I must admit that I took on much more than I could handle. Making two ice creams, 150 macarons, thirty plaisir sucrés, a multi-layer cake, and barbecue back ribs in two days seemed doable on paper. But add in the many x-factors (inexperience, mistakes, and lack of sleep), and everything became a bit more difficult.
There’s probably some point at which incremental increases in quantity result in exponential decreases in quality. In the end I gave away only two-thirds of what I made. The rest wasn’t all that good so unfortunately, some people (who don’t know who they are) didn’t get presents. So if for some reason you think you should have got a present, but didn’t – give me a call, and perhaps you can come over for dinner sometime.
I didn’t take many pictures, so I’ll try to describe what I made as best I can.
Banana and Mint Ice Creams
These were the easiest of all my dishes. I followed Thomas Keller’s banana ice cream recipe, in which a banana is infused in milk and cream and then removed. Surprisingly, this is enough to give the ice cream an intense banana flavour. The mint ice cream (which people seemed to prefer) is from Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Desserts. Mint leaves were first infused in the cream and milk before being blended (using a blender) into the same mixture. As to why I couldn’t just blend the mint leaves in directly - I can only guess that the initial ‘infusion’ was to soften up the leaves. In any case, the ice cream had a very nice flavour quite different and more refreshing than any mint ice cream I’d previously bought.
Hoisin Barbeque Ribs
This should have been a fail-safe recipe. Mouth-watering pork back ribs marinated overnight in a tangy hoisin mixture, browned under the broiler, and steamed in the oven until falling off the bone tender. This time however, they came out very dry. It seems that I had purchased back ribs that included a thick slab of lean loin meat attached to the rib. And while the small amount of meat around the bones was still tender, everything else was dry and meaty. In the end, I kept these ribs for myself, rather than bringing them to the potluck I was going to. I'm still looking into what I should have done differently - perhaps braising the ribs would have been better than steaming? Let me know if you have any suggestions.
I had planned on making five flavours of macarons but ended up making only three. The matcha-chestnut, sesame and chocolate-hazelnut macarons that I had previously made on several occasions went off without a hitch. But sadly the other two flavours, pistachio and mint-chocolate, gave me problems that I couldn’t quickly resolve. A few weeks earlier, I had been inspired by Chika’s beautiful pistachio macarons, but couldn’t find any place to buy pistachio paste in Toronto. So trying to improvise at five o’clock in the morning, I made a pistachio pastry cream using ground pistachios. I don’t remember why, but it tasted awful. I also made the mistake of using food colouring (that I’d been against using up until that point) to colour the macaron batter. I must have used too much, because the batter was a sickly, artificial green.
My mint-chocolate macarons also didn’t work out as I had hoped. I had planned on sandwiching chocolate macarons with mint buttercream. To obtain the mint flavour and colour I tried infusing a bunch of mint leaves in simmering water. The final solution barely tasted like mint, so either I should have used much more mint, or I made a mistake somewhere along the line. I would greatly appreciate any suggestions that anyone may have.
Dark Chocolate Plaisir Sucré and a Cake
I first made Pierre Hermé’s Plaisir Sucré last summer, and it’s certainly one of the most amazing, and time-consuming desserts that I’ve ever made. Basically, the Plaisir Sucré is a mini version of M. Hermé’s famous La Cerise Sur le Gâteau. The Plaisir Sucré consists of a base of hazelnut daquoise, chocolate-hazelnut praline spread, and three sheets of shiny tempered chocolate that sandwich two layers of dark chocolate ganache, and one layer of chocolate mousse. Texturewise, it's like having crisp, soft, rich, crunchy and chewy all in the same bite. Flavourwise, the deep, rich chocolate pairs beautifully with the sweeter chocolate-hazelnut spread and the dacquoise.
Since one recipe makes about 16 pieces, I made two batches to allow some room for error. Aside from the tempered sheets being too thick, the bars turned out pretty good – which was a relief. I also made a cake which combined the dacquoise, praline spread, and ganache of the plaisir sucré with Thomas Keller’s lighter than mousse, Chocolate Fondant.
When I was finally done, I packaged my macarons and plaisir sucrés into small gift boxes, and brought the ice creams and cake to a potluck. Exhausted from the past two days, I was later passed out, only to wake up thinking about what I would make next year.