I used to think that a ganache was something fancy that went on top of a cake or some type of fancy pastry. I knew it was made from chocolate, but that’s about all. If you’ve never made this lovely and decadent macaron filling, don’t worry, it’s very easy to make. You only need a few ingredients but you should get the best type of chocolate that you find appealing. For practice, use standard dark chocolate morsels that you may have in your pantry, but if you’re a chocoholic, add a 70% cacao content dark chocolate.
Chocolate Espresso Ganache Filling
4 ounces heavy cream [120 grams] 4 ounces finely chopped dark chocolate [120 grams] ½ teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste ½ teaspoon instant espresso
Put cream in microwave for about one minute until hot — NOT boiling. Pour over chocolate chunks. When melted add instant coffee and vanilla and whisk well until smooth. Let sit at room temperature for at least four hours or overnight. Cover with plastic wrap. Just before getting ready to use a spatula to scoop the ganache into a piping bag with large round tip.
This is a simple recipe to make and it will really perk up your macaron shells. The touch of espresso gives the chocolate more zing! I used my favorite brand of chocolate: Valrhona.
Adding instant espresso to chocolate chunks
Pour in your cream and vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
After writing and making the recipes for Kitchen Soap for Chefs: 4 Easy Melt & Pour Soap Recipes, I came up with yet another cool soap idea that I hadn’t published before. In fact, I used to sell it when I had my Everything Shea business, but it went by another name. I changed two of the ingredients, but it’s pretty similar and it’s now called Vanilla Bean soap. I have my almost year-long baking binge to thank for this recipe, too. So if you’re looking for a fun and easy soap recipe to make for the holidays or just because, here it is…
Vanilla Bean Melt & Pour Soap Recipe
Learn how easy it is to make this creamy melt and pour soap with natural vanilla beans. This type of soap is wonderful for all skin types and would make an excellent addition to any bath & body gift basket!
Before baking the macarons, I sifted the almond flour three times and poured it into an airtight container. Now, every time I make macarons, I only have to sift the flour and powdered sugar together once, and whisk the two ingredients in a bowl and set it aside. So much sifting is done to ensure that your shells are smooth and shiny.
When I whipped the [room temperature] egg whites, I added the pinch of salt with the granulated sugar at the foamy midway point. Four minutes later, I had that satiny texture of egg whites that had reached their peak. Then I added two drops of pink gel for a baby pink color.
The flour/sugar mixture was added in two stages and this time I counted how many times it was folded: 63. The texture was just right and I was cautiously optimistic, as I poured the batter into the piping bag. My first few macarons were round and all was going well until I felt something wet on my hand. Ooops, I’d been holding the bag wrong and it was leaking out the top. But I kept at it and wound up with a grand total of 52 shells.
30 minutes later, the macarons went into a 300-degree oven. Instead of using the center rack, I opted to use the one just below it. This time I turned the tray eight minutes into the baking. There they were: FEET!
They baked for 19 minutes and when I pulled the tray out I saw 26 macarons shells with feet. I did a happy dance, and added the second tray. Meanwhile, I began making the “lemonade” buttercream filling. Actually, it was flavored with Trader Joe’s lemon curd. I used the strawberry buttercream recipe and substituted lemon curd for the strawberry jam.
All was going well until I added the powdered sugar. It flew out of the bowl, on the counter, stove, floor, me…the bowl was too small! Next time I’d mix the softened butter first until creamy and then very slowly add the powdered sugar. More time consuming but no cloudbursts of sugar that way.
Due to using naturally yellow butter and lemon curd, I didn’t need to add color, but I did: 5 drops which didn’t significantly change the color. The taste was a sweet and tart blend that I adored. If you adore lemon, try the following recipe. Let me know how it turns out and feel free to ask any questions or make any comments!
