I love Christmas. This is nothing new and I'm sure you've already come to that conclusion based on the many Christmas recipes that I've put up since the beginning of December. I love the decorations and the twinkling lights and even the music. But I love it for reasons more meaningful than shiny baubles.
My boyfriend is not so much into Christmas (poor guy). It's pretty understandable seeing that his whole family is in another continent and he hasn't spent a Christmas with them in about a decade. He's turned a little bitter about a holiday that most people get to spend with their family when he doesn't get to. Like a modern day Grinch. I told him this, but he doesn't know who or what the Grinch is (?!?!). If I wasn't working 12 hours a day right now, I'd sit him down and make him watch The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
The other day, I was talking about how much I loved Christmas. He asked me why.
I gave him the usual answer - pretty lights, cute decorations, happy music. But he didn't really get my excitement. I started to really think about what exactly it is about Christmas that I love so much.
I love giving gifts. I love searching out the perfect gift for someone. I look forward to seeing their reaction upon opening their gift more than I look forward to getting any gifts. I get such delight in thinking of something that someone would just love - and not just "Oh, he likes food so I'll get him this random cookbook that I think I would like." You have to put more thought into it than that. It shows when you do.
I explained that to my boyfriend and he started to understand it a little more. Truthfully, the more I explained it, the more I realized it.
When I give a really thoughtful and heartfelt gift to someone, they smile. They smile a genuine smile of love and appreciation and gratitude. That's what I love - seeing that person realize that someone really cares about them, that they are someone very special to me.
Christmas isn't about buying useless crap and spending tons of money. It's hard to realize that because everywhere you look, you're bombarded with ads and commercials telling you that if you really care about the one you love, you'll buy them this necklace/gaming system/sweater/whatever.
It's really hard to resist that because you think to yourself, "Well, I really do love them. If I don't get that, does that mean I don't really love them? Will they think that I don't love them?". We're led to believe that the more money we spend on someone, the more we love them. That's totally not true.
The best gifts I've ever received have cost nothing. Gifts like a handmade card or a heartfelt poem - the ones that take effort and thought and feeling, not just money.
One Christmas several years ago, I was tight on money, so I wrote my parents each a letter for Christmas. My brother made fun of me for being so cheap. My dad shed a little tear when he read his. To this day, he still has that letter that I wrote him. I doubt that any of the books that I've given him made the same impact.
Ah, I'm getting all serious and sentimental here. The point I'm trying to get across is that you need to realize that Christmas isn't about stuff, it's about expressing love. The two are not the same. It's tough to stay afloat in the sea of "buy this!" and "buy that!", but it can be done and when you see that genuine smile from someone, you'll know what I'm talking about.
No one really needs more stuff in their life. But everyone could use a little more love in their life.
"Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more..."
Cranberry and White Chocolate Macarons
White Chocolate French Buttercream
Recipe adapted from Bouchon Bakery
38 g granulated sugar
63 g egg yolks
75 g whole milk
250 g unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces, at room temperature
125 g white chocolate, chopped finely
200 g fresh or frozen cranberries
75 g vanilla sugar
10 g maple syrup
1/2 vanilla bean
1 cinnamon stick
Recipe adapted from Bouchon Bakery
212 g almond flour/meal
212 g powdered sugar
82 g egg whites
90 g egg whites
1/2 vanilla bean
236 g granulated sugar
158 g water
First, make the buttercream. If you wish, the buttercream can be made in advance and stored in the fridge for up to 5 days. Take the buttercream out of the fridge thirty minutes before you need to use it and place it in the bowl of a stand mixer. Allow it to soften and then mix on low speed until it is the proper consistency.
Place the white chocolate in the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk 38 grams sugar and the yolks together in a medium bowl and set aside.
Place the milk in a medium saucepan, set over medium heat, and stir to dissolve the sugar. When the milk is just below a simmer, remove the pan from the heat and, whisking constantly, pour it into the egg mixture. Return the mixture to the pan and place over medium heat. Whisking constantly, bring to a gentle simmer and simmer for 1 minute, lowering the heat if necessary to prevent the mixture from curdling. It should be very thick.
Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into the bowl of a stand mixer with the white chocolate in it. Let it sit for 30 seconds and then slowly stir with a rubber spatula until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is emulsified. Fit the mixer with a whisk attachment, turn the mixture to medium, and whisk for about 8 minutes, until the mixture is completely cool.
Add the butter, a few pieces at a time, to the egg yolk mixture. If at any point the mixture looks broken, increase the speed to re-emulsify it, then reduce the speed and continue adding the butter. Check the consistency: if the buttercream is too loose to hod its shape, it should be refrigerated for a few hours to harden, then beaten again to return it to the proper consistency.
For the cranberry puree, combine the cranberries, sugar, maple syrup, and cinnamon stick in a saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add to the saucepan along with the pod. Heat over medium-low heat until the cranberries pop, about 7 to 9 minutes. Let the mixture cool completely. Remove the cinnamon stick and the vanilla bean pod. Puree the cranberries with an immersion blender or a regular blender until smooth. Transfer to a container and place a piece of plastic wrap on the surface to prevent it from drying out.
Start on the macarons. The macarons need to be as close in size as possible and a template is the easiest way to ensure that. Lay a sheet of parchment paper on a work surface with the long side facing you. Using a glass or bowl, trace the desired size of your macaroons (I used a 1.5 inch diameter for these). Make sure to leave 1 inch of space between them. Turn the parchment over and lay it on a sheet pan. Lift up each corner of the parchment and spray with non-stick spray to keep it from blowing up while the cookies are baking. Repeat with a second sheet.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Sift the almond flour and powdered sugar into a large bowl and whisk together. Make a well in the center, leaving a layer of flour at the bottom. Pour in the 82 grams egg whites and combine with a spatula. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add to the mixture, stirring until evenly distributed. Set aside.
Place the remaining 90 grams egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Combine the 236 grams sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until the syrup reaches 203 F/110 C.
Letting the syrup continue to cook, add a pinch of sugar to the egg whites, turn the mixer to medium speed, and whip to soft peaks. If the whites reach soft peaks before the syrup reaches 248 F/120 C, reduce the speed to the lowest setting, just to keep them moving.
When the syrup reaches 248 F/120 C, remove the pan from the heat. Turn the mixer to medium-low speed and slowly add the syrup, pouring it between the side of the bowl and
the whisk. The meringue will deflate. Increase the speed to medium and whip for 5 minutes, or until the whites hold stiff, glossy peaks. Although the bowl will still be warm, the meringue should have cooled. If not, continue to whip until it is cool.
Fold one-third of the meringue into the almond mixture, then continue adding the whites a little at a time (you may not use them all) until when you fold a portion of the batter over on itself, the "ribbon" slowly moves. The mixture shouldn't be so stiff that it holds its shape without moving at all, but it shouldn't be so loose that it dissolves into itself and does not maintain the ribbon; it is better for the mixture to be sightly stiff than too loose.
Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch tip. Hold the bag upright 1/2 inch above the center of one of the traced circles and pipe out enough to fill in the circle. Lift away the pastry bag and fill the remaining circles on the first pan. Lift up the sheet pan and tap the bottom of the pan to spread the batter evenly and smooth any peaks left by the bag.
Place the sheet pan in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 325 degrees and bake for 9 to 12 minutes, until the tops are shiny and crisp. Set the pan on a cooling rack and cool completely. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees again.
Pipe the remaining macaron mixture into the circles of the second sheet pan and bake as directed above. Let cool completely.
Transfer the buttercream to the pastry bag with the 3/8 inch tip. Transfer the cranberry puree to a pastry bag with the 3/8 inch tip. Remove the macarons from the parchment paper. Turn half of them over. Pipe a ring of buttercream, not quite reaching the edge of the macaron. Fill the hole with cranberry puree. Top with a second macaron and gently press to spread the buttercream to the edges. Repeat with remaining macarons and filling.
The macarons are best if wrapped individually in a few layers of plastic wrap and frozen for at least 24 hours or up to 2 weeks. Defrost in the refrigerator for 3 hours, then bring to room temperature before seving. They can be served the day they are made or stored in a covered container in the refrigerator up to 2 days.