Archive for November, 2008

Black sesame macarons and memories of Paris

Black sesame macarons

I sure do love macarons. When did the obsession begin? Ah it was the year before university and the time of Xanga (who even uses that anymore?) when I was particularly enamoured by a glamorous blogger who wrote about her travails to Paris, Tokyo and beyond… one of the treasures she mentioned in one particularly fabulous post were macarons. Cue an image of the most adorable, pastel-coloured sweets I had ever set eyes upon.

Fast forward to university year one. Having made the move from Hong Kong to London, my very first foray into Europe had to be no other place but Paris. Ah, I was a knave living on cheap croissants and pain au chocolats for breakfast, baguettes for lunch, and god-knows-what for dinner – one night, we met a Belgian friend there one night and horreur of horreurs, he took us to a deep pan pizza place. Sigh. We also had a snack at McDonald’s, of all places… And that’s not all! Those were the days when I ddn’t know what an escalope was, oh ho! But that isn’t to say those ‘cheap’ purchases were anything but fantastic (maybe that’s stretching the truth a bit about the pizza and mini maccie D fish fingers) – it IS Paris, afterall. But if there was one thing I took away with me to heart, it had to be those lovely little macarons.


On our last day, oblivious to the joys of Pierre Hermé or even Sadaharu Aoki, we traipsed to Le Printemps’ food hall in search of these elusive little almond minxes. I gorged on the sight of those luscious little confectionaries in their hundreds, set behind glass domes. I don’t even remember whose macarons I bought, but I settled on a counter with relatively reasonable prices (I remember gasping when I realised how much these little things cost). With godawful GCSE French, I ordered a box. It was quite unglamorous as we took our bounty upstairs and plonked ourselves down in a random waiting area where there happened to be tables and chairs.


I opened the box and hovered my fingers over the rainbow discs… I believe the first one I sampled was classic vanilla, with its light golden buttery hue and slightly shimmery dome. I can’t even begin to describe how wonderful it was. Such a delicate, crisp shell giving way almost immediately to a texture that can’t be labelled as ‘chewy’ – indeed, it had some bite but it was so soft, so creamy at the same time. It was, quite literally, an epiphany. I couldn’t bear to eat the rest of my 11 remaining macarons because I didn’t want them to disappear! Looking back at the photo, the macarons I bought look amateurish compared to the picture-perfect versions perfected by Mr Hermé or at Ladurée.

(Thanks to the enduring qualities of the internet, the images above were the same ones I took from that trip and uploaded onto photobucket more than 3 years ago!)

It wasn’t until a year ago I attempted to make my own macarons. A combination of cockiness, impatience and a temperamental oven did not a success make. It wasn’t until the third try that my pistachio macarons came out with uncracked, smooth domes and the requisite feet – what an achievement! But that time, I’d fooled around with the recipe so much I had forgotten what made it so successful. So ever since, I haven’t been able to replicate the success.

Black sesame macaron batter But thanks to a group of bloggers who recently attended a macaron-making class at L’Atelier des Chefs, some of whom were kind enough to publish the recipes on their blogs, I decided to give it another shot. Everything this time was measured to perfection, and the store-bought ground almonds milled even finer in my tiny pestle and mortar (I lack a food processor, sadly, or even a spice/coffee grinder). I had always been afraid of over-mixing my batter, but persevered until my batter was somewhat shiny (the black sesame ‘dulled’ the mixture somewhat) and had reached the ribbon stage. I took it as a good sign that my macarons were developing a skin rather quickly – something that had never happened with any of my previous batches. Popped them in the oven for about 10-12 minutes and squeaked with joy when I saw they had come out perfectly, despite the fact that I had to make do with some foil when I came home and realised I didn’t have any baking sheets or even a proper baking tray…

In my recipe, I used about 100g ground almonds and 25g ground black sesame seeds – next time I’m going to increase the black sesame to almond ratio, since I prefer more speckling. I love the way the batter looks like smooth granite or pebbles when piped out! I also mixed plenty of ground black sesame into an Italian buttercream (which kept separating into a dreadful cottage cheese-like texture, though I managed to salvage some of it) – I used salted butter for it to take away the excessive sweetness I feel most macarons have. So I sandwiched them and left the macarons to rest overnight and tasted them the next day.

