Macaron A Sweet Indulgence

David Broadbent Photography, macaron,

Becks Gough is a perfectionist – in all things. This bright eyed and enthusiastic Cinderford young woman is not the type to give up easily. And when, by chance, during a weekend in Paris she happened on the eye catching shop front of Ladurée on 75 Avenue de Champs Elysées she had – found her thing as they say – Macaron making. The window display of this famous patisserie and tea room, which has a history that began in 1862, definitely has the WOW factor and Becks and her friend bought some to try and also to take home to her mum. Macarons are delicate things but with lots of soft packaging and careful handling Becks got the colourful pastries home to Cinderford after a 15 hour return coach trip. Both Becks and her mum, Chloe, were impressed!

As so often happens, a life time’s work can begin with the belief “I can do that”. That was two years ago and in between time Becks has had several successes but many, many more failures whilst trying to perfect her own macaron method.

What could possibly go wrong? How long have you got? A slightly different mix and – fail; folded too much – fail; not folded enough – fail; try a different oven on exactly the same settings – fail! Becks’ list goes on. She purchased the Ladurée book and took control of the process and slowly but surely she got there. Soon friends were asking for some and then friends of friends and so it continues.

Why macarons? Was our obvious question – “Both mum and dad are professional chefs with a services background and I wanted to do something different” just to find MY thing.

David Broadbent Photography
A Sweet Indulgence

So, how do yours compare to the best? Rather coyly and for some unknown reason a hint of embarrassment Becks says “Better”. A few days later a very colourful rainbow of macarons appeared to sample and photograph. Pushed to deadlines and up against competing demands we didn’t think that we could do the tasting justice. So, we took them, all of them, to a very fine country house in Lincolnshire which had been hired in its entirety for a, appropriately, a Royal Navy wedding!

So in the resplendent Edwardian halls and sitting rooms the night before the wedding over drinks and bonhomie we tried out Becks’ creations on the assembled close family and friends. The colours when you open a box of Sweet Indulgence macarons are what immediately grab your attention. Let the tasting begin….

The verdict was in from a very tough crowd. Wonderful and numerous other superlatives in the stampede to try all the flavours – lemon cream, strawberry and cream, raspberry and cream, blueberry and cream, Chocolate ganache, orange blossom and salted caramel.

The bride herself loved them, but daren’t try any more than one since her dress was very precisely fitted for the big day following. The bride’s mother loved the orange blossom ones best. The bride’s father loved them all (as did we).  And, Ali, a flight stewardess for an American airline and someone who has visited the Champs Elysées outlet and tasted the original – loved them and pronounced them even better than the Paris version!! There you have it – confirmation that you should try some.

Contact Becks on b.gough1991@hotmail.com

Wassail!!

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Lots of fun being invited to the very first Apple County Cider wassail ceremony at the cider orchards at Newcastle in Monmouthshire at the weekend. For this inaugural event, there was a modest but very enthusiastic crowd too on a cold, but stunningly beautiful, Monmouthshire day. Just a short walk from the roadside car parking and we were into the orchard proper. Stark and bare at this time of year the orchard was mid-winter prune but the mistletoe was on full power with bright white gelatinous berries glinting in the afternoon sun.

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Penny Plowden. The Butler. Wassail with Apple County Cider

Wassailing is a one of those fabulous pagan ceremonies that date back thousands of years. The name Wassail is thought to originate either from the old Norse Scandinavian language “Ves heil” or the old English “Was hal” in either case a hearty toast to good health. Mix in a little bit of medieval German drinking tradition and, well anyway you get the picture…Fabulous English pagan tradition that Christianity (like so many of our other traditional ceremonies) put up with, adopted and adapted.

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Dogs can Wassail too.

Wassailing is a ceremony to wake up the trees from their long winter snooze and to give them life and vigour just as spring is about to spring (very early as it happens this year). Actually, the history of it is far more complicated than that it would seem  with any number of geographical variations. Wassail, is more accurately, the name for hot mulled cider drink which accompanies the festivities and Ben & Steph Culpin had a large pot of their cider on the burner with their secret mulling recipe on a gentle simmer. The smell of the mulled cider on the breeze was just fantastic.