Pink Lemonade Macaron Shells
1 cup powdered sugar [confectioners’ sugar or icing sugar]
¾ cup almond flour [sift 3 times]
4 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 egg whites [room temperature]
2 drops pink gel colorant
Pinch of salt
Serving size: 52 shells or 26 macarons [approximately]
Stand or hand mixer with whisk attachment
2 – 4 large baking sheets
Parchment paper or silpat mat
Large sieve or flour sifter
Pastry/piping bag with large round tip
Measuring cups/spoons/stainless steel or glass bowls
Silicone or rubber spatula
Large cup or glass to hold piping bag
* Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silpat. If the sheets are thin, double them up. Macarons are sensitive to heat so they need to be baked on a durable tray that has lots of insulation. You’ll also need a pastry/piping bag with a large round tip ready before you begin.
* Sift powdered sugar with the almond flour. Large grains that don’t make it through can be thrown away or used as a skin exfoliator. I discovered this when I washed the equipment by hand the first time!
* Whisk the sugar and flour to make sure it’s fully blended.
* In a stainless steel or glass bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy like a bubble bath before adding the salt. Then add granulated sugar in 3 batches. Start at a low speed and gradually increase the speed. When finished, the mixture should have stiff peaks. Add color last, but only whip for the briefest amount of time to mix in the color.
* Add dry ingredients to the meringue in 2 batches using a spatula. Fold until the mixture comes together, scraping the sides and flip batter over. When the sugar/flour mixture is blended, the batter will be easier to mix and will look shiny. Lift the spatula and see how quickly batter falls in “ribbons” from the spatula. A ribbon of batter dropped into the bowl should merge with the rest of the batter in 20-30 seconds. Another test is to “write” the number 8 with the batter.
* Add tip to piping bag and then twist near the bottom to prevent any mixture from escaping. The tip should face upwards and that also helps keep the mixture in the piping bag as you place it in a cup and form a cuff over the rim so it’s easy to add the batter.
* Spoon batter into piping bag. Twist the top of the bag and untwist the bottom, gently pushing the just-poured batter toward the bottom. You’ll remove any excess air that way.
* Pipe the batter onto the parchment or silicone mat. With parchment, you can use a template. Stay inside the lines as the batter will spread and flatten a bit.
* Pipe batter on the parchment-lined baking sheets in 1.5-inch circles.Keep the batter inside circles if using a template.
* Rap baking sheet several times on the counter. This will further flatten the macarons, and remove air bubbles.
* Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
* Allow macarons to sit for 30-60 minutes until a film forms. Lightly touch a macaron and if no batter clings to your finger then it’s dry and ready to be baked.
* Bake for 16 -18 minutes. The tops should be firm and glossy and the bottoms of the shells should have formed “feet” or frills at the bottom. The risen macarons should be firm with the slightest amount of give. If it wobbles, they require another minute or so. When done, the cookies can easily be removed from the parchment.
* Remove from oven, place cookie sheet on a wire rack or flat surface and let cool completely.
Lemon Curd Buttercream Filling
1/4 cup softened butter [use a high quality butter like President or Kerrygold]
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar [confectioners’ sugar or icing sugar]
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons lemon curd
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
5 or so drops yellow gel color [optional]
Whip butter for about 2 minutes before adding some of the powdered sugar. Add the cream, lemon curd and vanilla. Gradually add the remaining powdered sugar until the filling is the desired consistency. Add colorant last.
Pair the shells according to size. Spoon or pipe filling onto one side. Gently add the other side. If using a piping bag, start in the center by doing a swirl until you reach near the edges but not right at the edges. You don’t want to overfill them and make a mess with leaking buttercream filling. Gently add the top shell and give it a twist of about a quarter turn to make sure the shells are nicely lined up.
Store your macarons in an airtight container and put in the refrigerator. They should last about a week. Macarons taste best at room temperature, so remove from the fridge about an hour beforehand.
The following methods are for those of you who wish to be able to change the fragrance environment of a room, car, office, closet, drawer, etc. There are psychological benefits to entering a room that has the crisp aroma of citrus, or a subtle scent of fresh blooming flowers.
