French Macaron Baking Adventures, Part 1

By Lisa Maliga, copyright 2016

 

MacarOncafetrio
3 French macarons from MacarOn Cafe–my inspiration!

Making a pound cake from scratch is the most advanced baking I’ve ever done. This dessert contains the most basic ingredients found in your pantry and fridge: eggs, butter, flour, sugar, vanilla extract and baking powder. As long as you have a hand or stand mixer and measure your ingredients correctly, it’s not difficult to mix and bake.

Macarons also require few ingredients: two types of sugar, egg whites, almond flour, and color. That’s it as far as the cookies, a/k/a shells go. The fillings can be diverse: readymade jams or jellies, caramel, Nutella, butterscotch, lemon or lime curd, etc. You can make your own whether it’s buttercream, chocolate ganache, or a jam/fruit spread.

I’d tasted macarons a few times and loved them. They were decadently sweet and rich. From an Etsy store, I ordered an array of pastel colored macarons that were photographed for the cover of my novella, Sweet Dreams.

I needed a picture for the cover of my forthcoming sweet romance/cozy mystery, Macarons of Love, #4 in the Yolanda’s Yummery series. So I bought macarons in various colors and flavors. Average price: $2.25 each. I took 300+ pictures and they were good, not great. I cherished each macaron and decided that having these delicacies handy whenever I wanted them was a very appealing idea. Even if they didn’t turn out looking great, I’d get a better education about the art of baking macarons and would understand my characters even more. I had most of the ingredients and equipment, I reasoned. Well, not almond flour, but sugar was in the cupboard and fresh eggs in the fridge. I’d watched more than a dozen how-to videos on YouTube. I read numerous blogs, many of them showing step-by-step directions. Some bakers claimed they were easy to make; other bloggers despaired of ever being able to create them. One confessed that several batches never even made it to the oven.

I spent $12 for one pound of almond flour! This is one of the reasons why macarons aren’t cheap. I also learned that almond meal, almond powder, and almond flour are the same thing. Only when making macarons, you needed to sift or sieve it. The more you sift, the finer it gets, the better lookin’ those macarons.

Macarons weren’t spooned onto a baking sheet—they were piped on. Piped with one of those piping or pastry bags? I thought that was for decorating cakes or cupcakes. My experience with a piping bag? Zip. I couldn’t just neatly spoon them on? Nope.

Separating eggs and whipping the whites into a meringue didn’t seem too difficult to someone who’s whipped thousands of gallons of shea butter. But there’s a difference between the two ingredients: shea butter can’t be overwhipped, egg whites can. I also had a major oopsie that first day after picking up the egg and instead of separating it the entire egg splatted into the bowl. Great, I’d have to wait another 24 hours so the egg would be aged enough for high quality macarons. At least that’s what many of the bakers suggested.

Since I knew my piping skills were nonexistent, I had some foresight: I made a template the size of the baking sheet and had 1.5” circles neatly spaced on the back of the paper that was adhered to the baking sheets. 

I put the required amount of almond flour [Bob’s Red Mill] through a small sieve. Correction: I attempted to sieve the flour. Thirty minutes later, I’d managed to get about 1/8 of a cup from sieve to mixing bowl. I grumbled about how time consuming it was, recalling people on videos doing it in seconds. I tried smacking the sieve and just spilled more flour. The spatula didn’t work. My fist, wanting to punch it through… nope, that sieve was too small.

I interrupted my macaron making “festivities” and drove to the store to buy a larger sieve. Finally, the almond flour was able to make it through the larger size mesh, as did the powdered sugar.

Meanwhile, I had no difficulty whipping the egg whites, granulated sugar, and adding the magenta gel color.

Folding the flour and sugar meant the dry ingredients had to be sifted again. Good thing I didn’t have to use that mini sieve. The egg whites would’ve deflated or whatever happens to old egg whites. Macaronnage is the term for gently folding the dry ingredients into the egg whites which results in a batter that’s not too stiff and not too runny. There are ways of determining when it’s done such as counting the number of strokes to testing the batter to see how it falls from the spatula—the term molten lava is frequently used. Well, I guessed it was like molten lava because my arm was starting to feel like it with all that mixing, um, folding.

