I have this recurring nightmare that’s been haunting me for decades. I’m in a bakery surrounded by delectable and mouthwatering mounds of pastries. Croissants, cakes, pies, macarons and muffins piled high in baskets and platters in varying hues of browns and beiges. I can see steam wafting from the butter croissants and fresh icing still runny, dripping off the danishes. It’s one of the most beautiful and delicious sights ever. I’m overwhelmed by the wondrous selection and I can’t decide which to eat first. Chocolate torte first? Then I won’t have space for the tarts. I’m so torn. This indecisiveness goes on and on and feels as if the entire night of dreaming is spent trying to decide which pastry to taste first. Then the dream becomes a nightmare. I awake without having made a choice. My indecisiveness leaves me empty handed. As I’d slowly awake to reality, I’d be filled with regret for not having sunk my teeth into one of those heavenly pastries.
The first thought that comes to mind in any normal person is this dream simply means I’m a glutton for sweets. I on the other hand believed there was some profound reason why these nightmares visited me so often. Until recently when I thought I had a light bulb moment, only to discover the real meaning of my nightmare later. Before I explain this process of enlightenment, I’ll need to preface the situation. After high school, I was overwhelmed with ideas for my future. The world was my oyster. I loved many things – baking, writing, drawing, interior design and wanted to backpack throughout Europe amongst other things. I couldn’t decide what my pearl was. Then my mother asked if I could help revive her ailing flower shop in an upscale area of Toronto. I committed two years. Two years passed during which I renovated the space, evolved the bucket shop to a floral design studio and eventually had my mother retire.
Soon the “ailing” floral studio was servicing thousands of brides, celebrities, politicians and elite hotels yearly. Money was great but the 80 hour weeks were vicious. By Saturday night, I felt entitled to be a bon vivant. I’d hit the trendy fine dining circuit, drink fine wine, smoke Dunhills and fritter away much of my hard earned money. On Monday I’d start the relentless cycle of grueling work again.This went on until I got married and became pregnant. Suddenly my hedonistic lifestyle was put on indefinite hold. I had the baby and continued to work. It took crazy determination to keep the business strong while simultaneously raising a child. By the time I mustered up enough courage to have another kid (it took me 8 years), I realized I couldn’t raise two children well and run a quality design shop. Just a few weeks pregnant and exhausted, upon reading a few heart wrenching letters mailed to my shop from my then 7 year old about how much she missed her mommy, I sold the business in 2013. It took 18 years to finally part ways with the business I often called my “other child”. At times I ask myself if I made the right choice. And it’s always a resounding yes. For what other choice could possibly outweigh the experience of being a present mother and for a child to experience having one. Now rewind back to my bakery nightmare. A couple months ago I decided that this nightmare was simply about my voracious love for pastries, and therefore I must surround myself with all things pastries and make a career out of it. I signed up for a pastry arts diploma at a local college. Finally, I made my choice – why choose between chocolate cake and tarts when I could have it ALL? I was going to become a pastry chef. Finally, I found my proverbial Holy Grail and with it, my nightmares would disappear.
But they didn’t. In fact, the same nightmare came to haunt me even more. Was this the right choice? Should I be going to college to learn how to bake? I loved to bake and was getting better at it since becoming a stay at home mom, but I had doubts. I was a 40 year old first-generation Korean in Canada that as a child, had a mother who only baked Duncan Hines boxed cakes and a grandmother that didn’t know what a croissant was. I have no childhood memories of baking cookies and fruit cakes at Christmas. My childhood memories of cooking consisted of making salted spicy cabbage called kimchi, and learning how to wash rice. How could I be a pastry chef? Koreans don’t bake. White people bake.
As my insecurities and doubt heightened, the college called to tell me the program got cancelled due to low enrolment. I started contemplating going back to my 80 hours a week, flower shop life. That was the only skill set I had, and the only thing I knew I was really good at. I knew how to make beautiful flowers and design events. But the mere thought of being unavailable for my second child paralyzed the idea.Days passed and the acceptance that I had limited career prospects at 40 years old, was too much to bear. I turned on the television to distract my anxiety. The Harry Potter box set seemed to fill the prescription. By the second instalment of Chamber of Secrets I was hooked. Watching the two houses, Slytherins and Gryffindors battle it out in gothic Hogwarts required much concentration. The movie was so saturated with details such as blood lines, languages, powers and so on, I soon forgot my own worries until I arrived at the end of movie. There was a scene with professor Dumbledore (Richard Harris) congratulating Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) for making a difficult choice which ultimately saved his school and classmates.
“It is not our abilities that show what we truly are…it is our choices.”
I sat there gob-smacked. There he was. In his samurai-like robe and long white beard, Richard Harris with his legendary scratchy whisper had just spoon fed me the answer I had been searching for. The bakery in my recurring nightmares was my life and the pastries were life’s choices. I couldn’t decide which pastry to eat because I couldn’t get past my fear. Fear of trying something different. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of failing. I realized that my abilities or lack thereof did not define me but that my choices would. That it’s the choices I make in life that determines what to do with my abilities or what abilities I would need to attain them. None of the pastries would be the wrong choice. They were all good. Suddenly, the world was my oyster again. I loved and still love many things. I love to bake. I love to travel. I love flowers. I love to write. I love anything beautiful. So with a bit of guidance from Harry Potter and Professor Dumbledore, I discovered my pearl in this world. I’ve finally made my choice in that bakery. Blogging.
