Food | February 2014
The two outside meringue layers of the palm-sized pastries are made of almond flour, egg whites and confectioners’ sugar. They are rounded and puffy, coming in a plethora of colors, from light pink pastels to tans and nudes and even bright, green neons. A creamy filling or sweet jam, usually matching the color of the outer layers, is pressed between the two fluffy biscuits.Some of the traditional flavors include sweet raspberry and decadent chocolate. While Ingraham’s passion for cooking and baking came from waking up to the smell of his great grandmother’s biscuits and fresh fig preserves, tasting his grandmother’s delicious pound cake and savoring his mother’s sweet potato pie, he did not start making macarons until he was in his mid-20’s when he was working in Switch restaurant inside Encore hotel in Las Vegas.A Louisiana native, Ingraham blends southern flavors with French techniques to create macarons distinctive to the South, like those with vanilla shells and bourbon pecan caramel filling.
Ingraham is not alone in his love for macarons. Traditionally a French confection, they made their way across the Atlantic, down the east coast and found an eager audience of sweet tooths in the South. “They are everywhere. I think right now, the craze with macarons is like the craze with cupcakes five years ago,” Sarah Griffith, a 32-year-old caterer with Woodson Ridge Farms in Oxford, Miss., says. There are a myriad mix of colors and tastes, textures and flavors that make macarons almost endlessly customizable. In addition to their attractive appearance and the ease with which they can be personalized, Griffith attributes the macaron’s popularity to its palate-pleasing taste. “It is light, airy. It is the equivalent of angel food cake in cookie form. It does have a crunch, and in the middle is great flavor,” Griffith says.
When Griffith took her vows outside under the hot Mississippi sun last summer, she opted to serve a mountain of multi-colored macarons in place of a traditional wedding cake.“Since I got married in the middle of July, I wanted something that would withstand the heat. In the summer when you don’t want something as heavy as cake, it is a fun, pretty option,” Griffith says. She sought out Ingraham to create an entire cake made of macarons, much like a croqembouche–a tower of French pastry balls–in place of a traditional wedding cake. Griffith and Ingraham played with various flavors of macarons–blueberry, cookies and cream, and even a basil cookie with balsamic buttercream filling. “There is always a color scheme for weddings, and a macaron is a beautiful, well put-together confection,” Ingraham says. “The bride doesn’t have to worry about getting them on her dress–she can pop it in her mouth all in one bite. And they are yummy.” Since wedding color schemesvary from couple to couple and are as diverse as the individuals saying “I do,” macarons are a great way to pair pastries with the various shades peppered throughout the ceremony.
While many enjoy the distinctive fusion of Southern tastes melded with the French confection, some prefer more traditional macaron flavors. Gene Amagliani, manager of La Baguette French Bread Shop in Memphis, orders his macarons from France in classic flavors–pistachio, mocha, vanilla, lemon, chocolate and raspberry. “All are extremely popular,” Amagliani says. “We keep six flavors in stock, and we are selling tons of them.” He sold considerably more pistachio and raspberry during the holidays because of their festive red and green colors.
While macarons may look fairly simple, they can be difficult to make, especially when a baker must contend with humidity that often hangs in Southern air. “It looks very simple when you look at them, but the technique that goes into them is very unique,” Ingraham says. A lot of factors that go into making the colorful confections–from humidity levels to types of confectioners’ sugar–can affect their taste and consistency. “A lot can go wrong. They are very, very, very particular cookies. The stars have to align for them to come out right,” Ingraham says with a laugh.
Sweet, savory with a subtle crunch
Story by Lisa Elaine Babb
Photos by Jonathan Capriel
Dwayne Ingraham’s love for macarons is undeniable. After five years of making the delicate, bite-sized treats, the pastry chef at Oxford’s City Grocery has yet to tire of the sweet.“Once you bite into a macaron, there is no denying it,” Ingraham says. “I think it is just a beautiful, beautiful confection. It is soft, sweet and melts away with the first bite.” Macarons resemble fluffy, super-sized Oreos, but unlike their monochromatic cousins, they come in an almost infinite number of colors and flavors. The outside layers are light and airy, coated with a subtle crunch. A flavorful creamy, jam, jelly or ganache filling is sandwiched between the colored disks. Some bold bakers even play with a cold ice cream filing, making an unconventional ice cream cookie.