Before I encountered my first run-in with the pastry bag with the plastic nozzle that I’d hopefully inserted correctly, I had to get the pink batter from bowl to bag. Those baking experts showed how easy it was—the same people who could probably pipe blindfolded—insert piping bag in a glass, fold the top over like a cuff, and make sure the nozzle was pointing up rather than down. Also, twist the bottom of the bag a few times so the batter won’t escape. Okay…

Theoretically, easy. I plopped the pastry bag into the glass and added the first scoop of batter with my spatula…but I’d forgotten to make the cuff so the batter got stuck on top and some of it fell on the counter. Way to go, wasting batter and making a mess. Eventually, I got most of it into the bag and the batter started escaping from the bottom, too. I’d be lucky if I managed to make one macaron shell!

mymacs1
My 1st batch of piped macarons

I won’t describe the horror of piping except that part of my face was pink from batter oozing out the top as I tensely gripped it. Some dropped onto my hand. Good thing it wasn’t red! Each of the discs was a different size with only a few of them being round. Getting the batter onto the parchment paper was a messy feat but in the end I managed to get 24 various sized discs onto each tray.

I baked each tray separately and used the bottom oven rack after reading and watching the tales of staying away from the middle rack.

mymacs2
Just out of the oven

The result can be seen to your left.

Itsy bitsy feet on some, a single mega cracked shell, but the taste of the shell was sweet. I added jam rather than attempt to do a buttercream filling which would need to be piped—I really didn’t fancy that word!

Next week: More French Macaron Baking Adventures with King Arthur flour and my first buttercream filling plus a recipe!

mymacs3
Finished macarons with strawberry jam filling

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Rooibos Tea and Pink Kaolin Shampoo Bar Recipe ~ New eBook + Excerpt

By Lisa Maliga, copyright 2015

Discover how to craft rebatch/hand-milled soap base into a unique and versatile shampoo bar for most hair types. Also includes a recipe for Rooibos tea and apple cider vinegar hair rinse.

Rooibos Tea and Pink Kaolin Shampoo Bar RecipeThis ebook began as a blog post…but it kept on getting longer and longer and longer! As I’m giving a recipe for a soap base that is somewhat different from melt and pour glycerin soap base, I feel as though more background information is needed.

I’m also seeing a plethora of nonfiction ebooks flooding online bookstores that, in some cases, are written by those with little to no knowledge of their topic. Therefore, for those of you who haven’t read any of my books or articles, I have actually made and sold shampoo bars, as well as soap and other bath and body products. I made my first bar of soap way back in 1998. I still maintain my Everything Shea Aromatic Creations website but no longer sell from it. If you look at it, www.everythingshea.com  you’ll see some of my articles about fine hair care, virgin coconut oil, moringa seed oil, etc. I believe in keeping people informed about natural soap and bath and body products.

For many years, I’ve successfully used shampoo bars. I formulate my own unique blends using hair-loving additives like jojoba oil, moringa seed oil, shea butter, goat’s milk, green tea, and Indian herbs such as amla, shikakai, and aritha. I’m not a cosmetologist. I don’t have a PhD in chemistry. I didn’t attend soapcrafting school. Everything I’ve learned has been done the old-fashioned way: by reading and by doing. I’ve invested loads of time and effort into learning all I can about crafting soap, whether it is glycerin melt and pour, or rebatching. When I first began working with rebatch soap, sometimes referred to as hand-milled soap, I wasn’t aware of the difference. I found out after waiting and waiting and waiting for it to melt in a one setting, one-quart crock-pot. Talk about slow! But that was how I began learning.

To pick up your  FREE copy of Rooibos Tea and Pink Kaolin Shampoo Bar Recipe, just visit these online book stores!
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Starting a Crafty eCommerce Business Website

By Lisa Maliga, Copyright 2014

I’m sharing some basic tips on how to launch a crafty eCommerce business website.

Your website is your storefront. Will you design your own website or hire a professional? Another option is to get a predesigned virtual store at Etsy, eBay, Artfire, WordPress, etc.

Buy Your Domain Name

Usually it costs less than $10 per year.

