Summer is a busy time for traveling, visiting and occasionally inviting guests into your home. Like you, I've visited many homes, under many circumstances, and have seen a variety of methods employed by hosts to entertain guests and make them feel welcome - or not.
One host prepared exquisite meals, shared the house rules and welcomed us into a clean and cared for home. Another was more "laid back" as people arrived, asking the guests to wash the outdoor chairs so they could sit down and prep the food for themselves while they disappeared to the store because their wasn't enough of anything for anyone. Whatever the style, it's very interesting to see how different people manage house guests.
I stumbled across an article from 1906 that described the importance of being a good host, going so far as to recommend that the master and mistress of the house sleep in the guest bedroom for several nights before guests arrive to identify things that need improvement.
Is the mirror by which they dress too high or low or ill-lighted so that no bureau scarf will atone for it...Many people require more than one pillow and you should have several available...No matter how short the time, there should be a space for the guest to keep clothes and small things....Failure in simple acts of hospitality causes great discomfort to the visitor.
Clearly, this is the opposite of the 'here's a key and there's the couch' approach.
Then, of course there are the house guests themselves. Remember the rule that guests and fish begin to stink after three days? You know how it goes.
What's important to you when you're hosting guests at your place and what do you expect from others when they visit? How about when you are the guest and someone else is the host? Do your expectations change? I love hearing what you have to say.
By the way, if you are entertaining this summer, I definitely recommend this recipe for Lavender White Chocolate Macarons. We came up with the recipe idea on our recent trip to the Cape Cod Lavender Farm. Our visit was a bit off-season in terms of catching the lavender in full bloom but they had plenty of dried, edible lavender available and the farm was still a feast for the eyes.
Macarons are notoriously temperamental and I recommend practicing the recipe. I've made a list of tips that have been helpful to me in the past. I hope you also find them helpful.
10 Tips For Making Macarons
Macarons are tricky business. Unfortunately, it takes very little to affect the recipe and turn your fluffy delectable creations into flat chewy discs. Here are a few tips for getting them right.
Before you start:
1. Age your egg whites. Measure out the egg whites and let them sit in a sealed container in the refrigerator for 3-7 days.
2. When you're ready to make the macarons, do so in a dry, climate controlled room. Like chocolate, macarons don't perform well in humidity. If you're making these in the summer, turn up the a/c for several hours before you start.
3. Make sure the ingredients are dry. For example, don't use almond flour that's been sitting in a humid room. Keep it in an air conditioned room. Some people dry the flour out in the oven at a low temperature and then cool it before use. I haven't tried it but it might work for you.
4. The consistency of the egg whites is critical. Chill the metal bowl from your stand mixer for about 20 minutes. Then, fit the mixer with a whisk attachment. Add a pinch of cream of tartar to the bowl. Add the egg whites and begin whipping on low speed. Gradually increase the speed. When the whites begin to take shape, add the sugar (and food coloring) and increase the speed again. The egg whites are done when you pull the whisk away and the egg whites stand up on their own and form peaks. The peaks should not be dry, however. They should be firm and glossy, and when you pull the whisk away, they should flop over a bit at the top.
5. Do not stir but fold the egg whites into the dry ingredients with a spatula. You want to do this fairly quickly and get the batter to just about the ribbon stage. That is, when you lift the spatula, the batter should fall down from the spatula in rippling stream.
6. Test the batter as you go along. Before you pipe anything, place a teaspoon of batter on a silicone baking sheet. Let the batter sit there for about 30 seconds. If the teaspoon of batter has a point at the top, from where you pulled away the spoon, keep folding - the batter is too thick. Test it again. If the batter spreads out on the sheet, you over-folded the batter and need to make the entire recipe for macarons again. The goal is to have the batter spread out a tiny bit after about 30 seconds on the cookie sheet- just enough for a slight spread in the batter and for the top to lose it's point. It's better to over-test than have to discard the batch due to too much mixing.
7. Use silicone baking sheets placed on cookie sheets. I learned this the hard way. French pastry chefs might be able to easily peel the macarons of parchment paper but for a novice, it's hard to do.
8. Using a pastry bag, pipe the macarons using a #5 tip so that they are the size of a quarter. Leave space in between macarons because they will spread out slightly.
9. Allow the macarons to sit on baking sheets for 30 minutes to an hour. They will form a light skin on top and should not be sticky when you touch them. If they don't dry properly, they'll crack during baking. If they dry to much, they'll taste like chewy lead.
10. Test bake a few macarons in your oven to make sure the temperature is right. Most recipes call for 350 degrees (180C). That's too hot for my oven. I've learned to set my oven to 325 degrees. I only bake one sheet pan at a time. I rotate the pan after 9 minutes and I continue to bake for 2-5 minutes more depending on the size. They should be firm at the top but not brown. Once completely cool, remove from the silpat by peeling them away.
Of course, I can't guarantee the success of your macarons. Sometimes the factors that affect them are out of your control. The most important thing is to be patient and persistent. The result is worth it.
Lavender White Chocolate Macarons
Read the macaron tips above before you get started.
2 c plus 1 1/2 tsp (180 g) almond flour/ meal
2 c plus 2 1/2 tsp (240 g) powdered sugar
1/2 tsp (2 g) sea salt
1 pinch cream of tartar
2/3 c - about 4 large eggs (140 g or 150 ml) organic egg whites, aged
3/4 tsp (3 g) egg white powder
1/3 c plus 1 tbs (80 g) cane sugar
A few drops of purple food coloring (keep in mind, the color fades a bit during baking so it's okay to add an extra drop of color to the batter)
Place the dry ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, add the cream of tartar, the egg whites and the egg white powder. Whip the egg whites on low. Gradually increase the speed to medium high. As the egg whites begin to take shape, add sugar and food coloring. Whip until stiff, glossy peaks form.
Using a spatula, fold the egg whites into the dry ingredients.
Using a #5 tip and a pastry bag, pipe macarons about the size of a quarter onto a silicone baking sheet. Allow the batter to dry for 30 minutes to an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (180 C) (my uneven oven requires the temperature to be 325 degrees - it's trial and error).
Bake the macarons for 9-12 minutes, one sheet at a time, rotating the pan half way through. They are done when they are puffed and firm but not brown.
Place the sheet pan on a cooling rack. Once completely cool, peel the silpat away from the macarons. Don't use a spatula, you'll destroy the foot ( the cool looking crumbly bottom that gives the macaron its distinctive look).
Lavender and White Chocolate Ganache
1 3/4 c (180 g) white chocolate, chopped
1/3 c (100 ml or 80 g) heavy cream
1 tsp (3 g) food grade lavender
1 tbs (15 g) salted butter, cubed and softened
Place chopped chocolate in a bowl. Heat the heavy cream with the lavender and steep like a tea for 3-5 minutes or until you get the amount of lavender taste you desire. Strain and discard lavender. Return cream to pan and bring the cream to a gentle boil. Pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate melts. If you need more help melting the chocolate you can heat it on low in the microwave in 10 second bursts, stirring in between, until the chocolate is fully melted. Stir in the butter. Chill until the consistency is thicker but spreadable.
Spread desired amount between two macaron discs and press gently.