

b. Bloody vegan restaurants! I’m off for a kebab.

c. Bugger off, you lowlife!


Answers: 1. b; 2. a; 3. a; 4. b; 5. c; 6. c.

Five or six correct: Bah, vous êtes dingue de l’argot, quoi? You’re totally qualified to turn off the subtitles. In fact it’s a good idea, as otherwise you’ll just be sitting there going ‘Well, that’s not actually what she said, you know, not in Parisian French, at least.’

Three or four correct: Pas mal, mon pote! Keep at it, and soon you’ll be swearing along with the telly like the best of us.

One or two correct: Bah, t’es pas dans ton assiette, hein? Never mind. Écoutez, et répétez. It’ll come.

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