Saturday, August 20, 2011

Trader Joe's Macarons - or What are friends for?

If you don't know Paris Breakfast you MUST run over there at once!  Paris Breakfast travels to Paris several times a year in order to keep us on the cusp of everything French, with a particular emphasis on French pastries and macarons.  She selflessly researches, photographs, paints, and shares her findings with us.
When I recently told her that I now have access to Trader Joes, she mentioned that she has never tired TJ's macarons because she has to use public transit to and from TJ's.  I recognized my duty at once:  I went straight to TJ's and bought this box of vanilla and chocolate macarons.

By the time I got home with it - 20 minutes at 94 degrees- they had defrosted, and I carefull removed one of each flavor from the box.    Please note that the macs are NOT a uniform size.  Hmmmm. Uh-oh!  The vanilla shell top crumbled as soon as it touched it!  

I put them both to the taste test.  They were OK, a bit too sweet but I think that is because they're vanilla and chocolate.   I've never had a vanilla mac or a plain chocolate macaron.  Half the fun of macs is the gorgeous colors and exotic flavor combinations.  I think the flavors (like pistachio, passionfruit, chocolate with blackberry filling, etc.) cut the sweetness and add a bit of tang.
But back to that collapsing vanilla shell:  would a second mac crumble, too?  I tried it, and it DID!  Now I was on a mission, and I had to remove all of them from the package.  Egad!  Every last one of the vanillas crumbled.  You can't serve crumbled macs to guests.  I had to choke them all down.  Then I noticed the irregular sizes of the chocolate macs.  Those, too, would have to go.  Can't serve guests irregular macs.  But, hey Paris Breakfasts, what are friends for?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Polymer clay Altoid travel tin - in which I save you from all my mistakes!

My home-made Altoids travel tin is traveling in France!  Sadly, I am NOT traveling in France.  I gave it to a deserving artist, who filled it with these watercolors and is giving it a good workout.  Photos to be posted later.
If you're interested in making one, here's what I did...

First, trace around the outside of the tin 3 times.  You are making a template for 3 layers of polymer clay.  Draw the pans you think you'd like to make.  I drew a couple of designs before choosing one.  If you use a fat marker (like an old Sharpie) it will make a line about 1/8 inch wide and that is the thickness you need to leave around the outside of the template and between each pan.  You can make the pans any shape and size you like.

Condition your clay and roll it out a the thickest setting.  Cut 3 pieces from your template.  I chose a very white clay with a bit of sparkle.  

Typically, using cutters like these cookie cutters will give you the best cuts in polymer clay, but these were not the exact shape and size I wanted and since I had to cut both remaining layers identically, I ended up with some very wonky holes.
I found that using the blade cutter to mark the cutting lines worked best.  First I lightly marked them, then I cut out the openings with a craft knife.  If you wish, you can lay the tracing paper template right on top of the clay to mark it.  Repeat on the other layer and put them both into the tin.  You now have a stack of 3 layers - one is not cut at all and the top two are cut identically to form paint pans.
Use a clay tool to square up the edges and smooth the openings.  Manicure tools would work, too.  Roll out  a very thin  snake of clay and using the tool, press it into the void between the clay and the edge of the tin.  This will keep water from slopping down the sides into the bottom.  Fire per manufacturer's instructions, cool it and fill!