More than a decade ago, I bought the domain name everythingshea.com which I still own. Although people from China wanted to own it, I said no, you can use whatever you want in Chinese but in good old American English it’s still EverythingShea.com. After all, I started this company because I love shea butter, and all my products contain shea butter.

Internet History: Archive.org

If you’re not already familiar with http://www.archive.org you might want to be. If you start an online website, whether you’ll be running it as a store, or just as a nice online display case of your product[s], it’s a helpful site to visit. You can see just about any website’s history or find out if the website ever existed and/or what it looked like years ago.

PayPal Shopping Cart

I used PayPal as my shopping cart. It’s free and all you pay is a small percentage for each sale. If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, PayPal is an option you’ll want to consider. Also, PayPal is the payment of choice on Artfire, Etsy, eBay and many other online shops.

It’s All About You!

the soapmaker's guide to online marketing, lisa maliga, ebooks, soapmaking, soapcrafting, online marketingAside from having an eye catching, keyword-friendly main page, I recommend having an About page on your website. Visitors can get to know about you and your products. This increases customer confidence, tells us how long you’ve been making your products, and what inspired you to make them.

This page should feature information about the origins of your company. Share photos of your products—even if it’s only one. You can also have pictures of you and/or your workplace. If you have a soap site and sell soap bars or shampoo used for animals, show a picture of a dog being bathed in your soap. For an author’s website, display your picture, book cover, and/or workplace.

Expanding the WWW

The WWW is like the universe – expansive! It grows page by page, picture by picture, and video by video–every day and night. Like authors writing more books and uploading them onto Amazon, B&N NOOK, Kobo, iTunes, etc., the more titles you have, the more web pages you have, the more likely you are to be noticed.

Each page should accurately represent your product and not use any tricks. I’m a firm believer in quality versus quantity. Show and tell the audience why they need to buy your product. Be creative. Use photos and videos. Make it a visual feast that engages even a casual surfer. Lovingly describe your products, attracting people in such a way that they want to learn more—and become your customers!

Testimonials

Testimonials – Ask for them. Get them. Use them with the buyer’s permission.

Free Samples or Paid Samplers?

shea butter sampler everythingshea.com

As I was running an online only store, I didn’t offer free samples. However, I sold samplers containing several varities of shea butter and handcrafted soap. I always included a sample with any PAID order.

However, for authors, offering a free eBook will attract more readers. And there isn’t any mailing fee!

Learn more about online promotion here:

Promoting Your Website ~ An Excerpt from “The Soapmakers Guide to Online Marketing”

Shea Butter Soap Recipe

By Lisa Maliga
Copyright 2011-2014

shea butter melt and pour soapShea butter is a popular additive to soaps, lotions, creams, lip balms, shampoos, conditioners, and lotion bars. Why? The healing qualities of this African nut fat abound, helping those with dry skin, sunburn, minor skin irritations, and in just plain softening and conditioning the skin and hair. You can use either refined or unrefined shea butter in your soaps. You can also purchase a soap base with shea butter already included.

 

INGREDIENTS:
8 oz. opaque melt & pour soap base
1 teaspoon shea butter
1/2 teaspoon sweet orange essential oil

MOLD:
Two 4-oz. rectangle molds

INSTRUCTIONS:
1. Slice up the opaque soap base into cubes.
2. Melt the shea butter and the soap in a double boiler OR crock pot.
3. Pour into molds.
4. Refrigerate or freeze until soap is hardened.
5. Unmold and allow to return to room temperature.
6. Wrap in cling wrap.
7. Label.

This recipe is from the eBook The Joy of Melt and Pour Soap Crafting.

It’s Lip Balm Season!

By Lisa Maliga

Copyright 2008-2016

Did you know that our lips don’t produce any oil? That’s why they are can get dry and chapped. You’ll probably notice this during the wintertime or if you live in a dry climate. However, many of us have chapped lips no matter what season. In severe cases lips can become cracked and bleed. Licking your lips actually makes the problem worse.

