Thanks for stopping by! Here on BECOMING LOLA I share stories on becoming minimalist, as well as living a pure clean life as a style-obsessed digital nomad with a no BS approach to ethical fashion + travel. Grab a glass of wine and start here: Building A Minimalist Wardrobe.


Sep 28, 2010

my minimalist french style life in paris will be....

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How does one imagine a dream life in Paris epitomizing minimalist french style

Mine would... filled with bike rides along the riverside country towns, visits to all the grande pink palaces with their luscious summer gardens, shopping for blooming peonies even when I have no idea where to put them, indulging in designer fashions (whether rented or stolen!), channeling my inner Jane Birkin whilst I tout around my pink pastry boxes all tied up with ribbon and my lunch wicker basket flaps in my arm, scavenge the city for the most pungent cheeses and brightest macarons, impromptu window shopping at the outdoor book stands where I meet my future European lover over our shared passion for livres de histoire, and of course lots of sneaking up on the croissant delivery boys to see if I can't exchange a few batted eyelashes for a fresh, melt in your mouth pain au chocolat!

But until then, I'm off to make a breakfast smoothie, flip through some mags I just bought (including Elle with Lauren Conrad on the cover, yay!) and watch the highly anticipated Gossip Girl Premiere from last night, online. The episode is called Belle du Jour after all. A bientot mes amis!

Sep 24, 2010

j'adore des macarons...

You might say I am a little obsessed with these petit cookies. Their crisp chewy shell and the rich dense fillings of raspberry, chocolat or even caramel. Their lustrous brightly hued shells in fuchsia, Robin's egg blue, rouge red, and mocha brown. Biting into them is an innocent nostalgic bliss only comparable to days on Daddy's shoulder at the fair with giant elephant ears in your hands. Even just staring at these mini luxuries give way to an instant smile. Your eyes gleam, your mouth salivates, your heart beats faster. Could it be? Are macarons my soul mate? Will I meet them on my next blind date? Are they the new equivalence of tall, dark and handsome for the single gal? Maybe so. I would certainly trade a full box of Laduree's macarons with a glass of wine and some Sandra Bullock flick over a night with a cute stranger any day! What's worse, is that I just discovered, not even 12 hours ago, a quaint little cafe by school that sells macarons for only $2. That's a steal for NYC. And get this. They have mini choux too! I had to try them, as I am suddenly finding myself in an absorbency of French culture mode and have always heard of this infamous choux pastry. I opted for the caramel filled mini choux, generously sprinkled with sugar and perfectly browned. OH MY GOSH. Can we say heaven on Earth! I'll do a full bakery review later this weekend.

What I really wanted to tell you lovelies is that I am going ahead with my foray into professional baking early. Why not right? There is inspiration all over the place! Reading A Homeade Life at our book club. Surfing through my fave blog Franish Nonspeaker. Seeing all the writers turned foodies enjoy life the way Europeans do. Its my turn darn it! So I am going to go pick up a catalogue at the Culinary Institute which has been on my New Year's resolution list for months (maybe even years...ouch). I'll do a pastry course, see what I can learn, and go from there. I might even have a few tricks up my sleeve with my ami nouvelle Mandy. Etsy comes to mind. Shhhhh. And then when I finally make it to Paris on my study exchange program, I'll take a master course on macarons so I can really give Pierre Herme a run for his money. Ah, oui, more like a walk, but you can find my confidence endearing for now. And who knows, maybe a small bakery in San Francisco, that is, if I fall in love with the city the way I'm expecting to, come this November. Life is full of dreams. Its time I make some come true...

What about you? What are you going to cross of your list?!

Sep 23, 2010

aspiring american in paris first batch of macarons...

Longggg overdue ladies and gentleman, but please offer a drum roll first batch EVER of homemade macarons! I know, I know, you have been waiting on me, your savior, to try these out first. You needed that last bit of hope that even the most pathetic and unequipped hobbyist baker could pull these off. Well, tis true mah dears! I am clumsy, always unprepared, lacking any training, and totally pulled these off. Woot, woot! And the story all starts with one little email from my friends over at Oh!Nuts. They wanted to offer my humble lil blog some fresh bulk nut products, and when I saw they carried almond flour, I knew it was a sign from the baking gods. "Just go for it already Lola" the gods were whispering, getting impatient. So I did. It was now or never.

So I did it! From scratch. By my own handiwork. With no help whatsoever. Just allot, allot, allot of reading of course. And can you blame me? These suckers are a nightmare for every novice foodie or aspiring pastry chef. But after a while (re: two days of research interrupted by my own 48 hour old stench) I finally lifted my head and closed my sagging eyes, went to bed, and promised myself to just awake the next day fresh, fearless, and ready for an adventure. Everything should be taken with a grain of salt right (pun intended!)? So I accepted that I might be defeated, that those macarons would emerge from my Granny's old little oven with no feet, concave lids, burnt bottoms, and the color of mud. But low and behold, none of that dare take place! You know, after watching Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice marathon style for the last few months, I am really starting to believe that people who want to survive an extensive surgery, or kick cancer treatment in the ass, just have to believe in the positive all the way through, as if confidence and optimism were the last remaining emotions left in the world and you had no choice. Same should go for baking. Why on Earth should home bakers torture themselves by the elusive reputation of one small little cookie? Just believe in yourself and shove all the foolishness of everyone else's bad experiences in the far part of your brain.

