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Opera Macarons, Thoughtful Gifts And An Award

Be prepared this is the loaded post of the weekend! Take your time reading it but there were many people I wanted to thank on this site and this is long overdue. I know I still have to answer a couple of "meme" I have been tagged for and I am saving those for next week. In the meantime, let’s start at the beginning…

A couple of weeks ago, one of my favorite bloggers and fellow Daring Baker Deborah from Taste and Tell sent me an email reading that she wanted to try her hand at making macarons but she had never had one so she would not know what to look for in the texture, taste, etc… She offered to pay me to send her a box and I immediately shook my head "No, no, don’t pay me, instead let’s do a trade! I’ll send you some macarons and you’ll send me a favorite cookie or something". She agreed and although a few health and family have delayed my sending them they are finally one their way to her house. Cross your fingers that they get there un-crushed! Wednesday afternoon the mail man dropped a box full of Meyer Lemon Cookies and jar of Deborah’s Peach and Vanilla jam. Thank you Deborah!

I had the idea of these macarons while making an Opera Cake for a birthday party last month. I know I am no genius and they have been done before but they were really fun to put together. I love Opera Cake so much I could have it breakfast, lunch and dinner. The basis of the cake are as follow: almond genoise layered with coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache. I love hazelnuts much more than almonds so I did 50/50 each in the macarons shells, I used an Italian meringue coffee buttercream and for the chocolate ganache layer I just piped it right in the middle of the macaron. You have to trust me when I tell you they were unbelievably satisfying and we liked them so much that I made another batch right away. We all have a different approach to macarons and I tend to start with a crispy shell: I know they will soften after a couple of days and I like the contrast between the crunch of the shell and the buttery creamy insides. But hey! That’s just me!!

Opera Macarons:

For the shells:
3 egg whites (110 gr) (I like to use 2-3 day old egg whites)
40 gr. granulated sugar
200 gr. powdered sugar
55 gr. ground almonds
55 gr. skinned and ground hazelnuts

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue. Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry and your macarons won’t work. Combine the ground almonds, ground hazelnuts and powdered sugar in a food processor and give them a quick pulse. It will break the powdered sugar lumps and combine your nuts with it evenly. Add them to the meringue and fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that flows like magma or a thick ribbon. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip with the batter and pipe small round onto parchment paper baking sheets. Preheat the oven to 315F. Let the macarons sit out for an hour to harden their shell a bit and bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool completely.

Chocolate Ganache:
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup bittersweet chocolate

In a heavy saucepan set over medium heat, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the stove and add the chocolate to it. Let stand 2 minutes and then stir until fully combined. Let cool until firm enough to put in a small piping bag.

Coffee Buttercream: (it will make more than you need but freeze the leftovers for up to 3 months)
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
2 large eggs
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water

In a small heavy saucepan set over medium heat, dissolve the sugar in the water. While stirring bring the mixture to a boil, and continue to cook until it registers 240ยฐF. on a candy thermometer. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment or with a hand held beater beat the eggs until they are frothy. Add the sugar syrup in a thin stream, beating, and beat the mixture until it is cool. Change to the paddle attachment and add in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, the espresso mixture, and beat the buttercream until it is combined well. Leave at room temperature so it will be easier to spread.

To Assemble:
Put the coffee buttercream in a piping bag and pipe a circle around the edges of a macaron shells. Pipe a dollop of ganache in the middle and top with another shell.

Allright, now moving on to the second part of this post….

The cute as can be felt slice of chocolate cake is none other than a creation from Hannah of Bittersweet. That was her Christmas gift to me…how sweet is that?!! I set it on another Christmas gift: a gorgeous display of crystal baking items by Swarovski that my mother had put together and framed for me. I am spoiled, I know that! How Hannah finds the time to do all the things she does is beyond me…she is like the energizer bunny!

