We’d sit on the concrete wall in the sweltering heat waiting for the big yellow American school bus to come around and pick us up. To me the bus always looked rather out of place on the synthetic streets of Doha. But then everything in Doha was imported and somehow looked rather out of place.
The rows of perfectly aligned palm trees that adorned the Corniche street were shipped in from California and the water to keep them irrigated was brought in tankers every day from the desalination plants outside of the capital. Between a gorgeous turquoise blue sea and a barren desert area the Doha Sheraton hotel stood out majestically like a sore thumb. In the mid-eighties it was the pearl at the end of the West Bay area, which was nothing like the West Bay of today!
The primary function of the yellow American bus was to do it’s hourly rounds between the staff compounds, the executive apartments and hotel, bringing the several employees back and forth. For the kids of the executive staff it was the perfect means to get to our favorite leisure place.
The Sheraton was a paradise in an otherwise arid and dull surrounding. For me and my friends it was the in place to hang out at after school. We had the luxury of a private beach and lagoon, tennis, squash, water-skiing, sailing, a selection of several restaurants all within a walkable radius.
As the daughter of the director I had further access to one of the really cool parts of the hotel - the pastry kitchen. That was always my first stop when the yellow American bus dropped us off in the basement parking of the hotel. My brother and I would run through the corridors, greeting the security guards and the housekeeper and bound up the stairs - destination the kitchen. As we barged through the double doors, winding and dodging our way around waiters, cooks and busboys, we barely noticed the hustle and bustle of the hectic kitchen.
“Guten Tag!” we’d shout to the Austrian Executive chef, who’d wave his huge hands and his cute chubby face would break into a grin.
“Quickly! He has made something special today!” He’d shout back knowing very well where it was we were headed.
It was not till we actually turned the corner that we would slow down. Things moved at a slightly slower pace here. Today I wonder if it was due to the creative minds at work or rather due to the Swiss pastry chef himself. The common joke amongst his colleagues was usually that clocks ticked differently (read slower) in Switzerland. Whatever it was, I was always enveloped by the atmosphere in and around the pastry kitchen. There was a serenity that starkly contrasted the rest of the main kitchen. Getting closer to the entrance we were embraced by a mélange of aromas, making me stop in my tracks. Closing my eyes, I would begin to guess what spices and ingredients were being used.
This would cause much agitation to my brother, who wanted nothing more than to get into the pastry kitchen and get the loot of the day. As we stood in the entrance of this sweet temple, eyes gleaming, we knew we had it better than Charlie in Willy Wonka’s factory. We waited and it was never too long before the pastry chef discovered us. Looking up from his thick framed glasses and peering over his current masterpiece, to me he was a strange combination of a mad scientist and a business man. His smile usually lit up the room and it was our signal to step further into the kitchen.
We would get our daily tour of the different desserts of the day, licking and tasting our way through each creation. Mousse au chocolat, panna cotta, tarts and pastries, cookies and breads, cakes and gateaux, creams and custards, chocolates and sweets - this was the real sugar rush!
“So Meeta,” the pastry chef would say in his heavy Swiss accent, “what is the spice of the day?” He knew the secret guessing game I always played before entering the pastry kitchen.
And with that he would secretly place a small piece of chocolate in my hand, always with different complementary flavor and always with the words “Because chocolate is never just chocolate!”
Wise words from a genius!
These macarons are inspired by these words. Because chocolate is never just chocolate, the ways to indulge in it are endless. My childhood memories have always been sweet and drenched in a lot of chocolate so when Mactweets announced the latest challenge I instantly knew what flavor would dominate my macarons this month. This month’s Childhood Summer Memory Mac Attack challenge brought back many glorious memories for me and every one of them led me to chocolate.
My Rooibos Spiced Chocolate Chai macarons are spiked with an aromatic sprinkling of organic rooibos spiced chai brought to me by my gorgeous spice sister Jeanne. When I opened the box I was greeted by an incredible aroma of spices that instantly transported me back to the pastry kitchen in Doha. The blend of rooibos and honeybush tea leaves had cardamom pods, cocoa peel, cinnamon, orange and lemon peels to name just a few of the wonderful ingredients in the mix. This was all grounded with the almonds and some extra dark cocoa powder for a richer chocolaty taste. The filling was based on the dark chocolate cream I used for the Raspberry Tea Macarons, using a sweet and spicy cinnamon paste from Morrison’s, given to me by sweet Sarah of Maison Cupcake, instead of the tahini paste.
The result: a sublime blend of sweet and spice with the rich bold flavors of chocolate.
