I have asked Santa for only one thing this Christmas. A cookbook by Thomas Keller called Bouchon Bakery. I have always loved baking. I’m pretty good at it, but I want to take my skill to the next level. Something about the precision and, of course, the sweet products satisfy my desire for order and comfort that, at times, the creative side of my nature is entirely lacking, especially the order part. When I feel out of control or upset, I either clean or bake, but I much prefer to bake. What I really want to do, however, is to learn how to bake croissants and pastries, French pastries. I also want to learn to make macarons, not the coconut macaroons I grew up eating and enjoying, but the delicate French confections made with two meringue cookies sandwiching a luscious filling between them.
My interest in macarons blossomed after reading a book called The Color of Tea by a first time author, Hannah Tunnicliffe. Fantastic book! It’s about a young British woman who opens a tea shop in Macau after realizing she won’t have children. Baking and opening her shop helps her heal and gives her life direction and purpose. The chapters in the book were enough to inspire anyone to learn to make macarons. Each chapter was titled with a new flavor: gunpowder green tea with sweet mandarin butter cream, espresso with dark chocolate ganache topped with a square of gold leaf, pear and chestnut with Poire Williams spiked buttercream. You get the picture. Well, I couldn’t get the idea of baking something that wonderful out of my mind. I even looked up how to make macarons on the internet and learned that they are a testy lot difficult to perfect and often cause inexperienced bakers to fail.
The temperamental nature of macarons is one of the reasons why I chose Thomas Keller’s book Bouchon Bakery. After days of research when I should have been revising my novel (Procrastinating? Me?) the reviews indicated Keller’s book to have the best instructions even for beginners to be successful. In my search to decide if making macarons was viable I watched a video on the internet showing how to make macarons, but the people spoke only French. Somehow I know I will get more help from clearly written instructions than from watching a French video, even though watching the chef’s technique was incredibly valuable. In addition to the macarons, Keller offers recipe makeovers of such favorites as Oreos and Nutter Butter sandwich cookies, not to mention savory breads as well.
I like the idea of getting a cook book as a gift. It is the gift that will allow me to give back to my family by making really good food for them. It also fits the profile of the perfect gift to give according to my husband. I have teased him over the years about his gifts because he doesn’t give me “traditional” girl gifts. Sometimes that has been frustrating, especially when my friends ask what I got for Christmas, but over the years I have realized he is incredibly romantic about his gift giving. He doesn’t go out and buy whatever he thinks a girl might want. Instead, he listens carefully to what I say and what I like to do and comes up with a gift corresponding to my interests: skis and new ski boots one year, a gift card from the Sundance Catalog another (I wanted some cowboy boots that year). He doesn’t usually give me jewelry or clothes or other “girl gifts,” although on our twentieth anniversary you could have knocked me over with a feather when I opened my gift—a diamond anniversary ring with diamonds all the way around the band!
My wish this year is for that book and the sweet smells of baking that will waft from my oven when I begin using it. I hope he will remember to include some baking supplies and perhaps a scale for accurate measuring. I also will need a pastry bag with tips and perhaps some baking sheets and tart pans. Hmmm…maybe I should have asked for a little bit more than just the book! Who knows? Maybe I will love baking so much I will be inspired to open up my own café and serve the wonderful baked goods I produce to the citizens of my little town, but even if I never share anything but the “fruits” of what I learn, I will enjoy learning. In fact, that is the kind of gift I enjoy the most, the kind that keeps giving you pleasure long after the gift has been opened. The pleasure grows with use.
What’s on your list this year?