Several years ago, I had unsightly, chapped and dry lips for no apparent reason. My diet hadn’t changed, I wasn’t under too much stress, and I was in the same location. I’d been using a natural brand of lip balms that I’d purchased from a health food store. It contained almond oil, lanolin and other natural ingredients. On closer inspection, I reread the label. “Active sunscreen – PABA.” Doing further research, I learned that lanolin, which is derived from sheep’s wool, is a known sensitizer. One or both of these ingredients was responsible for irritating my lips.

I decided to try applying a small piece of cocoa butter I had that was being used to formulate lip balms, body balms and massage bars. Within 24 hours, my lips softened and turned from flaky white back to natural pink. I began exploring ways to make my own lip balm that would contain skin-loving cocoa butter.

Cocoa butter was nice, but after a while, I wanted to go back to using a stick or small pot of lip balm that I could carry around with me. I read several books and researched many recipes I found online. For over a year, I experimented with the recipes until I was happy with the results. In my quest to make natural lip balm I gave away small pots of shea butter lip balm to testers, which had been sweetened with white chocolate. Only one problem occurred – after a week the lip balm turned grainy! I also found another way to naturally sweeten lip balm, because I didn’t want any grains in my balms. I ordered unrefined shea butter and after reformulating my recipe, the problem was solved! Since 2004, I’ve successfully made lots of luxurious shea butter lip balms and have continued to experiment with different exotic oils and butters.  I’m proud of my lippy creations and next year I hope to write an e-book that will share many of my original recipes.

Meanwhile, if you are looking to buy a lip balm, make sure you carefully read the ingredients.

You only have one set of lips and can chose what goes on them—a synthetic stew of chemicals or an all-natural product that will smooth and soothe them!

Pictured below is the Java Kisses lip balm I used to make and sell. It contains natural coffee butter.

java kisses lip balm coffee butter lipbalm

It’s Crafting Season ~ Consumer Beware!

By Lisa Maliga

Copyright 2013-2016

tapioca shampoo bar melt and pour soap handmade shampoo bar ebookAlthough Hobby Lobby has been displaying Christmas items since August, signs of the upcoming holiday selling season are  evident online. This is also the season when the newbies emerge. Beginning soapmakers, and other handmade bath and body products makers [lotions, lip balms, body butters, sugar and salt scrubs, etc.] are getting that “I wanna sell my handmade products” fever. People who don’t know the difference between melt and pour glycerin soap base from cold process soap from hand milled soap. Novice soapers who dump fresh fruit and veggies in melt and pour glycerin soap base [hello mold!]. People downloading free eBooks and making their first batch of lotion or a sugar scrub, minus preservatives. Others with little or no experience clamor to join the selling festivities on and offline at various crafty venues. Consumer, beware! 

I’ve included a section on premature selling in my latest eBook on marketing. I’ve also written an article about Melt and Pour Soap Basics. It took me six years before I began selling my soap and other products. During that time, I tested and retested recipes. I made many mistakes. I also invested lots of time and money, and gave away lots of soap to my testers before accepting a single dollar.

“No matter what method they use to sell their newfound wares, there are several problems with premature selling. One doesn’t bake a cake and decide to open a bakery. That may be their goal, but first they have to make dozens or hundreds of cakes in order to be a confident and skillful baker.” The Soapmaker’s Guide to Online Marketing

For the Consumer

If you want to buy handmade bath and body products online, make sure you check out the website very carefully. Any soaper worth his or her lye mixture will be able to convey their expertise. They know what type of soap they make, they know all the benefits of each ingredient, they usually mention how long they’ve been creating their handmade products. They may have photos or videos of their work area. There should be lots of testimonials from satisfied customers or peer reviews from other soapers. They might be a member of the Better Business Bureau, the Handcrafted Soap & Cosmetic Guild, or the Indie Business Network.

When purchasing from a soaper offline you can tell by talking with them how much they know about their product[s]. How long have they been in business? Ask them what they use to color their soaps. Don’t ask for recipes or act like you want to make soap, unless they also teach soaping classes. Another way to test the soaper or salesperson is to inquire about the fragrance – is it an aromatherapy pure essential oil/blend of essential oils or a skin safe cosmetic fragrance? Soaps and/or other products with essential oils will generally cost a little more. Soapmakers usually are pleased to discuss their labors of love. Those who employ others to sell for them should also be well versed in what goes into these handcrafted products.

