A post for those of you who have been wondering about the earlier appearance of the Himalayan poppy. On our drives through Argyll to catch the Islay ferry, I am often struck by the displays of azaleas and rhododendrons in the front gardens between Inveraray and Lochgilphead. These, in lurid 1970s shades of pink and orange, look amazing when set against the slatey blue-green waters of Loch Fyne, and I have often wondered if the locals are buying their plants at Crarae.

An Edwardian garden acquired by the National Trust in 2002, Crarae showcases an important collection of Himalayan plants in an absolutely stunning setting. Rhododendron Ponticum rightly gets a bad press in a Highland context, but Crarae is home to 600 different rhododendron species and hybrids, which are carefully managed among the native woodland.

The Crarae burn tumbles down the hillside to Loch Fyne, and the garden is built around the water and its gorge. Petal-strewn paths and bridges criss-cross the burn through colourful, gloriously scented woods, while the presence of larches, firs, and and tantalising glimpses of the surrounding lochs and mountains remind you that you are in Scotland, not the Himalayas.

I am sure the garden looks beautiful when it puts on its Autumn hues, but surely nothing beats the colourful eye-candy of the place in early June.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, and I was definintely in the mood for Crarae’s crazy floral confectionery.

The paths around the garden are very well-designed, with several waymarked routes for different walking abilities. I was particularly pleased to see that the Trust had designed a low-level wheelchair-accessible route, which took in the wonderful display of meconopsis at the top of this post. But, after my walking experiments, I was feeling ambitious, and decided to attempt the “white route”, which covered a couple of kilometres and some steep stretches up and down the gorge. The paths are managed, so unlike a “real” hill, there are steps, hand-rails, and benches to assist those who are tired or uncertain of foot. This was a great way for me to to attempt some inclines, and to enjoy some glorious sights and smells along the way.

I managed without the crutch again, as you can see, and am thinking more and more that gardens (of which there are many superb examples in Scotland, including Inverewe, which I shamefully have never seen) are a marvelous way for me to enjoy the outdoors while I am rehabilitating.

In other news, I must also report a resounding confectionery success, relative to which I have a query. While my own baking is rather workaday and unexciting (limited to bread, scones, and the occasional carrot or marmalade cake) Tom has a penchant for fancy cakes and pies which he makes extremely well. He has quite an exacting approach, and can spend months comparing and testing different recipes for tarte tatin or clafoutis. (This means, of course, that I get to try out these delicious treats and I am not complaining). While I was in hospital, Tom did not bake much, and consequently found himself buying a fair few cakes. He developed a fondness for a particular dessert made by Maison Blanc for Waitrose – a sort of chewy, nutty meringue, sandwiched together with mascarpone. He has been wanting to make this since he first tried it, but the cake was bewilderingly unnamed on the Maison Blanc box, and his search for a recipe was initially hampered by the fact that neither of us really knew what to call it. When I was a kid, Smiths, our local bakers sold something similar, (albeit less deluxe) which we referred to as a japonais, but a search for this did not turn up a recipe. Tom finally found a description of something called “Swiss Meringue” in Leith’s techniques bible, which, with chopped hazelnuts and white-wine vinegar to assure chew, sounded about right, and he tried it out on Sunday night. We lacked mascarpone, so he whipped up a vanilla cream instead. This thing was really unbelievably good – much better, indeed, than the Maison Blanc original. Courtesy of the swiss meringue, we have been happily floating away to pattiserie-land for the past couple of evenings, and it has whetted Tom’s appetite to attempt more in the way of such desserts. He has never made macaroons, and has read conflicting things about their ease (or lack thereof) of execution. He wondered whether you had recommendations of a good macaroon recipe, or whether you might have any macaroon-making tips. Any advice very gratefully received!

56 thoughts on “confectionery

  1. I’ve never tried making them, but my Nigella Lawson cookbook, How to be a Domestic Godess, has several macaroon recipes that look delicious.

  2. Delighted to hear of your continuing progress, as always. Some of my favourite recent outings have been to National Trust properties where the gardens are just as attractive (if not more so) than the houses they surround.

    There’s a macaron tutorial pdf on the sidebar of Tartelette’s blog which seems pretty comprehensive – I have downloaded and read it in preparation for my own attempt, but have not actually tried it myself. She also has a lot of macaron recipes.

  3. If you know the French cheese truck that parks at the southern edge of the Meadows, the guy-owner (Cedric) made some fantastic ones, possibly even better than the ones at Henri’s. It seems he did a lot of research; he might be willing to share tips. And the cheese is pretty good.