Now… I don’t want to brag, but it made me feel like that 18 year old girl again in Paris, trying macarons for the very first time.


November 30, 2008 at 11:59 pm 6 comments

Pork kakuni with scallop congee

pork kakuni with scallop congee

So I have the itch to blog again… and what better time than now, when it’s time to hash out those lovely winter recipes that have been sitting around the kitchen for months on end? The last time I made buta no kakuni was last Christmas; impatience and a loose hand with the soy sauce led to a sad and salty affair with rough meat. This time, I was going to bring out the big guns. Cue this excellent recipe I came across from Chubby Hubby‘s blog, which in turn comes from Masaharu Morimoto’s ‘The New Art of Japanese Cooking’. When I first came across it, it looked impossibly complicated – with a very long cooking time and lots of waiting about, I was turned off of the idea. But I decided the effort would be worth it, and took the plunge.

I didn’t take any photos during the process because (a) who said I was cooking this for purpose of blogging about it? (b) I wasn’t sure how successful it’d be. Well, here I am now, blogging about a very successful dish… and it has inspired me to blog more again!

I did, as I’m prone to do, make a few alterations. One was using ordinary white short grain rice in the initial braising process instead of brown – I just couldn’t be bothered to buy a pack of brown rice (weirdly expensive in Japan Centre) and I couldn’t find any information on what the effect would be, except that it ‘tenderises’ the meat – not sure what the difference is between brown and white rice, though. For the first part, I’m guessing the rice keeps the pork tender by ‘insulating’ it as it braises, protecting it from too much direct heat? Brown rice probably doesn’t break down as much as white in that time, therefore ‘protecting’ the pork for longer? Err, Heston, give us a hand…?

The initial braising process is 8 hours, but I cheated. I did it only for 4 – my pork belly was already sliced into strips when I bought them, so I figured it needed less time. I started at 8pm after work and couldn’t leave the oven on all night, either! Then it was left to rest, as Chubby Hubby did, in the oven overnight. The next night, the pork was removed from the thick rice mixture and, instead of wastefully discarding the rice as suggested, I bunged it into my rice cooker, added some chicken stock and the soaked dried scallops and made the congee that way! The rice, afterall, had soaked up so much flavour from the pork during that initial cooking process so it would have been silly to throw all that away.

scallop congee
The resulting congee was so silky, and so full of porcine goodness and lovely dried scallop flavours. With some chopped spring onions and a sprinkle of sesame seeds, it was enough!

So then the pork went on to be braised again for several hours with a mixture of soy sauce, sake, sugar and water, along with bamboo shoots and chunky pieces of daikon (my own additions, because I love the way they soak up the flavours of anything it is braised with). Result! The pork was already falling apart after the first cooking process and by the second it was meltingly tender. Gorgeous.

pork kakuni

See that piece just falling off? ;)

I’d recommend anyone to give this recipe a shot. It may sound daunting at first, but you really do just leave it to do its own thing most of the time. Set it aside for a weekend when you’re home, shying away from the cold.

The full recipe can be found on Chubby Hubby’s blog. Remember not to throw the rice away! ;) Times like these you really can tell I’m of an Asian (or ‘Oriental’ as they say here) persuasion…

Oh, and I’m intending to do a few more posts that I’ve been meaning to do for ages. Yes, I am talking about Colombia! And I have also recently discovered an unfinished draft of a second Vienna post hidden in my dashboard. Oops. So, yeah. Stay tuned.

November 29, 2008 at 1:03 am 4 comments


A freelance journalist and full-time gourmand, eating her way mostly through London and Hong Kong.

Current location: London


Charmaine currently digs: the smell of coffee; adding ponzu to everything; bill granger; still eating natto with every meal; caressing her Nikon FM2n.



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