I await now for my “bakery of life” nightmare to return. And when it does, I know I’ll be sinking my teeth into one of those heavenly pastries for the nightmare has already become a waking dream.
In a way, this blog will be my real life bakery of dreams. Dreamy towers of cakes, pyramids of donuts, piles of sweets adorned with jasmine strands and bushels of blossoming garden roses. Anything and everything opulent, decadent and grand. And Macarons are just that…little meringue jewels the Parisians have claimed as their reigning sweet confection. Smooth, shiny with a delicate pavé of bubbles supporting their crispy yet chewy bodies, sandwiched with a creamy centre where most of the flavour is embraced. Heaven on earth. Bon app!
- * 2 Cups or 250 grams powdered sugar
- * 1/14 or 135 grams cups slivered almonds
- * 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- * 4 egg whites or 120 grams room temperature egg whites (if your eggs are cold, set in bowl of warm water while you retrieve the rest of the ingredients) (if environment or almonds are moist, please use 3.5 egg whites or 105 grams egg whites) and loosely whisked to loosen up
- * ¼ cup super fine white sugar
- * 3.5 ounces bittersweet chocolate finely chopped
- * 2 tablespoons cold butter cut into small cubes
- * ½ cup heavy cream
- * 1½ teaspoons loose Earl Grey Tea or 1 bag Earl Grey tea
- * 1 table spoon finely grated orange zest from about 1 orange
- * 2 table spoons fresh orange juice
- * ¼ teaspoon allspice
- * ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 2. Arrange oven racks so theres one on the upper third and one on the lower third. Preheat oven to 300F.
- 3. Take parchment paper and cut out to fit your baking trays.
- 4. With pencil, draw out small 1 inch circles ( I used my Nespresso pod to draw circles ) spacing them about an inch apart. Than place paper with pencil side down on 2 baking trays and set aside
- 5. In a food processor combine 1 cup icing sugar and all the almonds, pulse for about 90 seconds,
- 6. Then add the other cup of powdered sugar and 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder and pulse again for another 30-45 seconds. You're looking for a flour like finish but be CAREFUL not to make a paste. Needs to be dry.
- 7. Sift flour through medium mesh strainer and discard the large pieces. If it exceeds a tablespoon, than run it through the food processor again and sift etc.
- 8. In a clean dry metal or glass bowl, or stand mixer, beat the egg whites with whisk attachment on low/medium speed until white and foamy...
- 9. Add the super fine sugar and continue beating on medium and gradually work up to medium high until you have firm peaks
- 10. Fold in the egg white meringue into the almond mixture in two parts.
- 11. When folding, try not to exceed 20-25 folds each time
- 12. Fill a pastry bag with a ¼ inch tip or just snip a corner of a ziplock bag and fill with batter.
- 13. Pipe a little on the corners of the parchment paper underneath so that the sheets are secured and don't move around
- 14. Carefully pipe the batter onto the baking sheets so they fill the circles.
- 15. Bang the trays about 5-6 times each so the air bubbles get released
- 16. Let the macarons now rest at room temperature for about 15 minutes or until a dry skin is formed over the cookies
- 17. Bake for 16 minutes rotating once about halfway through. Make sure the "feet" which are the bubbles have formed before rotating
- 18. Transfer to wire rack to finish cooling
- 20. On medium heat, bring the cream and the Earl Grey tea to a soft simmer
- 21. once bubbles start forming at sides of pan, set aside for at least 10 minutes
- 22. In a double boiler (sauce pan with water and a heat proof bowl on top of pot not touching water) place the chocolate, butter, orange juice and zest, allspice and salt in and stir until melted in your heatproof bowl. Once it's melted and well combined, set aside
- 23. Drain the cream and tea through a fine mesh strainer over the hot chocolate. Discard the tea
- 24. Stir until well combined.
- 25. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour
- 26. Once the ganache has cooled down and thickened, fill pastry bag with ¼ inch tip (massage ganache in piping bag if it hardened from the chill) and pipe about a teaspoon on one flat side of the macaron cookie and close with a second macaron cookie
- 27. Repeat with rest of cookies.
- -egg whites need to be room temperature before whisking- if using straight from fridge, pop in bowl of warm water for a few minutes
- -Always use a super clean and dry metal, glass or ceramic bowl ... Never plastic as theres usually some oil residue in plastic
- -Always start whisking on slow and allow a foam of small bubbles to develop before gradually whisking on medium then high.
- -Batter will be more on the thicker side…not too thick, not too runny. It’ll soften up as you pipe it out
- -Make sure not to over fold the batter…20-25 times each time you add the whites…and yes I do count
- -Tap the trays on the counter about 6 times to release air bubbles
- -Let the macarons rest at room temperature for 15 minutes and allow a dry skin to develop on cookies before popping in oven
- -Wait until the “feet” the little bubbles at the base of the biscuit have grown before rotating the baking trays in the oven
- -baked macarons can be stored in airtight container for up to 7 days in the fridge
Hi Betty, just wanted to say that I really loved reading your story. Although I’m older than you I see myself represented in your very own journey… I truly admire your work, and just found out that you are half Korean was a pleasant surprise! My son has been leaving in Korea over a year now and I am trying to learn the language (so hard! But fun!) because I see that he might stay there for a while…anyway, thanks for sharing your beautiful story
Thank you so much for your kind words. I sadly have never been back to Korea but I’d love to one day and soon. Happy studies with the Korean. All the best. Betty