  4. I’d second the Nigella Lawson recommendation – How to Eat has a very good basic recipe (tested over the years with several different children / beginners), delicious variations in Domestic Goddess

  5. A wonderful post! I’ve actually trekked in the Himalyans and seen the groves of Rhododendrons. Gorgeous, of course, as is where you live. Scotland is on my list of places I would love to visit!

    Your husband might enjoy making Pavlova. It’s a nice Summer dessert for Summer. Martha Stewart has a good recipe.

  6. Inverewe, approximately 18 years ago was a wonderful place, and most probably still is. We had a family holiday in Ullapool where it rained every day for a week. Our highlights were threefold: Inverewe gardens, hours spent in The Ceilidgh Place and the arrival and departures of the Caladonian McBrayne. As to macaroons, yes please!

  7. Do you mean macaroons as in the Nigella book mentioned above? Or do you mean macaroons as in those made by Lees?

    If the latter then there is a recipe in “Maw Broon’s Cookbook”.

    And this recipe proves what my father always told me – there’s potato in them! Shame on me for not believing him.

  8. The photos are gorgeous!! The cakes – oh the temptation! But I have something very serious to tell you – there was a bit on the news on Five that your hairstyle is THE way to wear your hair this summer – can you cope with being so fashionable!!

  9. Thank you for photographs of infinite beauty. (My Nana made the best macaroons but took the recipe to the grave with her – sob)

  10. Swiss Meringue sounds like it’s right up my alley! I’ve never made macaroons myself (my dad doesn’t like coconut, and somehow that’s always held me back even though I like coconut myself) but Orangette has lovely recipes and a weakness for macaroons:

    Macaroons originally were made with almonds and not coconut, and I have made and loved this kind for a while. There is an excellent recipe in the Joy of Cooking – not sure how available the book is in Scotland though.

  11. Nigella’s macaroons are very like what Maison Blanc sell in Waitrose. They’re really easy, as long as you’ve got a food processor to grind the nuts if you want to make the pistachio version which is really yummy – as far as I know no-one sells ready-ground pistachios. You do end up with a lot of egg yolks left over, but I found this recipe which uses them up nicely!

  12. That’s funny, because here in Switzerland, we have a confectionery that sound similar and is called a “japonais”!!! I’ts two meringue, inside there is a butter creme and outside chopped hazelnut. Thanks to you, I discovered what is “Swiss meringue” (I only new normal and italian meringue…)!

    For the macaroons, I have a lot of sites or recipes, but all in french… Are you interested? Oh, and my neighbour who is apparently just like your Tom (in the need of the perfect macaroons) thaught me some tricks. The most important is that you really need the perfect almond powder and you need a white sugar very pure to make your sirup for the italian meringue. White sugar cubes are the best (they are more raffinated).

    Hope that helps!

  13. Our poppies are looking good this year and the wetter it gets the bluer they appear. I find that ‘Scottish’ style gardens with Rhododendrons and conifers, heathers etc actually look better in the rain – or am i just kidding myself?

    your photos are just beautiful – thank you for sharing them.

  14. Kate,
    I had been keeping a close eye on your blog, especially after your stroke this past winter. Recently, I have not been able to check in like I normally do and now that I have been reading backwards, I am absolutely amazed at the progress that you have made! After hearing that your mobility was so greatly affected after the stroke, I felt a genuine sadness, especially given how prominent hiking and all of your outings were in your life. As odd as this may seem, I felt so much joy at reading how you were able to walk without a crutch, walk on the beach (without your brace!) and are generally able to get outside again. You have worked so hard and have gotten so far! I am so happy for you and admire your determination~

  15. Hi there, I was pointed in the direction of you by a friend who thought I would be just the right person to tell you all about macaroon making
    see here
    obviously she was joking as I am beyond rubbish.

    However I am so glad she did show my your blog as it has reminded me how beautiful Islay is. My hubby and I moved to NZ five years ago – from Glasgow- and for the last few years before we left we went to Islay for our holidays – often staying in Portnahaven – No 10 Beach Road ?? I think – it belongs to friends of ours! I would drive and ferry with the dog and hubby and sometimes various family members would fly. I love Islay, I always will.
    We even thought about moving there. We couldn’t afford anything that came on the market, though so ended up coming to NZ to try and replicate the life we wanted – I think we’ve managed.
    Anyway I just wanted to say thank you. And wish you all the best – it looks like you are doing splendidly.
    Laura xxx

  16. Beautiful gardens! A lovely way to replenish body and soul.
    I think one of the main secrets to meringues, and probably macaroons, is to make them in dry weather with low humidity. Visiting Meiringen, Switzerland, last year, the town claims to be the originator of meringues; hence, the name meringue. Perhaps that’s where “Swiss meringue” comes from? (It’s also a major destination for Sherlock Holmes fans since Reichenbach Falls is there, where Holmes and Moriarty met their deaths.