Talking about bunny…it’s Eater soon and I thought it was about time I tell you about another talented artist. One day a lovely lady, Mia sent me an email thanking me for my recipe and my blog (if you know me you know I was blushing red right then), and adding that she wanted to send me a little something "just to show her appreciation". Mia paints life on eggs and beautiful jewelry. Literally. Life. Stunning. The duck egg on the left is a traditional design of an Ukrainian woman, in her embroidered clothing , wearing a crown of flowers with ribbons and holding a loaf of Easter bread. The one on the right has a design of a bird holding a branch of leaves. Birds show the fulfillment of wishes, leaves are for a fresh start, red is for passion, the nets separate good from evil, flowers are for love and happiness, diamonds are for wisdom and knowledge, there is also evergreen for good health and dots which show the blessings which come from sorrow. How on earth did she read inside my soul is beyond me?

Thank you ladies and thank you to you all readers out there fill me with joy and excitement. I try to visit as many blogs as I can and to answer to all the emails as promptly as I can but I have never felt more proud to be part of such an awesome community. My head does not get big and my ego does not soar in cases like that but my throat gets tight and I feel uncomfortable. I just bake and write because it is in my blood and to receive these compliments is always a little…how can I say? mind blowing? So imagine my heart getting full with gratitude and passion for the work I do when I received this award from Aimee, Jen, Susan, Linda and Gretchen Noelle.

First off ladies: right back at you! I love reading your blogs, you make me laugh, you crack me up, you kick my ass and make me wish I were rich enough to fly all of you to a huge slumber baking party somewhere on a tropical island….oh boy, looks like the painkillers are kicking in again!!

Now I have to pass this on and although there are tons of you who deserve and I am sure will receive this award soon, I wanted to focus on the male bloggers (but not entirely)out there and to reveal a few other crushes (gosh if you read this blog, it is starting to sound like we need a PG rating or something)……..Please accept this "Excellent" award:

– Frenchie Zen Chef of Chefs Gone Wild: my fellow expat has the excellent touch to put "sexy" in everything he makes, writes with great spunk and has the knack to take mouth watering pictures .
– Mark from No Special Effects: pure talent, creativity and gorgeous photographs, not to mention that his blogs reads like a novel and he is the most excellent commenters!
– Graeme from Blood Sugar: what can I say? I love his blog: the excellent photography, his excellent wit, charm and wonderful recipes. I’d love to be his roomie, that’s all I can add!

Now for the ladies:
– Shawda from Confections Of A Foodie Bride: what can I say that her pictures don’t already do? Excellent photography, recipes and sense of humor as well as community. I am crushing too what can I say?!!
-Carol from Paris Breakfasts: you make my day lady! I always read you while in my pjs sipping my coffee. You make me feel at home and I lust after your art. You are excellent indeed.
– Lisa from La Mia Cucina: I know what you are going to say "you guys are close friends"…but it’s more than that. Lisa not only holds my hand in time of crisis but she is the most excellent talented writer I know. Not to mention a kickass cooks….I never want to leave when she she fixes me food (but she might say the opposite since I eat like a horse)…fantabulous dishes!!

Sorry if it was such a long post but all these topics were long overdue and I kept wondering how to fit them in….Have a great weekend all!

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Susan from Food Blogga March 7, 2008 um 5:40 pm

We just had relatives visiting and treating them to the most luscious opera cake in Little Italy. So, seeing your opera macarons makes me simply giddy with delight! Congratulations on your E awards. You are fabulous!

Anita March 7, 2008 um 5:56 pm

Opera macarons! Now that is the definition of heaven to me! Congrats on all the lovely gifts and awards – to me you totally embody the idea of someone who has good things happen to her because she does so many good things for everyone else! You deserve it!

BlondeJustice March 7, 2008 um 6:03 pm

Your blog makes me happy. The colors, the stories, the treats and the joy in which you write about them.

Thank you for putting this kind of love out into the world! ๐Ÿ™‚

Parisbreakfasts March 7, 2008 um 6:03 pm

Quelle complimente!!!
And YOU are the TOP BANANA in my book!
La creme de la creme!
I’ll trade you an aquarelle any day for one of your cookies Madame Tartelette!
Most kind

bakeorbreak March 7, 2008 um 6:18 pm

Congratulations on your well-deserved award! All of your macarons always make me want to make them. I’ve never made a macaron, but yours certainly are inspiring!