Aroma Lamps – Aroma lamps are either electric or operated by a tea light or votive candle. There is a small cup shaped portion that is usually made of glazed ceramic and holds a few ounces of water. However, other materials may include glass and stone. Warm or even hot water should be used; as that is less work the candle has to do. Only a few drops of essential oil are added to the water, thus making it ideal for costlier essential oils. Care should be taken to see that the water doesn’t boil away.
Atomizers – Requiring no heat, atomizers, sometimes referred to as nebulizers or nebulizing diffusers, disperse the essential oils on a revitalizing current of air as it passes through an intricately engineered blown glass chamber. This course naturally suspends and ionizes the oil into extremely fine molecules, causing them to remain suspended in the air for longer periods.
Many aromatherapist practitioners and others who utilize the finest essential oils choose atomizers. It’s important to be careful with the atomizers. Since there is a continuous mist emitted it should not be used for more than a few minutes at a time. Many of the models do have built-in timers to avoid any problems like overuse. Also, make sure that this is done in a clear area, away from furniture, [varnish can be worn off] wall hangings and other objects.
Candles – Candles create a more romantic ambiance and do double duty in helping disperse your preferred aroma[s] throughout a room. In the spirit of true aromatherapy, it’s advised to use beeswax, palm wax or soy wax candles as paraffin contains carcinogenic chemicals. Wicks should be trimmed, and the essential oils need to be added at the top of the candle, but never on the wick itself. You can add the essential oils after the candle has been lit and there’s a small pool of wax at the top of the candle. Don’t add the oils to the flame itself as oils can catch fire.
Diffusers – You can buy diffusers to plug into your car’s cigarette lighter, as you can also find those that plug into any wall socket. The atomizers suspend a fine mist of essential oils into the air for aromatherapy is the best method of using essential oils for therapeutic treatments. Many aromatherapists believe that this is the most effective method of enjoying the aromas.
Sachets – If you want your linens to smell clean and fresh, the addition of a smell sachet filled with your favorite aroma will create a pleasant smell whenever you open the drawer or closet. You can buy them already made, or make them yourself. Highly recommended would be a small muslin or organza bag filled with dried lavender buds and a few drops of lavender essential oil. Not only is lavender a universally pleasing aroma, it also serves as an all-natural way to keep moths away.
The most common way to dilute a pure essential oil is with a cold-pressed carrier oil. Carrier oils allow the essential oil to slowly permeate the skin, protecting it from irritation. Jojoba, sesame, sweet almond, rose hip, refined rice bran, shea oil, wheatgerm, evening of primrose, grapeseed, kukui nut, sunflower, hazelnut, safflower, avocado or apricot kernel oils are commonly used. Several of the carrier oils can be combined and when essential oils are added, this makes for a very nutrient-rich bath oil.
Determining Quality of Essential Oils:
Read the label. If purchasing rosemary oil, for example, you would expect to see that name on the label. However, here are the four facts that you will find on any bottle of essential oil from a reputable supplier/company.
1. Botanical/Latin name. In this case it would be Rosemarinus officinalis.
2. Part. What part of the plant has the essential oil been extracted from? For rosemary, that is the leaf.
3. Method of extraction. Is it an absolute, enfleurage, carbon dioxide [CO2], or has it been steam distilled? In this case it has been steam distilled.
4. Country of Origin. Rosemary comes from many different countries, such as Corsica, Spain, Morocco, Tunisia, and France. Location may make a sizable difference for many reasons such as climate, type of soil, high/low altitude, etc.
Aromatherapy isn’t government regulated. Products can claim to be “natural” when in fact distilled water is the only untainted ingredient. Any reputable retailer of essential oils will be very knowledgeable about their product and capable of proving its purity. They will and should be happy to answer your questions.