  17. You really should visit Inverewe. The rhodies and azeleas are truly lovely. If I remember correctly the paths are relatively flat. But you do drive through some truly lovely country to get there.

  18. So nice to see someone being positive about my beloved Rhododendrons. They are stunning en masse. I wish I had time to get to Crarae to see them :-(

  19. You must get to Inverewe gardens – utterly wonderful. And such an interesting spot, geographically; so sheltered.

  20. I have to second the recipes from ‘Domestic goddess’, I have tried several of the macaroons, and they have all been wonderful. She also has something called ‘gooey chocolate stack’, which is worth taking a look at if you’re into chocolate at all. And I have to recommend Martha Stewarts pine needle cookies, which are slightly more chewy than macaroons, but really lovely. nut cookies&rsc=header_1

  21. I’m so moved by the remarkable places you show us. I have a friend from the Hebrides and he brought me a bottle of Bowmore once and described the place, the hills and the sea while we drank it – it’s one of my favorite memories and now its illuminated by your wonderful pictures.
    As for meringue, Nigella Lawson’s various pavlova recipes are wonderful – they have that engaging chewiness which I recall has a lot to do with letting the oven cool with the meringue inside.

  22. re. macaroons

    Eddie Windass was making macaroons on Corrie last week. Roy Cropper advised the use of shredded rather than desiccated coconut.

    Glad to see things are still improving and to see all the lovely garden pics. Have been meaning to phone — will soon

  23. Hi Kate and Tom, usual lurker but I’ve been having a macarons obsession lately so thought I’d share. I did a lot of testing with the oven setting (keeping track of it all): different temperatures, height in the oven, sticking a wooden spoon in there 2 minutes after baking starts (which helped), etc. The trickiest thing is to figure out how to get the batter just right, it makes a *huge* difference to the final result. What I ended up doing to get a feel for it was to start by folding it, say, 4 times, and then pipe a row of macarons, fold one other time, pipe another row, etc., keeping track of how many times I had folded for each row. The point of this was not necessarily to know exactly how many times I needed to fold (I’m thinking this would vary from time to time) but get a feel for what the batter looks like when it’s folded just right. I’m still experimenting a lot but my macarons look so much better than they initially did, and now it’s just fixing up some minor details. You can also freeze the shells once they’re done, which gives you more flexibility to figure out the filling later on. I do a small indentation with my thumb in half of the shells when they are still warm which helps make the filling spread and look nicer. Do get in touch if you want to share how yours are going, I am a very lonely macaron-experimenter in Vancouver!

  24. We were in Fife last year and I bought Macaroon from a local cakeshop. We ate it at the top of West Lomond and were amazed to find that it was almost solid sugar. Is this the Maw Broon version, do you think?

  25. I love the flower pictures. Very beautiful. I make coconut macaroons a few times a year. Although that is not exactly what you asked for I thought I would contribute. This is a fast and easy treat. Below is the recipe I use, modified from a book to remove the flour for folks that are kosher and/or gluten-free.
    1/3 cup cornstarch (original recipe called for sifted all purpose flour)
    pinch of salt
    2 and 1/2 c dried coconut
    2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    Preheat oven to 350F. Use lined, greased baking sheets. Stir cornstarch, salt, and coconut in large bowl until well blended. Pour in milk. Add vanilla extract. Stir well again. Drop spoonfuls onto sheet about an inch apart. Bake, usually about 10 min max. I suggest watching them like a hawk for the first batch or so to judge how fast your oven heats them. The coconut burns fast once it starts to brown. Enjoy!

  26. Can’t help you with macaroons, but OH used to eat a cake when visiting his N Yorks grandma which was called a Jap.
    I’ve asked him and apparently & it was round and domed (he actually said “Tit-shaped”!), with a brown meringue base (presumably with nuts in) topped with something akin to the whipped stuff in a Mars bar, and covered in dark chocolate. Usually with a piece of candied angelica on top!

    Sounds ghastly to me – sweet things not my big vice – but I’m glad you’re enjoying yours and hope you find a good macaroon recipe soon.

  27. Rice paper is essential for the biscuit sized almond macaroons – it gives exactly the right amount of chewiness. If you aspire to the small multi-coloured macaroons you should spend a while sampling in Angelinas in Paris to make sure that you know what to aim for.

  28. Macaroons. Yum. (grin) I have made them a few times, but I don’t make a true macroon. (Well, true as in it is not an egg white based cookie.) I wing it, or follow the recipe off the back of the sweetened flaked coconut bag. Easy. Granted you get a nice chewy macaroon which you might not be after. (Some of my friends toast the flaked coconut before using it in their mix to make macaroons.)