Manggy March 7, 2008 um 6:27 pm

No way! Someone has made Opera Macarons before?! Well, as far as I’m concerned yours are the first I’ve seen so you’re a genius in my book ๐Ÿ˜‰ Your skill and experience really shows. Strangely, I watched the great Jacques Torres making them on his old show, Passion for Pastry, and his macarons were so lumpy and bumpy and not at all as beautiful as yours! (Sorry for blowing your mind just now..) I was so let down by him! I LOVES me some Opera Cake, too. ๐Ÿ™‚ Someday I will make macarons! I promise! Every dessert-lover has to once in his lifetime!

Very well-deserved awards for you!! Thank you for awarding me! I’m positively flabbergastedly flattered. If my blog reads like a novel, it must be Sweet Valley Twins or something. It is perfectly normal to have a crush on me. KIDDING! You did not say that, just to be clear ๐Ÿ˜€

I’d love to be his roomie, that’s all I can add!
Well now, how can a lady resist an English gentleman, I guess?! Hahaha! I am trying to make his head explode.

Cookie baker Lynn March 7, 2008 um 6:34 pm

You are the queen of macarons in my book. If you’re ever in my neck of the woods would you come show me how to make them? I’ll bake for you, too, of course. Your blog is one of my favorites to visit – it’s always beautiful, sweet, and uplifting.

Cannelle Et Vanille March 7, 2008 um 6:43 pm

Oh Helen… these macaroons look superb!! And I love opera too. One of my favorites. Congratulations on your award, you truly have a magnificent blog. Well done!

Anonymous March 7, 2008 um 7:05 pm

because you’re worth it ๐Ÿ˜‰

I’d love some of those macarons with my tea…mmmm!

Jerri at Simply Sweet Home March 7, 2008 um 7:11 pm

These look great!

Madam Chow March 7, 2008 um 7:22 pm

I just tried macarons for the first time on Sunday – they had an orange buttercream filling. Yum! Lovely, happy post.

Anonymous March 7, 2008 um 7:42 pm

Oh, yum. If you ever want to make another trade, well, I’d be interested.

Anonymous March 7, 2008 um 8:02 pm

Wow! An award from the Goddess of Pastry herself! Thank you! Thank you! How sweet! ๐Ÿ™‚

I guess this is where make my acceptance speech… euhh.. I’m trying not to get too emotional with this… I would like to thank… the Academy for voting for me… my mom for hiding the cookie box when my grades were bad in school – it pushed me to learn how to bake my own… Oh the tears are flowing…sniff… I would like to thank the kitchen Gods for their omnipresent inspiration… Sniff..I need Kleenex… this is hard!… Finally I would like to dedicate this award to all the un-eaten cookie crumbs left behind. You are not alone! Thank you all!

Babeth March 7, 2008 um 9:39 pm

Bravissimo for the award and the macarons what to say except can you send some to me? They look soooooo good ๐Ÿ™‚

Anonymous March 7, 2008 um 9:46 pm

Aww, thank you so much, Helene!

Imagine the kitchen capers we’d have if we were roomies! Wow.

Mandy March 7, 2008 um 9:46 pm

I love Opera cake! And Opera Macaron? Only you can come up with such clever idea, my friend. Congrats on the award!

Anonymous March 7, 2008 um 9:57 pm

Isn’t Hannah just wonderful? I just received some sushi pieces in the mail from her, similar to your slice of cake. Very appropriate, if you have seen my blog. ๐Ÿ™‚

Those macaroons look delicious!

Jessy and her dog Winnie March 7, 2008 um 10:09 pm

Your macarons always look perfect!

Anonymous March 7, 2008 um 11:49 pm

the Macarons are so beautiful! wow.

Deborah March 8, 2008 um 12:15 am

Oooh, can’t wait to try the macarons! And in all seriousness – you are one of my favorite blogs, and one of the nicest people out here in blogland! Keep doing what you love doing, because you are great at it!

Ben March 8, 2008 um 2:22 am

Congratulations Helen! Very well deserved award. And you are right about Lisa, she is a great friend and she is always there for you when you need her ๐Ÿ˜€

Brilynn March 8, 2008 um 2:32 am

You and your macaroons never cease to amaze!

MyKitchenInHalfCups March 8, 2008 um 3:55 am

Sigh! You always can sweeten the pot! And I’m so glad to know that it’s called a tete!!
Beautiful indeed.