Before 1993, you wouldn’t have been able to find the word ‘aromatherapy’ listed in a dictionary even though this art/science has been effectively used for thousands of years. In fact, the word was invented in the 1920’s by a French chemist by the name of René-Maurice Gattefossé who studied the cosmetic properties of plants. He soon learned that plants contained organic antiseptic elements that worked better than inorganic antiseptics. His interest was further ignited when he there was an explosion in his laboratory; badly burning has hands. Immediately he poured lavender essential oil [one of the few essential oils that can be applied directly on the skin] on them and made the not so astonishing discovery that his hands healed quickly and with no scarring.
However, the usage of aromatic plants has been going on for thousands of years. From the civilizations of ancient Egypt, India, China, Greece, and Rome, floral and herbal oils have been used in many ways from flavoring food and beverages to being poured into baths and massaged into the body.
The Romans weren’t shy about employing scents. They inundated their baths and banquets with floral concoctions from scattering rose petals on floors to anointing their bodies with floral perfumes. After bathing their bodies were massaged with aromatic oils. Their beds and clothing, bodies and hair were scented with perfumes. Even men scented themselves with balsam and cinnamon oils.
The natural healing system of ayurveda, meaning “science of life” was established approximately 4000 years ago in the Himalayan region. Plants and all their properties are a relevant part of ayurvedic medicine that continues to be practiced where it started and has now spread around the world.
Hippocrates is known as the “father of medicine”, and this Greek doctor was a noted advocate for the usage of essential oils, especially in the form of daily baths and massages. Resins of myrrh and oils of cinnamon were often applied to a patient to soothe inner and outer complaints.
Essential Oils vs. Fragrance Oils:
Pure, unadulterated essential oils derived from the leaves, roots, seeds, flowers or bark of a plant or tree are the source extracted directly from nature via a form of steam distillation. When you first begin working with essential oils, take care in handling them. Lavender essential oil is quite safe for the skin, as is tea tree, but some people can have allergic reactions to them. When handling essential oils, it’s wise to do a skin test. Simply apply a tiny amount on your wrist, and if there’s no reaction within 24 hours you are safe. As these oils can be costly, you must take care that they’re always kept in a cobalt or amber colored glass bottle and stored in a cupboard [out of direct sunlight] and kept in a cool, dry place. When you buy an oil, write the date on the vial. Most essential oils can last from one to three years. Citrus oils have a shelf life ranging from six months to less than two years. Essential oils can last for several years, but the freshness disappears. There are some exceptions with the darker colored, “heavier” oils or resins. Patchouli Oil is known to improve with age.
You should know about fragrance oils and what they really are. I visited an e-group for soapmakers and when someone asked for a company where they could purchase essential oils, a person gave the name of a company that sold only fragrance oils! Obviously, to this uninformed person, the terms are interchangeable. They’re not. Fragrance oils are synthesized in a laboratory. They are sometimes referred to as “nature identical.” If you’re looking for an inexpensive scent, then fragrance oils fit the bill. But fragrance oils are not therapeutic grade essential oils and never will be.
From personal experience, I’ve learned that sniffing an essential oil right from the bottle and diluting it with a carrier oil such as sweet almond or jojoba, makes a huge difference. I smelled my favorite, vanilla absolute, a thick balsamic oil derived from the pod of the vanilla plant. I determined that the first whiff brought out the usual vanilla scent I was accustomed to, but a millisecond later there was a stronger, harsher scent. I then added a few drops to a bottle of sesame oil and the change was magnificent! I had the aroma I equated with the spicy-sweet scent of a dried vanilla bean pod. The carrier oil had combined perfectly with the essential oil!
You should always dilute essential oils in carrier oils when applying directly to the skin, or even in the bathtub. This is a necessary safety precaution. Essential oils are very strong and need to be diluted. Also, some essential oils [and fragrance oils] may smell good enough to drink, but are for EXTERNAL USE ONLY!
Chocolate truffles, bonbons, hand painted chocolate, 24-karat gold drizzled upon chocolate…such decadent luxuries. Chocolate connoisseurs seek richness of flavor upon the palate, and for those in the know, it will be couverture chocolate, which has the best finely ground cocoa beans and a higher cocoa butter content. Discover tantalizing offerings from some international chocolatiers.
