A French Afternoon in Portsmouth


52-IMG_6957French Macaron Baking with Mr. Calisto @ The Gibbons’ House

Last Sunday, the Portsmouth Abbey Culinary Club were gifted with the opportunity to watch, learn, and participate in the making of Mr. Calisto’s famous Macarons. We arrived at the Gibbons’ house where we would baking in their newly done kitchen. We made two different flavours of macarons, a chocolate and a lemon lavender. Leading the way, Mr. Calisto demonstrated the correct ways to sift the flour, mix the egg whites, and pipe the bases. After an excellent demonstration, we then each got a chance to pipe a few. Some were a bit off, but all managed to come out great. While the bases for the macarons set and baked, Mrs. Gibbons prepared for the group a wonderful lunch consisting of chicken, potatoes, cheese, salad and of course, sparkling cider. When the group was full, we went back to the kitchen to finish off the products. We made two delicious butter creams, both which we all wanted to eat straight away, and then we piped. We filled all of the bases with the buttercream, covering them with another base. When they were all finished, beautifully made, we dug in, with not a single one left to spare. –Jade Asiu

The Culinary Club, led by Mrs. Bonin and Mr. Calisto, had its first event of 2016 in member Grace Gibbons’ house this past Sunday. At first sight, the amazing kitchen in Grace’s house mesmerized and astonished us with its cleanliness, delicateness and elegance. The organized ingredients lay serenely along the marble kitchen table while three lamps glowed like three little suns shining overhead, generating the perfect atmosphere for the art of culinary. Mrs. Gibbons cooked elegantly while putting on a French music. Everything was so tranquil and relaxing. Compared to such a culinary paradise, the Chinese style kitchen in my house actually looks like a murder scene racked by a tornado. My worldview was changed, literally. Meanwhile, Mr. Calisto started his lecture on macarons, a traditional dessert consisting of two shells and flavored buttercream served in afternoon tea, which originated from France and spread throughout the world as a symbol of elegance and extravagance. Everything seemed so easy and casual as Mr. Calisto showed us the art of making macarons, but when it was our turn to venture onto the battlefield, our strenuous gestures and unrelenting attention resulted only in abstract and deformed pieces. After “successfully” making the shells of the macaroons, we had the honor of enjoying a “light lunch” provided kindly by our hostess Mrs. Gibbons. However, don’t be fooled by the name, the “light” lunch was in no way light at all, containing a fresh vegetable-bacon-egg salad, meticulously baked chicken with potatoes, and crackers with cheese nicely dipped in berry sauce. The sparkling apple cider offered by Mrs. Bonin completed the sumptuous banquet.

The feast joyfully ended when the macaron shells were perfectly baked by Mr. Calisto. The lavender violet and chocolate brown shells were accompanied by a smell so appealing and enticing that permeated in the air and tickled our taste buds. Afterwards, Mr. Calisto skillfully created the cream and carefully combined the cream and the shells while we arranged them cautiously on two lavish dessert plates. The macarons were truly pieces of art, each with two crunchy shells connected by mushy cream. Meanwhile, the crunchiness of the shells mixed with the softness of the cream and the modest sweetness from the chocolate and lavender made me more in love with macarons with every single bite.

To be honest, I used to hold an inexplicable grudge against macarons because of their overwhelming sweetness, but Mr. Calisto’s macarons dazzled my mind and astounded my sense of taste. When the last piece was completed, flashes and camera sounds continuously went off. We thought that we captured the fleeting memories and the miraculous moment. –Kevin Jiang

Today the Culinary Arts Club went to the Gibbons’ house for a macaron making lesson and a French lunch. Mr. Calisto showed us how to make chocolate macarons with a chocolate toffee buttercream filling and a light lavender macaron with lemon curd buttercream. I always imagined macarons as being almost impossible to make, but Mr. Calisto proved that with some practice, and a lot of time, anyone can make delicious macarons. We learned that the biggest mistake to make when making macarons is having lumps in the batter; we prevented this by sifting all the ingredients before they went in, grinding the leftover chunks with a mortar and pestle, and then resifting those pieces before adding them to the batter. I’m really excited to practice making macarons and experimenting with different flavor variations. Also, a huge thank you to the Gibbons family for hosting us as well as preparing a delicious lunch for us to enjoy! –Hannah Banderob

Baking is probably one of the most technical aspects of cooking. Although I do not enjoy sweets often, one of my favorite desserts is macarons. In fact, it is my sister’s favorite food as well! I was delighted that I got an opportunity to learn how to make this dessert. It was the first time that I got to see a macarons being made in front of me, and the process intrigued me. A single mistake in one of the ingredients or the procedure can sabotage the whole product. Every step was crucial in creating the macaron. –Seha Choi

I liked the chocolate macaroon over the lavender one. The chocolate flavor was very rich and the texture was just perfect: chocolate cream between two soft yet chewy caps. I hope I can make macaroons for my sister once I get back to Korea.

Culinary Arts Club’s French meal was more than a success; it was (in very specific cases) a tear-jerking masterpiece. The site of our learning experience, the Gibbons’ immaculate kitchen, was perfect: classy French-themed tunes complemented an amazing lunch as we waited for Mr. Calisto’s macarons to bake.

My plate consisted of a salad of mixed greens, poached eggs, and a French dressing, herb roasted potatoes with garlic aioli and truffle salt, and crackers with jam and Brie. The combination was light and delicate: a delicious mix of savory, tangy and sweet. Each flavor complemented all the others, and it was impossible not to go back for more. After lunch, we got to the main event.

Macaron assembly. While we’d watched Mr. Calisto prepare the batter before our meal, we were forced to wait an agonizing hour for the piped cookies to set, bake and cool. But when we finally had our platters for lavender-lemon and chocolate-toffee butter cream sandwiches, it was definitely worth the wait. Dozens of photos were taken from every angle, the better to appreciate the fine purple-pink color of the lavender-lemon cookies. By the time we had to leave the Gibbons’ home, all fifty-ish macarons were long gone. This meal was definitely the most enjoyable I’ve had all year. –Max Bogan

In the realm of culinary arts, baking stands out from regular cooking because it involves more accuracy. Macarons, the colorful little meringues, are among the most loved and delicate baked goods. Mr. Calisto showed us how to make lavender and chocolate macarons with his nearly professional experience. For me, it was exciting to hear about Mr. Calisto’s tricks for making macarons because I used to watch bakers making cakes through the window of a bakery for hours, never thinking about trying it myself. Not having the privilege of baking at home, I learnt about the right way to use a tip, to stabilize a baking sheet, and to add the cream in between two pieces of macaron cookies. The violet purple color and the sweet smell of homemade lemon buttercream aroused our appetite for sure. My favorite takeaway from this baking class was the precision of baking. As a beginner, I find baking very different from cooking because cooking can be based on whim. For example, I will be fine adding more sugar to a dish, but not to a macaron dough. –Christine Gu

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One thought on “A French Afternoon in Portsmouth

  1. I really enjoyed seeing the pictures and reading the blogs. You will all become wonderful cooks with discriminating palates from these experiences with your club! What a fun way to eat and learn. Grinny


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