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Wassail with Apple County Cider

No pagan tradition seems complete without a tipple or indeed music, singing and generally being pretty hopeful that, you, having a good time and paying respect to nature will pay off with a bumper harvest. You start to see the attraction of paganism….? On accordion the magnificently bearded Morris Wintle played some lovely traditional music and with him (as Life of Riley folk band partner), Penny Plowden, in her own very first act of, master of ceremony of the wassail, led the singing and read the traditional wassail texts. Dressed in her black school teachers gown and blazer with top hat decorated with ribbon and of course, the traditional black face (no-one seems sure why, but probably just a notional “disguise”).

 wassail, life of reilly, band, folk, folklore, orchard, apple, cider,
Wassail with Apple County Cider

And so, what could be nicer than a couple of hours outdoors in a fabulous orchard, drinking mulled cider, respecting tradition and having some exercise with a processional walk around the orchard behind the band. We wished everyone “good health” and drank a tipple to, hopefully, a great harvest and another great year for this young but fast becoming famous Welsh craft cider maker.

 wassail, life of reilly, band, folk, folklore, orchard, apple, cider,
Wassail with Apple County Cider

The band and the crowd moved on to The Bell at Skenfrith where to the musical score provided by the Life of Reilly in Ceilidh music and dancing mode the pagan well-wishers dined on confit belly pork, mash and cider jus or roasted sweet potato, apple, chestnut and blue cheese pie followed by apple crumble or apple tarte tatin.

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Cider maker Ben Culpin. Wassail with Apple County Cider

Turkey

 

Well it’s that time of year again and all thoughts are slowly turning toward the festivities (and a much needed break for some). It’s time to plan your parties and your menus and over indulge, just for a while, until you throw yourself headlong into your New Year resolutions for half a day or so. That’s right, let’s face it those few extra pounds from the Christmas feast are never going to go away!

Some of our favourite suppliers have great offers for the holiday period. Particularly at this time of year when we treat ourselves and spoil ourselves a little there’s no better time to BUY LOCAL and BUY QUALITY. Even those of us on a tight budget are thinking of a blow out so why not spend some (or all of that) money locally. It’ll help the local economy, it’ll help our great local producers and most of all the products and service is GREAT.

Let’s start with that great “British” tradition of turkey. There are lots of great alternatives but this is the time of year when we all go mad for the big bird! Home for Christmas is not something that is guaranteed. But when I’m home there is nothing I like more than my own traditional ritual. I’m a sucker for a turkey lunch at Christmas. I love preparing it, cooking it, and eating it….for days. I love the cold cuts for Boxing Day brunch, love the thinly sliced breast meat for turkey sandwiches, love the turkey curry and the finale Christmas lunch soup!!

The prelude is calling in at Taurus Crafts Christmas Market (first two weekends in December) to choose a tree, which always gets me in the mood. Although there is always lots of lovely food and drink to enjoy, it’s normally choosing the tree and the singers Taurus find that really kick-starts those Christmassy feelings.

The actual ritual starts mid-morning on Christmas Eve with a visit to Brian Baker at Close Turf Farm (on the back road from St Briavels to Lydney 01594 530277 to order).  Here I pick up the big bird ready for the following day. Brian raises his turkeys at the farm from hatchlings until they are ready for market and like all of the produce from Close Turf – absolutely top quality.

I love the feeling of pulling into the farmyard and chatting to the whole Baker family who by Christmas Eve have already been working like mad! But they are still cheerful and ready for that one last push. All their birds are plump and have that desperately fresh aroma.  Fresh and complete with their pluck, the big bird comes home to begin preparations.

Turkey chicks on the farm
Turkey chicks on the farm

Nothing fancy on the big day either, just traditionally and liberally covered with butter and good streaky bacon, with two halves of orange and some bay leaves inside and sitting on a bed of stock vegetables. Traditional veg too of course, roasted potatoes, carrots and parsnip and of course the famous Brussel sprout. I love them and cook them the way Yvette Farrell at Harts Barn Cookery School suggests (leave out the lardons if you need to). Then it’s in the oven during Bucks Fizz at the stables Christmas morning get together before home for lunch!!

Our family table is often a mix of poultry lovers, poultry hater’s and vegetarians. Which sounds complicated – but it’s not. All the veg is prepped and cooked to suit everyone (with the exception of 2-way Brussel sprouts) and the main components are cooked individually and to order. Simples!