My family came to Canada from Ireland in 1846, so we always celebrated St. Patrick’s Day when I was growing up. Now that I live away from them, I like to celebrate and share my culture with my friends. This year they’re all coming over for beer, good Irish whiskey, music, games, storytelling and some traditional, homemade Irish and Irish-American food. My husband has been brining a brisket all week to make corned beef (we’re going to try marinating some tempeh in a similar brine for me) and I’m making a springtime colcannon and fresh soda bread!
I’ve never made my own soda bread before, so I had to learn and experiment with a few different recipes this past week. I think the recipe I’m trying today, from Baking for Friends, is a real winner! I can’t wait to share it with the people I love tomorrow.
Knit Tights ModCloth
House Shoes Amazon
Hair Combs Amazon
All photos by me.
I think I’ve finally cracked the code on these tricky little cookies. These Kelly green macarons with Irish whiskey buttercream filling are some of the best I’ve ever made. Here’s the recipe I’ve developed that seems to work best for the type of ground almonds and eggs available near me, the humidity of where I live, and my conventional gas oven.
for the macarons
- 1 cup ground almonds (as finely ground as you can find)
- 1½ cups icing sugar
- 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 tsp high quality vanilla extract
- 1 tsp Kelly green gel food colouring
for the buttercream
- 7 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
- 3 tbsp water
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 1 egg, at room temperature
- 2 tbsp good Irish whiskey (The buttercream won’t taste like whiskey, but rather like the tasting notes of the whiskey, so a better whiskey will produce a better, richer, more interesting flavour in the buttercream.)
for the macarons
- Prepare your parchment sheets by drawing 1″ circles, ½” apart across the entire sheet (or using silicon baking mats with the circles already printed on them) and placing them on a large flat surface suitable for drying your batter, like a dining table. You will need 2-3 half sheet pan size pieces.
- Sift ground almonds and icing sugar, together, twice. Set aside.
- In a large stainless steel mixing bowl, beat egg whites with a hand or stand mixer on high speed until you have a foam with no liquid remaining.
- Slowly add the sugar while continuing to beat the egg whites. Beat on high speed until the egg whites reach stiff peaks. You’ve made meringue!
- Add vanilla and gel colouring and beat in until colour is fully incorporated.
- Fold your almond and icing sugar mixture into the meringue in two parts.
- Here’s the part that takes practice: it’s time for the macaronnage. With a spatula, spread the batter, with some force, against the side of the bowl. Then scoop it up by running the spatula along the side of the bowl again and try to flip it all over and sort-of lightly smack it back into the bottom of the bowl. Gather the batter up again and repeat 15-20 times. It takes some time to figure out the best way to do this, don’t be afraid to play around with it. When doing the macaronnage correctly, repeating more than 20 times can result in oily, blotchy macarons, but I’ve found that doing it incorrectly doesn’t count towards this limit. If you are doing it right, the batter will take on a noticeable and somewhat sudden change in consistency, this means you are about half-way to that limit. When finished, the batter should be thickened and drip slowly from the spatula. You will have to pipe it onto your baking sheets/mats and it won’t work if the batter is too runny. This is the technique that defines macarons, this is what makes mastery of them impressive.
- For perfectly round macarons, use a large, 0.4″ plain tip with a pastry bag, or do it the lazy way and cut a corner off a zip top bag for mostly round macarons. Twist (or don’t yet cut) the bag at the tip and place it, tip side down, in a tall glass. Fill with your batter and twist, close or clip the other end to help keep the messy batter moving in the right direction. Pipe the batter into the centre of the circles on your sheets/mats and stop before reaching the edges as the batter will spread out a bit.
- Once finished piping, carefully pick the sheets/mats up and drop them back on to the table from a high of a couple of inches. The theory is that this helps the cookies keep their round shape and form the little bubbles (the pied) when you put them in the oven.
- Leave the cookies on the table, uncovered, for 15-30 minutes to dry. This is a good time to preheat your oven to 350°F. You will know the macarons are dry when they look smooth and are no longer sticky to the touch.
- Place an oven rack in the centre of your oven. Place a sheet of macarons on two doubled up sheet pans (this will stop the bottoms from getting too hot, resulting in cracked macarons) and bake for about 15 minutes. Rotate the pan half way through baking. It can be hard to tell when the macaron are done. I pull them out when the kitchen smells sweet and the cookies look crisp and have just started to brown ever-so-slightly.
- As soon as the parchment sheet/baking mat is cool enough to handle, take it out of the pan with all the cookies on top and place it on a cooling rack. The macarons will be too sticky to remove from the sheet/mat now; once cooled, they should peel off easily. I usually wait a few minutes for the pans to cool a bit and for the oven to come back to a steady temperature before moving the next sheet to the pans and baking the next round.
for the buttercream
- Make sure the butter is soft enough for you to press your finger into. On a cold, winter day, this may mean cutting it into pieces and warming it up slightly in the microwave or oven – still warm from your macarons. Cream the butter in a medium sized bowl. Set aside.
- Break the egg into a large heat-resistant mixing bowl and beat lightly with a hand mixer. Set aside.
- Add water and sugar to a small saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Bring to a simmer and stir until thick and syrupy, about 7 minutes. You’ve made simple syrup!
- Slowly pour your simple syrup into the beaten egg while beating with a hand mixer on as high a speed as you can without flinging syrup everywhere, remember it is hot and sticky. Once all the syrup is in, beat the mixture on high speed, slowly reducing speed until it is white, thick, and the bowl is no longer hot.
- Add the butter to this mixture in two or three parts and beat on medium speed until fully incorporated and creamy. If you are like me, the buttercream will split now. If continuing to beat doesn’t bring it back together, it has likely become too cold. Pop it in the warm oven for 30 seconds and try beating it again. Continue doing this until it comes together.
- Add the whiskey and beat until mixed in.
- Now pipe the buttercream between two cookies and enjoy your hard work!
All photos by me.
When I was born in the late 80s, my parents gave me a popular Canadian first name, my mother’s British middle name and my father’s Irish last name. Although my first name, Melissa, is of Greek origin, meaning bee, it was quite common at the time in Canada, placing in the top 20 baby names of that year. My parents did a great job of representing my complete heritage in just three names. Now that I’m married and have taken the last name of a man – because I’m romantic like that – with English and Scottish ancestors, I sometimes feel like I’ve lost a little piece of myself. Perhaps that’s why I’m always careful to keep my Irish/Canadian family traditions alive.
One of the most important and valued things I’ve inherited from my Irish ancestors is the strong work ethic and fearless desire for something better that each generation has instilled in the next since arriving in Canada at the height of the Potato Famine. Though eating porridge with lots buttered toast, for dipping, will always be a close second.
I can’t help thinking about my family while working hard to keep up with orders and prepare for market season on this sunny St. Patrick’s Day. Though the hard part may be over for us, that never quit, never give up attitude passed down from my great-grandparents, to my grandparents, to my parents is still alive in me today. That endless list of personal and professional ideas, goals and plans that anyone else would see as unrealistic and unachievable ebbs and flows as we do the things that once seemed impossible and make even bigger plans for the future. To me, this (and porridge with toast) is what it means to be an Irish-Canadian.
Dress ModCloth (old)
Tights ModCloth (other colours)
Slippers White Noise Maker
Necklace Suzy Shier (old)
Earrings I’ve had as long as I can remember
Visit the Sophter-Toaster shop for all the handmade goodies in my studio, or, better yet, come see them at Many Hands Market on April 3rd in St. Catharines!
All photos by me.