foie and brioche macaron with raspberry, passion fruit and fig dip
French macarons are the stuff that fetishes are made of and empires are built on...just ask Prince Pierre of Paris. Once, you had to travel to the City of Light to worship at its altar. Now, the Cult of Macaron has spread to all corners of the globe.
It is said that the macaron was introduced to the french via Catherine de Medici, though any frenchman worth his almond flour would argue that point. What is known for certain is that the original macaron was a humble cookie, a combination of egg whites, sugar and ground almonds. No additional flavorings or filling.
In Sofia Coppola's 2006 rendition of Marie Antoinette, there is a scene with the young queen and Ambassador Mercy that features the modern, brightly colored macarons. Its interesting that this modern version--a flavored and filled cookie sandwich--was created by a grandson of Laduree, over 100 years after Marie Antoinette's death. Even more interesting is that Laduree provided the pastries for the film.
Initially, the modern version of the macaron consisted of the original almond cookies sandwiched together with chocolate ganache. For the next 80-90 years, the flavorings remained simple: vanilla, chocolate, coffee, raspberry. It wasn't until the late 1990's that Pierre Herme began to seduce parisiennes with his annual haute-couture collections of sexy flavor combinations: olive oil and vanilla, passion fruit, rhubarb, and strawberry, white truffle and hazelnut, cream cheese, orange, and passionfruit, and my personal favorite--litchi, rose, and raspberry.
Nearly all of the flavor in these macarons is found in the filling. The cookies are largely left alone with the exception of food coloring, cocoa powder or chocolate, and in some cases, flavor essences. It is neccessary to maintain the delicate balance of ingredients in order to produce the crisp/fragile shell, the chewy/soft interior, and the characteristic "feet". With this in mind, I had to ask myself if there is any room for play.
The role of egg whites and sugar is fundamental. I've made macarons with methocel--they're not the same. That left me examining the almond flour. I understand its function; it provides structure and texture, but it also makes the flavor of macarons invariable and can be detected no matter what accompanying flavors are used. This, I realized, was a starting point.
As luck, or providence, would have it, I had a loaf of brioche on hand. I saw no reason why finely ground and toasted bread crumbs could not stand in for almond flour.
Macarons are notoriously capricious to make and my early attempts were hit-or-miss. It was only when I realized though the ingredients are simple, the technique is critical, that I began to get consistent results. Precisely following the procedure: leaving the egg whites at room temperature for 24 hours, sifting all dry ingredients, whipping the egg whites just until they hold their peaks, gentle folding, careful piping, leaving them to dry for 30 minutes before baking, ensured the control that was neccessary to determine if failure was caused by product, and not technique.
I am happy to report that both were a success. They came out of the oven looking perfect. The texture is right and the flavor captures the nuances and complexity of toasted brioche. The only question that remained was what to fill them with. As if I even had to ask.
Making macarons with bread crumbs is like getting a new playset at the playground. The potential for fun seems endless:
pumpernickle, pastrami, mustard
rye, smoked salmon, cream cheese
foccaccia, tomato, mozzarella
saltines, peanut butter, jelly
graham crackers, marshmallow, chocolate
piecrust, apple, cheddar
...OK, I'll stop now.