  29. I’ve been reading your blog for several weeks and I am following your progress!I want to praise you for your fortitude, you definitely deserve a good round of macarons (as we say in France). Here is the address of the site of the French Macaroon Goddess ,called Mercotte. Enjoy!

  30. My main tip for almond macaroons is not to overbake if you want that delicious chewy texture.
    My mouth was watering when you described the Swiss Meringues. Our local cake shop used to sell something similar when I was a child (nearly sixty years ago) and we called them Jap Cakes.
    I’ve been following your progress since the stroke and just wanted to say that the picture of you paddling in the sea really made my heart sing. Such a small thing but such a big step. I’m full of admiration.

  31. Should you wish to sample Parisian macarons (I don’t know Angelina’s, but I do love Ladurée’s, and know a couple of other places), well just let me know so I can arrange a shipment before you can come to Paris – then I’ll gladly take you on a sampling crawl. I’ve never attempted them, personally, but would willingly help with recipe identification or translation if Tom needs it. You don’t usually get coconut macarons here ; nuts, almonds, chocolate, raspberry, pistacchio, coffee, vanilla are the most common flavors, and fancy places like Ladurée make all kinds of creative flavours.

  32. Lovely garden pictures!

    I don’t have any macaron-making recommendations per se, but I think that the best flavours are the ones that aren’t too rich or sweet: lemon, raspberry, pistachio. They seem to go very well with the light, crisp texure. I’ve tried lots of flavours (Laduree’s liquorice, Pierre Herme’s olive oil and vanilla, and the white truffle and hazlenut one) and the important thing seems to be that the flavour doesn’t try to outdo the texture, however freaky it is.

  33. If you want a macaroon-style cake, there’s a wonderful recipe in Claudia Rodin’s The Book of Jewish Food, Torta di Mandorle e Cioccolata, which is like a stracciatella macaroon made large, and an amazing gluten-free, low cholesterol cake.
    Thanks for all the wonderful blog posts. I’ve been rooting for you every step of the way and hope your recovery continues apace.

  34. J’allais proposer la bible aux macarons qu’est le site de Mercotte [ ] mais cette référence a déjà été fournie. Mon commentaire est rédigé en français, mais l’article est prévu pour les gourmands anglophones.
    Encore jamais testé, mais recette connue et reconnue comme référence pour les macarons sur la blogosphère culinaire francophone.

    J’ai un peu de mal à tout lire régulièrement ici. Mais le souvenir encore vif des landes écossaises, et le plaisir de vous lire prennent le dessus sur mon manque des vocabulaire…

    Bonne continuation,

  35. Hi Kate,
    What amazing photos, so bright, crisp, clear. POP.
    Gardens, of course! Another great place to regain strength and take on “new” terrain. You are so good at finding great ways to tackle the challenges ahead of you. You have problem solver in every cell of your being. My mother believes that as we age or when we find ourselves in truly extreme circumstances we are distilled to our essence. Part of your essence seems to be Problem Solver Extraordinaire!

    Let me know if you ever decide to take a walk at Bartram’s!

  36. Hi,
    I have just discovered your blog and admire your attitude to your health setbacks. I fractured a bone in my right hand 3 weeks ago and had to have surgery to temporary pin it (bit worried about the removal). Progress in therapy is slow and frustrating (it IS my right hand) but ready about your progress has helped. thanks for sharing

  37. I have to confess that I have always loved the rhododendrons and azaleas that have gone wild on the west coast. The part I know best, from cycling as an adult and family trips as a child, is Fort William to Oban and the Morvern peninsula. I know they are weeds and a horticultural pest but they are beautiful.

    I cannot help on the macaroon front – not that you need any more help – Nigella Lawson is a guilty pleasure for me and my usual first port of call, along with my late mother-in-law’s several Good Housekeeping recipe books.

  38. Wonderful garden photos! Made me really want to visit there myself. Since I don’t drive, I have no idea how I can get around if I should travel to Scotland, but it’s my dream.
    Also happy to know that you are better every week!

    It is funny reading people’s comments because in Japan, we have no idea what japonais means. But I just checked up Japanese version of Wikipedia and found out that it is widely called Dacquoise. And the first person who made it in sort of oval shape was Japanese, who saw Dacquoise in Paris and adopted it to make it look like another traditional Japanese sweet. We have a sweet called Monaka in Japan, a sandwitch of light bread-like skin and sweetened red bean filling. It’s semi-oval shaped and light gold brown.

    I don’t like coconut macaroon, but I love the French ones. Never thought of trying to make one by myself, but now I am totally inspired! Thank you everyone :)

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About Kate Davies

writer, designer and creator of Buachaille (100% Scottish wool)