“That Monsieur, is a Load of Croque!”

croque-monsieur 3 arrWhich came first, the ‘Cuban’ or the ‘Croque’? Either way, it doesn’t matter!  When it comes to the oozing, gooey and stringy stuff, all you really need is an affinity for coagulated dairy – say, “Cheese!”  All smiles, most do respond to the call of hunger, especially when it includes fondue-happy melting pots of ‘gold’ or marble slabs of sophistication.

“Is it Gouda or Havarti, for you?” Certainly nutrient-rich, there’s no denying of this ancient food’s benefits.  Even better, there’s something for everyone!  Going international, cheese knows diversity.  An arduous process left for experts, production methods are uniquely complex as are endless varieties.  Still, there’s no fooling a connoisseur or their acute senses; incredibly, despite the year or origin, genuine cheese whizzes accurately distinguish among cured, wheeled, and curdled artisan favourites.  Between aged pungency and sharp carvings from an old block, cheesemongers highly revere the object of their trade – inarguably, an epicurean admiration that amicably stinks! croque-monsieur 1 arr

Proudly made or devoured, enthusiasts of all sorts rejoice in impressionable national darlings – possibly, more than ‘la vâche qui rit.’ As seen and delighted in a Parisian boulangerie, one soon learns nothing beats the aroma and taste of steaming hot and crusty – baked on premise – French baguette.  But then, the French outdo themselves and entice you with something exquisitely simple:  torn baguette that is buttered and filled with mildly fragrant rind-encased soft-ripened regional Brie.  In essence, a semi-soft ivory treat that evokes pure AOC certified authenticity.   croque-monsieur 2 arr

Fortunately, a sumptuous Parisian snack need not be in-house or ‘à emporter’ – to go (food) – from a local bistro. Like the American grilled classic, pairing bread and fine quality cheese can easily be prepared in the comforts of one’s own kitchen.  As for my take, and in ode to a cheesy memory, my menu is set on recreating the one and only ‘mister’ of widely popular sandwiches – le croque! Precisely, it’s ‘Monsieur’ – le Croque Monsieur.

Definitely getting bites of ‘crunch,’ this sandwich is typically pan-fried to a golden crisp exterior from which it derives its name – ‘croque’ is for crunch. As multifaceted in texture as in flavour, a true croque-monsieur is an irresistibly elevated ham and cheese sandwich.  Equally non-partisan, Emmental or Gruyère are traditionally the choice of hard yellow Swiss cheeses to be used in the making of this ‘tosti.’  croque-monsieur 4 arr While some give their sandwich a French toast-like treatment – an egg and milk batter coating prior to frying – I forgo the making of a Monte Cristo.  Courtesy of Béchamel sauce, a generous pouring of lusciously creamy nutmeg-kissed roux instantly enriches undressed deli.  And for added elasticized pull, sprinkling more crafted cheese shavings makes for a successfully honed day of cookery.  ‘Mister-men’ lined-up and enrobed with dairy accompaniments, the prepared tray is baked-off into the oven until the bread’s toasted and the sauce reaches a bubbling boil.  Once cooled, anticipated bites of infused personality allow for an incidence of welcome déjà vu.  Clearly, if ‘cheese-eyes’ or holes – as prominent in Swiss types – are the windows to a glutton’s soul, there’s no refuting the obvious:  a croque-ful will goes hand-in-hand with a touch of ‘whey!’

© DISHFUL, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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Macaron Republic

Mac5 arr“Liberté.  Égalité.  Fraternité.”  Born from ‘the Revolution,’ the national motto may be parallel to another brother/sisterhood – courageous foodies.  Attempts made – successful or not – everyone undeniably hopes to create their very own palatable edifice ‘de Triomphe.’  Mac11 arrAnd when it comes to sweet or savoury recipes, conquering French cuisine seems quite daunting.  Still, I’m up for the challenge.  Taking a stepping stone toward skillfully practised masters of the trade – Pierre Hermé, comes to mind – perfecting pastry arts is possible, with time.    Fortunately, there’s no better time than the present to launch an initial trial of almond-meringue cookies – “Vive le macaron!”

First thing’s first, familiarization of necessary steps and procedures.  ‘Macaronage’ – what does that even mean?  For the making of these rounds, it refers to the French technique of combining the separately mixed ‘dry’ ingredients – almond meal and confectioner’s sugar – to the ‘wet’ – egg whites, beaten stiff, with granulated sugar.  Mac6 arrSimple enough, right? Not so fast!  Reputably finicky, it’s all in how you fold them and – taking no gamble – know when to walk away.  Careful not to under mix or over mix, the right number of folds will ensure your batch of macarons do not crack, and do stand on ‘feet.’  Honestly, the marker of a true macaron lies in a division found between a smooth and shiny domed top that stands on a clearly outlined rim – again, the ‘feet.’

Mac9 arrSo what’s the magic number?  Browsing through several recipes, the number of folds and measurements for the required ingredients are varied.  It’s no surprise I depend on Martha Stewart’s recipes and, in this case, 37 folds are appropriate.  Mac10 arrTo make life easier, follow and adhere to any trusted recipe you wish – with precision – to yield the desired consistency.

Even in my experience, several efforts resulted in mixed results of both ‘presentable’ displays as well as some not-so-secretly consumed ‘crackled’ tops.  Without a doubt, trial and error is in effect.  But, here’s a quick-list of do’s and don’ts:  do follow exact instructions, scale and weigh listed ingredients, use edible coloured gel paste – not liquid food colour – pipe the mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, tap the tray – thrice – to eliminate air bubbles, air dry the rounds for about 30 minutes or until a skin forms on the surface, and bake rotating half-way using a timer; finally, please don’t mess with a good recipe.  Mac13 arr

That’s just the half of it!  P.S., don’t get overwhelmed and do breathe throughout the baking process.  Mac7 arrOverall, pay attention to detail – from the start – and it will pay dividends in impressive delicate cookies.   Now for the creative part, liberate masses – of cooled macarons – with a generous selection of buttercream, ganache or fruit preserve and spreads.  With a shared interest to personalize macarons, my homemade array of filled sandwich cookies include:  PB & grape jelly, dulce de leche salted butter, coconut cream, peaches ‘n’ whipped white chocolate ganache, piña colada, Boston Cream Pie, dark chocolate mint, zesty lemon poppy seed, lemon blueberry cream cheese, hazelnut chocolate and, last but not least, vanilla.  Happy to say, practise does make perfect.   Mac8 arr

At the end of the day, my enjoyment of baking inspired me to make one of the most noticeably stared at desserts in France – seriously, window shoppers stop to admire displayed topiaries of sweet delights.  Mac12 arrHaving ventured to the other side – ocean and shop – for a taste of an authentic Ladurée macaron, the investment is worthwhile whilst on vacation.  As handsome a cost for an equally attractive treat, there’s good reason.  When you factor the time and totaled purchase of staples put forth, you’re left with the realization that plenty of work goes into the creation of these high quality alluring cookies.  So whether you’re looking to expand your confectionary talents or are simply in the mood to devour a light indulgence, know – either route – they’re worth it.

© DISHFUL, 2014.  All Rights Reserved.