Knipschildt is based in Norwalk, Connecticut. The Danish founder, Fritz Knipschildt, began his career as a chef and trained in Spain and France. He came to America in 1996 and while working as a private chef his clients were amazed with his unique chocolate creations. Now he has invented a very unusual and costly truffle. La Madeline au Truffe is enrobed in the intense and fruity 70% Valrhona cacao from South America and is the perfect way to offset the exotic and intoxicating aroma of an authentic French Perigord black truffle embedded inside this wondrous chocolate truffle. They sell for $250.00 and have a shelf life of one week.
If you want to celebrate a special occasion, consider buying a box of chocolate truffles sprinkled with edible silver or 24-karat edible gold. DeLafee is located in Switzerland and uses a blend of Criollo cocoa beans from Ecuador and Venezuela and Forestero cocoa beans from Ghana. The creamy chocolate ganache inside the pralines makes this a silky smooth flavor along with the glittering golden topping. The Gold Chocolate Box with Antic Swiss Collectible Gold Coin has eight chocolate truffles adorned with gold. The price is 255 Euros. They also sell edible silver in their dark Swiss chocolate truffles. Eight elegantly boxed truffles only cost 65 Euros.
Godiva is a famous name in the world of chocolate. Founded in Brussels, Belgium, it is noted on their web site: “Joseph Draps, a renowned Belgian chocolatier, created a line of chocolates with extraordinary richness and design, a collection of passion and purity. He sought a name that embodied the timeless qualities of passion, style, sensuality, and modern boldness.” You can find the chocolate in their own stores as well as in many retail locations worldwide.
Located in Lyon, France, Richart Chocolates uses 70% Criollo cocoa from Venezuela – a more exotic and expensive base for all the fine ingredients that are mingled with the gourmet chocolate. They also carry macarons. However, if you seek a memorable gift for yourself or someone you wish to impress, consider the $850.00 Petits Richart in a hand-crafted burlwood vault complete with temperature and humidity gauges. Seven drawers contain 112 pieces of exotic gourmet chocolate ranging from citrus flavored to romantic florals to roasted, herbal, and spicy palate pleasers.
Debauve & Gallais is a traditional chocolatier headquartered in Paris, France – a location they have occupied for over 200 years. [You can also find some of their chocolates and teas at Barneys New York.] These chocolates are hand molded and can be shaped like the company’s coat of arms or a fleur de lys. Naturally low in sugar, the fillings contain ingredients from around the world, such as: Turkish raisins, Spanish almonds, chestnuts from Turin and rum from Antilles. Seeking a gift that will please a chocolate aficionado? Try the $650.00 Le Royale chocolate bonbon assortment in their official trademark blue, gray, and gold embossed box. This luscious collection boasts 176 pieces of remarkable chocolate. [Original photo: http://www.debauveandgallais.com/main/bonbons2.asp]
Another memorable gift is the 100-piece blue box of chocolate from MarieBelle in New York. As stated on their website: “The Cien Blue is styled as a hat box that will provide the perfect hiding place for your cherished belongings after the chocolates have been devoured. MarieBelle New York combines the finest single-origin chocolate with eclectic ingredients and artisanal techniques, to create edible works of art.” You receive 34 different flavors including whisky, ginger, cilantro, banana, saffron, lavender and so much more. Priced at $260.00
For the ultimate chocolate aficionado who wants to indulge in the most unforgettable dessert ever, it can be found exclusively at the New York City restaurant, Serendipity 3. Entitled Frrrozen Haute Chocolate, it boasts a blend of 14 of the rarest cocoas from Africa and South America and edible 24-karat gold. The goblet is lined with edible gold and around the base is an 18-karat gold bracelet complimented with a carat’s worth of diamonds. A La Madeleine au Truffe from Knipschildt Chocolatier is included in the package, as is a diamond studded golden spoon – another keepsake of this extravagant dessert. The price is $25,000.00.