I set out to do this like a surgery. Let's, for sake of storytelling, call me Dr. McCreamy. Oh yeahhh. I had my 'mis en place' which really gets the confidence engines revving when you sit back and see all the gleaming fresh products awaiting their master. Nothing is ever perfect, no matter how much you research or plan. So of course, I forgot the eggs had to be aged so I just followed a trick I read about, and popped those bad boys in the microwave for about 10 seconds. I slowly unzipped the freshlock seal on my beautifully nutty aromatic almond flour by Oh!Nuts. I got my sugar and my salt and all their pantry friends together, and we just, ya know, set out to have a party!
Macarons with Chocolate Ganache & Salted Caramel
makes about 16 filled macaroons

1 1/4 cups plus 1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar
1 cup (4 ounces) ground blanched almonds (I used Oh!Nuts)
6 tablespoons fresh egg whites (from about 3 extra-large eggs)
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
filling (see recipe below)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, pulse your ground almonds a few times to make sure they get to flour consistency. In a medium bowl, whisk together confectioners' sugar and almond flour. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites with salt on medium speed until foamy. Increase speed to high and gradually add granulated sugar. Continue to whip until stiff glossy peaks form. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in the confectioners' sugar mixture until completely incorporated.
  2. Line baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Fit a pastry bag with a 3/8-inch #4 round tip, and fill with batter (I didn't have all that fanciness, I just used a 99cent store pastry bag and cut the tip 1/2 inch). Pipe 1-inch disks onto prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between cookies. The batter will spread a little. Let stand at room temperature until dry, and a soft skin forms on the tops of the macarons and the shiny surface turns dull, about 15 minutes.
  3. Bake, with the door of the oven slightly ajar (or not, depends on your oven, I didn't need to), until the surface of the macarons is completely dry, about 15 minutes. Remove baking sheet to a wire rack and let the macarons cool completely on the baking sheet. Gently peel off the parchment. Their tops are easily crushed, so take care when removing the macarons from the parchment. Use immediately or store in an airtight container, refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 1 month.
  4. To fill the macarons: Fill a pastry bag with the filling. Turn macarons so their flat bottoms face up. On half of them, pipe about 1 teaspoon filling. Sandwich these with the remaining macarons, flat-side down, pressing slightly to spread the filling to the edges. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.Salted Butter Caramel Sauce
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/8 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 ounce salted butter (you may use cultured salted as well, as I did)
  1. Heat the heavy cream in a saucepan until boiling. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.
  2. Combine the water, sugar, and corn syrup in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.
  3. Stir just until the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Cook without stirring until the caramel is a deep golden (you may play around with the darkness of your caramel, but be careful, as sugar cooks very quickly at this point and will easily blacken if you don't stop the cooking by setting the saucepan in a pan of ice water).
  5. When the caramel has reached the golden color, immediately pour in the warm cream.
  6. The sauce will bubble up. Allow it to become smooth before proceeding.
  7. Add the butter and whisk in until smooth. I also go ahead here and pour mixture into a stand mixer, add sifted confectioner's sugar in until it reaches a consistency I like.
  8. Use warm or at room temperature. It should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge, where it will become quite stiff. Allow it to come to room temperature after storing. At room temperature, it is still very thick, so give it a hearty whisk to get it to spreading consistency, or warm it (very briefly) over low heat, stirring all the while.
Honestly, these macarons were delicious! I will not sit here and say they will trump Laduree, but to have Paris a bit closer to home anytime I like, its a very painless process once all the stress about failing subsides. You end up with a great homemade product that otherwise would cost and arm and a leg. I could go without the super nutty flavor of the almonds, so I am up for trying the hazelnut version next, which I discovered on my beloved Franish Nonspeaker!
Ha, wouldn't it be a pathological lie if I denied having learned anything? Are you crazy! It was low stress, but full of new knowledge. For one, mis en place is beyond important for this particular recipe, as everything is about temperament and one ingredient relying on the upcoming ingredient to be ready and at the right temperature. So, mis en place dolls! Then, make sure to learn about your oven. I read so many conflicting things about oven ajar vs oven closed. It was one of the hottest summer days, so I took a risk and figured I didn't need to add any extra humidity and kept my oven door closed. Also, when it comes to whole folding of ingredients, it really helps to watch videos to see just how one should manipulate the spatula, and at what speed and for how long. That is the key to the shells. When it came to piping the shells, I don't have any fancy things okay. I totally took a spice can and sloppily traced circles onto the parchment paper in lieu of a template sheet (which means uneven and mismatching shells, but oh well!). As for the filling, oh my! The salted caramel is so quick to golden, that the first go I completely burned it. So watch that pot closely and DO NOT STIR while its cooking (I did that too, and it turned into a rock). Otherwise, its sooooo yummy and my fave filling so far. I used it for cupcakes a few days later. Oh, and that whole airtight container thing is so true. I put my macarons in a cake stand since I was so proud, they needed showing off. The next day, they were as hard and crumbly brittle as, well, as poorly stored macarons!
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