Beware and be aware of what you’re buying and we’ll all have a healthier and safer holiday season!

Natural Fine Hair Care Tips, Part 2

jojoba oil
Jojoba oil

Copyright 2008-2013

By Lisa Maliga

Continued from Natural Fine Hair Care Tips, Part 1

Vitamins, minerals, herbs – the following will help your hair thrive. Hair care formulations, vitamin A, zinc, vitamin E, vitamin C, flaxseed oil, MSM [Methyl Sulfonyl Methane], silica, horsetail, biotin, B vitamin complex. Consult with your health care practitioner before taking supplements. Your hair is a reflection of your physical state Get plenty of rest. Drink enough water and exercise to suit your lifestyle. Eat fruits, vegetables, cereals, eggs, milk, and bread. Organic food is always a healthier option. 

Scalp massage – An inexpensive method for helping hair growth/regrowth is to massage the scalp. Whether you buy a wood or rubber scalp massager, or opt for your ten fingers, you can invigorate and help cleanse your scalp either before shampooing, or whenever you shampoo. By stimulating your scalp you encourage the circulation, think of it as scalp aerobics, and this allows your scalp’s natural oils, sebum, to be distributed. When using your fingers, never use your nails, only your fingertips. Always massage gently, and start at the crown of your head and work your way lower. 

Oils – In the book, “Aromatherapy Handbook for Beauty, Hair, and Skin Care,” author Erich Keller writes: “Since the hair is made of keratin cells, which consist almost exclusively of protein, it is particularly important to supply it with protein in the form of milk products, fish, soy products, nuts, seeds, and the essential fatty acids contained in cold-pressed vegetable oils.” 

While eating healthy food is advisable, the author touches on the subject of how cold pressed vegetable oils are vital for the hair. Choosing the proper oil sometimes is a matter of experimentation. A light oil should be used for thin, fine hair, but there are those who can use a heavier oil like olive. There are various grades of vegetable oils available from unrefined to heavily refined. Unrefined oils retain their natural vitamins and minerals and are considered healthier, but their aromas can be somewhat pungent. For example, sesame seed oil, an excellent skin and hair loving oil that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, retains a darker color and nuttier aroma in its unrefined state. However, once it’s been refined, the color is lighter and there is no discernible odor. 

There are many oils that are available whether in your kitchen cupboard, at your grocery store, health food store, or your favorite online shop. Experimenting with oils and their applications is necessary, sometimes you’ll discover what works for you within the first attempt, other times you may have to try out several different oils and application methods. You’ll find that organic jojoba and organic virgin coconut oil are suitable for most people with fine hair. 

Oil Applications: Leave In – This involves a very small amount of oil and you can control whether it’s applied throughout your hair or only on the ends. Simply comb or brush through your dry hair. 

Oiling Dry Hair – To use this method, you allow the oil to remain on your scalp and hair for approximately 20 minutes, and shampoo it out. 

Oiling Damp Hair – Investing in a spray mister is a great way to easily add enough distilled or spring water so that you can dampen your hair easily. Apply the oil and comb through. Whether oiling dry or damp hair, make sure it’s free from tangles, so either combing or brushing before applying is necessary. You can choose to comb it through your hair or remain as is – it does depend upon what you’ve added. While some people feel that 20 minutes isn’t enough, others opt for an hour, and there are people who feel as though allowing the oil to remain on overnight is beneficial. 

Other Applications: Clay, Dead Sea Mud, Powdered Herbs, Protein Powder, Eggs, Honey, Yogurt, Milk, Henna [neutral or colored], or Mashed Fruits – all the listed products can be used to create a hair mask which will increase its strength, encourage growth, enhance shine, and tame curls. Any of these ingredients, both singly or in combination, can be healthfully used. Read labels before purchase. If you have very fine hair, be careful about using eggs and make sure you rinse with cold water to avoid scrambled eggs! 

Shampoos: To use a more natural and cost effective shampoo, consider a shampoo bar. They are simple to use, can clean your face and body, and they are easy to pack and don’t spill. All shampoo bars are formulated for fine hair. Additionally, they work in soft water and hard water areas. You can make your own, so check out the book How to Make Handmade Shampoo Bars.