As a linguist (*ahem*, my day job), I hear this question a lot: "How many languages do you speak?" It's a common misperception that all we linguists do is learn to speak a lot of languages all day, and allow me to put this to rest right here and now: I am not a polyglot. Our job as linguists is not to study languages but to study language, which is the first lesson we teach to anyone who takes Linguistics 101, and while many-a-times, this might involve having to learn languages, it most certainly does not require it. In fact, even if I know something about a language, that doesn't mean that I can speak, write, read, or understand it at all, though I could probably tell you what the language's syllable structure is, or how the language might order words in its sentences--you know, pretty useless little things that wouldn't come much in handy if I actually had to hold down a conversation.
But, all this is not to say that we linguists don't do some really. cool. stuff. Take, for example, one of the professors in my department, Dan Jurafsky. Dan works primarily on computational linguistics, but one of his awesome side projects is writing about the language of food. (which, frankly, is so genius, I'm jealous that I didn't think of it myself!) Dan's written before on things like the origins of "ketchup" or what defines "dessert," and he has a paper coming out soon about the role of language in potato chip advertisements. And he teaches what I've heard is an awesome undergraduate seminar on the subject.
So, of course, one day, I approached Dan with THE hot linguistics and food question of the current day: macaron vs. macaroon. Which one is it! (and how in the heck are you supposed to pronounce the difference?) Raise your hand if you've ever pondered this question! *typing while raising one hand in the air.*
Thankfully, Dan was totally enthused about investigating the origins of the macaron/macaroon, and he's just posted his essay on the subject, after a few months of in-depth research. Apparently, the macaron/oon is related to a whole slew of desserts and foods of the almond or egg white family--from gnocchi to marzipan--and has traveled, in its various forms, through so much of Europe and the Middle East--from Persia to Italy and France--before making it to the US and becoming the coconut macaroon. But, even with its long history, the debate is still open as to whether we want to call the Parisian macaron/oon that we're so crazed about these days a macaroon or a macaron, to distinguish it from the once-popular coconut macaroons. Only time will tell! Oh, and the best part of Dan's article is that he discovered that the macaron/oon/oni might actually be related to the macarena. Heeeeeeyyyyyy, macarena, a ya! (OMG, I can't believe I still remember that dance....!)
Anyways, I thought that all of Dan's research on the macaron/oon/oni/ena should be rewarded with actual macarons. Since rosewater kept recurring in the history of the macaron, I whipped up some coconut rose chocolate macarons, with lightly flavored almond shells and coconut-rose-flavored dark chocolate ganache inside. I also couldn't resist breaking out the luster dust, after seeing all of the beautiful watercolor-dyed eggs floating about the internets for Easter.
So, the next time you meet a linguist, I implore you not to ask them how many languages they speak. Instead, talk to them about macarons. Or macaroons. Or macaroni. Ack. Never mind. Just ask them to dance the macarena with you. ...Or not. :-)
>>Go read Dan's essay on macarons!<<
Read on for recipe....
Coconut Rose Chocolate Macarons
makes ~50 small macarons or 20-30 large macarons
for macaron shells*:
200 gr powdered sugar
120 gr blanched and slivered almonds
20 gr unsweetened dried coconut flakes (not the sugared kind!)
30 gr granulated sugar
100 gr egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 tspn cream of tartar
1/8 tspn coconut extract
1/8 tspn rose extract
1. Prepare two baking sheets lined with silpats or parchment paper and a pastry bag with a large round piping tip.
2. Combine the powdered sugar, almonds, and dried coconut flakes in a food processor and grind until a fine powder. Sift thoroughly through a fine mesh strainer and set aside.
3. In a small bowl, have ready the granulated sugar.
4. In a separate mixing bowl, combine the egg whites and the cream of tartar. Using a balloon whisk, quickly stir the mixture until the entire surface is covered with foam. Then, start whisking the egg whites, gradually adding in the granulated sugar once the egg whites are very frothy. Whisk until you reach glossy, almost-stiff peaks.
5. Gently fold the sifted almond and powdered sugar mixture into the egg whites in two to three stages, adding the coconut and rose extracts as you go. Mix just until the ingredients are incorporated and the batter slowly re-absorbs peaks. Do not overmix!
6. Transfer the macaron mixture to the prepared piping bag and pipe rounds on the lined baking sheets. Tap the baking sheets on the table a few times to release air pockets.
7. Rest the macarons for at least 30 minutes (and up to 60), until the outside shells are no longer tacky and sticky to a light touch.
8. Preheat oven to 290 degrees F, with the oven rack in the bottom third of the oven.
9. Bake the macarons in the oven, one sheet at a time, for 24-28 minutes total, rotating the sheet half-way through the baking time to insure even baking.
10. Remove from oven and let cool.
*Note: the resting and oven temperature and times are adjusted to what works in my kitchen and oven (which, to my knowledge and according to two oven thermometers, is quite accurate). Please note that you may have to adjust according to what works in your kitchen and oven.
for coconut-rose chocolate ganache:
1/2 cup coconut cream (see note below)
1 Tbspn butter
1 tspn rose water
2 tspn corn syrup
4 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
1. In a small saucepan, combine the coconut cream, butter, rose water, and corn syrup. Bring to a simmer.
2. Once the coconut cream mixture is simmering, remove from heat and add the chocolate. Whisk until smooth.
3. Let cool completely, and use to fill macarons.
4. Once the macarons are filled, let them "cure" in an airtight container in the refrigerator overnight before serving.
Note: for coconut cream, skim the cream off the top of a can of coconut milk. A little bit of milk is okay.
Recipe for chocolate ganache filling adapted from David Lebovitz.