Rooibos Chocolate Chai and Sweet Spicy Chocolate Cinnamon Macarons
Printable version of recipe here
For the macaron shells
110g icing sugar
60g almonds, very finely ground
60g egg whites, (about 2 eggs) aged for either 5 days in the fridge, then for 24 hours at room temperature or a little over 24 hours on the countertop
40g granulated sugar
15g Rooibos spiced tea blend, finely ground (with the almonds). I used Solaris Organic Rooibos Chocolate Chai
15g dark cocoa powder
For the filling
200g Dark chocolate couverture, finely chopped
150ml double cream
3 teaspoons Morrison’s sweet and spicy cinnamon paste. Alternatively use a good sprinkling of ground cinnamon
For the macaron shells
- Prepare your baking tray and baking sheets with a stencil of circles. Draw circles on some baking paper using a (mathematical) compass about 2 cm in diameter. Then place some white parchment paper on the baking tray and flip the baking paper back around. Or use this macaron template.
- In a large mixing bowl mix the egg whites with an electric hand beater (alternatively you can use a stand mixer with the whisk attachment) until it is thick and frothy. Gradually add the granulated sugar, whisking all the while, until the mixture turns into a thick glossy meringue. The consistency of the macaron batter should be similar to hair mousse or shaving foam. Make sure the meringue is not over-beaten or else it will be too dry.
- In a food processor pulse together icing sugar, almonds, cocoa powder and roibos spiced tea leaf blend until everything is finely ground and powdery. Sift the mixture 2 or 3 times to make sure there are no lumps.
- Place the dry ingredients into a bowl. Add the meringue in three portions, giving it a quick fold using the macronnage technique described in my macaron tips section. Fold the mixture a few times to break the air. Continue until you get a smooth and supple mixture, thick in consistency so that when you lift the spatula it flows back in thick ribbons. Test a small amount on a plate – should the tops fall back and flatten by themselves then it is ready, if not give it a few more folds.
- Fill a piping bag with a plain tip with the batter and pipe small rounds (2 cm in diameter) on your prepared baking paper. Leave the macarons to rest and dry for about 15 to 30 minutes.
- In the meantime preheat the the oven to 150 degrees C. When the macarons are ready bake the shells for 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Use a flat offset spatula to gently remove the shells from the baking paper and allow to cool further on a rack
For the filling
- Put the cream into a saucepan and bring nearly to the boil, so it is scalding hot.
- Place the finely chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl, pour the hot cream over and allow the chocolate to melt into the hot cream. Finally, gently stir to mix.
- Leave it to cool long enough for it to be a nice spreadable consistency.
- Once the chocolate ganache has cooled stir in the cinnamon paste. Place in refrigerator for it to set and thicken further.
Assembling the macarons
Pipe small portions of the chocolate-cinnamon filling on one of the shells and gently cover with another shell. Do not press. Continue to do this until you have used up all of the filling and shells. If the ganache is really thick, simply use two spoons and spoon portions on the shells.
If you are not going to be using them right away you can store the shells in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days.
They freeze well too but it is recommended to freeze them unfilled. To fill them take the shells out of the freezer 48 hours prior to serving and without defrosting fill them. This way the flavors will be allowed to blend as they thaw.
Macarons taste best the next day. Prepare and fill them, then keep them in an airtight container in the fridge. This allows the flavors to intermingle with each other. Enjoy them at room temperature the next day.
Several years later I was standing in the same kitchen, all grown up and nervous as I embarked on my training. My mentors and tutors in each department had seen me grow up into an ambitious adult and knew the energy I brought along with me. They expected a lot from me. It was the Swiss pastry chef who winked at me that very first day, placing a piece of chocolate in my hand, making all my nervousness melt away.
The shells provide a rich chocolaty flavor and the spices an intense aromatic experience . The filling with it’s sweet and spicy cinnamon note adds a fantastic bite to the dark chocolate ganache making the macarons simply an explosive flavor combination. They did not last too long as Soeren took an instant liking to them and between packing a few for his lunchbox, indulging in a few myself and giving a few to a girlfriend as a little gift, I had a hard time keeping one for Tom to taste.
“Lebanese cuisine has become synonymous with mezze, hummus and tabouleh. But, did you know that there is a whole other side to Lebanese cuisine that seems to be relatively unexplored and still very much a secret to the West? Tabkha (s.) refers to any home-cooked, wholesome dish that is traditionally prepared by mothers and grandmothers around Lebanon. I have fond memories of coming home from school to one-pot dishes and stews simmering on the stove as my grandmother would meticulously set the table. Mezze (pronounced mezza in Lebanese), is typically reserved for restaurants, on weekends, when families come together. If you’ve ever seen a lavish, Lebanese mezze spread you’ll quickly understand that to recreate such a spread at home is near impossible without the manpower of a full commercial kitchen staff.”
Come travel with us and Taste Lebanon like you’ve never done before, you might be surprised at what you discover. Your deadline is October 18th, so you have plenty of time to get creating. For further details on how you can enter please visit the Monthly Mingle Taste Lebanon announcement page.
More Macarons from WFLH:
|Raspberry Tea Macarons with Tahini Dark Chocolate Cream||Campari Orange and Grapefruit Macarons||Matcha Macarons with Passionfruit Curd|
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