Cakebrain March 8, 2008 um 4:32 am

your opera macarons are inspirational…I’m gonna make myself some right away!

Susan @ SGCC March 8, 2008 um 5:18 am

Congratulations on all those awards! You deserve each and every one! Good things happen to good people.

Those eggs are exquisite, as are your beautiful macarons. You never cease to amaze me!

Anonymous March 8, 2008 um 7:00 am

Congrats on this award….you deserve every nomination mentioned!

Anonymous March 8, 2008 um 7:08 am

Congrats on the award!

Those Opera Macarons look terrific!

Big Boys Oven March 8, 2008 um 7:42 am

such lovely opera macarons!

elegant & a class of it’s own!

Anonymous March 8, 2008 um 5:14 pm

Congratulations on your award and your lovely Opera macarons! I hear that the macarons are a very trendy dessert in France.

La cuisine des 3 soeurs March 8, 2008 um 10:21 pm

Mes lointaines notions d’anglais ne me permettent pas de tout comprendre, mais tes photos comme tes macarons parlent d’eux-mรชmes. Ta rรฉcompense est lรฉgitime.

Veron March 9, 2008 um 12:25 am

I can’t believe I did not see this for a day. These macarons are wonderful – gorgeous. It is quite the opera. Congratulations on all your awards – you totally deserve it you know. *hugs*

Ginny March 9, 2008 um 3:44 am

Congratulations on the awards! They are well deserved as you continue to excel in every way! I love the macarons. Every time you make a new kind, I tell myself I need to try. we shall see.

Whitney March 9, 2008 um 4:32 am

Thanks for the recipe, I’m curious when you’re beating the meringue can you give me an idea of how long to beat it and possibly what speed? I’m a tad worried about overbeating it and not knowing when its done. Thanks

Lis March 9, 2008 um 6:16 am

Holy crap you’ve made me teary! ๐Ÿ˜›

Thank you, my love.. those sentiments are felt by me for you tenfold.

You deserve this award and every other! And you’re killin me with the macarons.. opera cake inspired. *swoon*

Love you!

Lis March 9, 2008 um 6:17 am

PS – You can eat me out of house and home anytime you want!


Emily March 9, 2008 um 10:26 am

That Zen Chef-he’s a riot.

I read this the other day, but didn’t comment. I think I was distracted by something. So I’m commenting today.

I think that’s cool that you guys exchanged homemade presents. I’ve never had a macaron either. Maybe someday I’ll make them. Maybe.
An opera macaron sounds fabulous. What could be better???

BitterSweet March 9, 2008 um 1:24 pm

Opera macaroons = Genius! What a wonderful combination of flavors, and of course, they look beautiful as always.

I’m so happy that you really like the little slice of cake, too! ๐Ÿ™‚

Obsessive Foodie or Food Addict….You Decide March 9, 2008 um 9:46 pm

I want to make macarons soooo bad but I am afraid……..very afraid.

Jaime March 10, 2008 um 12:27 am

i’m not sure if i will ever be brave enough to make macarons, unless they are a DB challenge and i am forced to make them! they are so beautiful and delicate looking… the only time i have ever had them was in paris and i would hate to make them and fail miserably!

congrats on the award – i would award you one (i’m composing that post right now) but it appears you’ve already gotten it! ๐Ÿ™‚

Venus ~ Vi March 11, 2008 um 6:28 pm

I am totally mesmerized by these tantalizing macaroons! It is driving me banana that I canโ€™t have one. It leaves me with no choice but to bake some of my own~

Jen Yu March 12, 2008 um 4:09 pm

One day I am going to attempt macarons and if they are half as beautiful as yours, I will declare victory! xxoo

Luna March 17, 2008 um 10:54 pm

Well, I’ve never tried to do macarons..
But I wanna try to do it soon..
And yours looks amazing.. =)

By the way, I added your blog to my favorites..!

Anonymous June 20, 2009 um 8:20 am

Look at these wonderful images.I can not a huge gap at the bottom of the shell.I've done thousands of experiments, but not I have read several times but still syrupand can not solve the problem.
please help.thanks.

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