As Charles Schulz, the creator of the famous Peanuts cartoon, once said, “All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt!”
I attended a flower festival at the age of four and my mom couldn’t keep me from trying to sniff all the fresh and fragrant blooms. When it came to food, I didn’t taste first; I used my impressionable sense of smell. The beef stew always got an unhappy sniff, while anything dessert like was allowed to linger, appreciated by my fussy sense of smell.
My quest for the simplest yet most compelling scent of all, vanilla, led me from the avenue of pure aromatherapy grade essential oils into the streets of synthetic fragrances. I had found a marvelous vanilla absolute from Madagascar but when my supplier vanished, I was left minus the sensuous aroma that I adored.
I ordered my first vanilla fragrance oil [commonly referred to as an f.o.]. When it arrived, I opened the bottle and took a hesitant whiff. Surprised, I took another, longer sniff of the vanilla f.o. It smelled like vanilla, no question about that! The cost was kinder on my credit card, and the amount was larger, too. But what happened when it was poured into a batch of soap? Would it hold up in my new concoction of oils that were blended into whipped shea butter or melt and pour soap? I’d read of scents smelling great out of the bottle [OOB] but turning into something quite different when added to bath & body products.
The world of aromatherapy is comprised of scents that originate directly from plants and their various parts: flowers, roots, fruit, bark, or leaves. If you buy a bottle of lavender essential oil [abbreviated as e.o.’s] from a reputable source you will find it has four attributes listed on the label: country of origin, Latin [botanical] name, part of plant used, and method of distillation. [Cold pressed, steam distilled, etc.]. Highly principled suppliers will even provide a fifth element, the principal constituents in classifying their essential oils. I was accustomed to this type of information readily provided for me. When I saw that plain brown glass container with just the words “Vanilla fragrance” and the supplier’s name and address, I knew I had taken my first shaky steps down Fragrance Street.
Tuberose absolute, $200 per oz., was another costly floral that I wanted to add to my list of favorites. This white flower’s petals were so delicate that their sweet aromas were removed in a process that involved solvents, classifying it as an absolute, rather than a pure essential oil. Still, an absolute was superior to a mere fragrance. I decided to try a tuberose fragrance for a few dollars an ounce and when it arrived, along with some buddies doing impersonations of rose, jasmine and sandalwood, I was in a state of nasal bliss. The tuberose resembled those fragrant white buds, and the other florals sung a sincere imitation of their live counterparts. Sandalwood from India or even Australia was beyond my means [back then] but the sandalwood f.o. was reputed to contain Indonesian sandalwood e.o. and so it was somewhat natural.
Blending became another passion that was easily indulged with less costly fragrances. I made my first sandalwood-rose combination and came up with more blending ideas, including a few citrus essential oils that I had bought. I searched the library and the ‘net to find ideas and soon had pages of notes of what fragrances were able to be combined to create layers of scents. From fleeting top notes such as neroli [orange blossom] and lemon to middle notes that would involve longer lasting scents like lilac and sweet pea to the deeper and sultriest notes such as vanilla and patchouli. Perfumery was based on music and a perfumer was considered the conductor.
While I wasn’t a perfumer, I bought fragrance duplications, a/k/a dupes. I soon amassed a supply of impressive dupes to store in my kitchen cupboard: Chanel, Thierry Mugler, Guerlain, Bvlgari, Burberry, Viktor & Rolf, and Vera Wang. Also filling my shadowy [essential oils and fragrances needed to be stored in a cool, dark place] storeroom were imitations of Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret scents. My fixation on various fruits like mango, coconut, pineapple, banana, and several berry scents were being stocked in an expanding collection of alphabetically ordered scents. The fruity phase morphed into desserts and now I had calorie-free chocolate, variations of vanilla, brown sugar, pumpkin pie, and cinnamon bun scents.