Franco File Friday: author Jill Colonna {+ a giveaway!}

9 September 2011

The trouble with French pastries is they quickly burn a hole in our wallets. Even those that are small in stature (but big on taste) can set us back at least 3€ a piece and frankly, I’d rather spend that on a few loaves of fresh, multi-grain bread from the bakery. Immaculate, refined and delicious though they may be, French patisseries remain a luxury for me – a splurge for a surprise, a birthday or to brighten a bad day.

Macarons are undeniably the ultimate guilty pleasure of late, particularly for new expats who discover the plethora of flavors and specialists available in Paris. Associating “cute” with a dessert shifts thus from cupcakes to macarons – miniature and colorful, is there really a better word for them? But again, expensive. And especially expensive when you consider how quickly they’re consumed.

So why not make our own? Jill Colonna, a macaron fan, sought to do just that. Motivated by expense and a solid challenge, Jill began baking macarons. Then photographing them. And then writing about them. Her days in Marketing for the OECD were far behind her – Jill had two kids to raise and impress with her treats! After 18 years in Paris and a book demonstrating her successes (Mad About Macarons) under her belt, I think we can call her an expert….
Describe what you love about France in three words.

Its diverse regions.

Greatest challenge of raising children in France?

Raising children must be one of life’s wonderful challenges, wherever you are. Like making brioche, they can to be left to grow but should be guided, as you need to keep an eye on them!

It’s difficult to say the greatest challenge exactly, as I’ve only brought up our children in France so have no other country to compare. However – based on my schooling and upbringing in Scotland – things are different here, as my girls follow the French education system which is particularly serious with long days and copious amounts of homework. There is no school on Wednesdays: it’s meant for activities, so I spend most of the day playing Jill-the-taxi and helping them with their English work, as they are also following a bilingual program at an international school.

One challenge is to gain their respect so they don’t laugh at my French too much – they’re sweet when they tell me discretely, “Mum, we don’t quite say it like that”. Let’s hope that doesn’t change too much.

Perhaps my greatest challenge, however, is to watch that they don’t eat too much – especially as they adore their food. So they are not seen as Mademoiselle Plus, the best way of calming them down at the end of a meal is to offer them fruit if they’re still hungry.

What make macarons such a highly sought-after treat, superior to most other French speciality sweets?

I think they’re so popular as their bright colours are not only eye-catching but they’re also so pretty to look at with their delicate, ruffled ‘feet’. With just the right size at 2-3 bites, about 90 calories each and being gluten-free, they are also easy on the guilt factor, too. What’s more, they’re so versatile: you can have whatever flavour you fancy.

The only downside is that the best ones are so expensive in Paris – that’s why it’s so much easier to make them at home and experiment with your own flavour combinations.

Who would get your gold star for best pastries in Paris?

That’s a difficult one as I wish I could spend time eating pastries around many more Paris Pâtisseries to be able to answer you properly. My star would go to Eric Kayser. I wish his pastry shops existed when I first arrived in Paris as a poor student 18 years ago, since his pastries are consistently great value for money. The fraisier and millefeuille are one of the best in the city: they’re delicately light but still decadent, fulfilling that sweet (but not overly sweet) desire with the perfect cup of tea in the afternoon. En plus, he has an impressive collection of wonderful bread and viennoiseries – not always something you can find under the same roof with many pastry shops.

Favorite French novel and/or book? Why?

I normally read French cookbooks but it took me a long while to finally pluck up the courage to read novels in French – especially as it’s all too easy to opt out and find the English edition in most cases!

My all-time favourite classic has to be The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. It was the novel that gave me more confidence in French, I suppose. Hubby encouraged me to read it, as I already knew the compelling story of revenge in English (thanks to the Richard Chamberlain film version and the more recent production featuring the legendary Gérard Depardieu.) So reading it from cover to cover felt like a real accomplishment.

The paradox is that we now live up the road to Dumas’s extravagant residence he had built, Le Château du Monte-Cristo, complete with The Château d’If, his out-house in the gardens where he wrote his masterpieces. I would have loved to have met Dumas: he was a real gourmet and bon vivant with extravagant dinner parties – he even wrote an impressive Dictionary of Cuisine, which was published after his death in 1873. Perhaps that’s my next read!


Thanks, Jill! When I had dinner with Mardi while she was in Paris, she talked to me about Jill and showed me her book, Mad About Macarons – an entertaining, easy-to-follow recipe book that even baking novices can enjoy. I knew I had to feature in this series and try to get a couple copies of her book to cater to all my macaron-crazed readers.

Success! Waverley Books has agreed to offer a copy of Mad About Macarons to 2 lucky readers!

Want to make macarons like the French? Here’s how to enter:

1. Leave a comment below telling me why you go nuts for macarons (mandatory)


2. Become a fan of Mad About Macarons on Facebook (then leave another comment telling me you did so).
3. Become a fan of Lost In Cheeseland on Facebook (then leave another comment telling me you did)

Winners will be announced at the bottom of next week’s Franco File Friday post (September 16). Entries close September 15, 2011. Open to readers worldwide.

Bon courage!

{Photo of Jill Colonna courtesy of Inez Forbes. All others courtesy of Jill Colonna}