Best Bet: Macaroons

MICHAEL DONAHUE/The Commercial Appeal
Pumpkin pie macaroons at Circa

Photo by Michael Donahue // Buy this photo

MICHAEL DONAHUE/The Commercial Appeal Pumpkin pie macaroons at Circa

Until a few days ago, when I thought about macaroons, I envisioned coconut macaroons and that's about it. Those are the ones I grew up with. I love them.

Then I tried a pumpkin pie macaroon made by Courtney Garrett, pastry chef at Circa restaurant. I'll never think about macaroons the same way again. "Macaroons are the new cupcake," said Andrea Bragg, wife of John Bragg, chef/owner of Circa.

Macaroons and John Bragg have a history.

"I learned how to make them when I was at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, when I went to culinary school a long time ago, '93, '94," John said. "They're uniquely simple in that they only have three ingredients other than the filling: almonds, powdered sugar and egg whites. They have a really unique texture and look because of the technique of putting them together.

"To me, it's a type of thing that really shows the art of food because it's really simple, but really elegant. And really challenging to get a good result."

John made them when he worked in other kitchens. "I think we attempted them back at Erling's (Erling Jensen: The Restaurant) or La Tourelle in the past, but it was never in vogue, so it never went anywhere."

He made them again at the old Circa location.

"I started fooling around with them Downtown a couple of years ago, getting reacquainted with making them. I liked them. I felt what we were making was good, but we were doing other things for after-dinner cookies and I wasn't quite ready to commit to having them all the time."

John got back into macaroon making when pastry chef Erica Thewis worked at Circa. John, Thewis and Garrett worked together "figuring out what flavors people like and don't like. It was an evolution to get us to make them consistently. We all learned from each other."

"It takes practice," Garrett said. "I've gone through plenty of ugly macaroons until I figured out what they're supposed to look like."

They make miniature and half-dollar-size French style macaroons, which are two-layer cookies with a dome. Fillings include white and dark chocolate gnoche and sometimes butter cream. The pumpkin pie macaroons are a white chocolate gnoche, with cinnamon, nutmeg and other ingredients. Coconut macaroons actually are American-style macaroons, Garrett said.

Macaroons are popular at weddings, he said. "They've taken off the last couple of years. They're the new thing."

Circa is at 6150 Poplar; 901-746-9130

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