WORLD MACARON DAY!
AND OLD FASHIONED BREAD PUDDING
I am anti-trend. Yes, I have worked in the arts. And fashion. Now food. How much trendier, how much under the influence can one get than art, fashion and food? Yet I recoil from trends, fads and crazes with a knee-jerk reaction, like being faced with the plague. Never one to easily fit in, I found that no matter how I tried to wear the latest styles or act like the others I looked little more than a misfit, a goon (yes), so why bother? While others were oohing and ahhing over the hot new artiste du jour, the David Salle or Julian Schnabel or whoever was being promoted as hot, I was too much of a naturally born skeptic to follow the crowd blindly, analyzing, over-analyzing and doubting the sincerity of this one or that. Too much is made over a film, a book or an exciting new gadget? I steer clear. I may purchase something – a cool pair of shoes, a lovely skirt, all the rage – but then I will safely tuck it away in the back of the closet only to pull it out 5 or 10 years later when the fad has passed and happily slip it on, pairing it with the most unlikely things. I may deign to discover a book or a film several years down the line, but first impressions and doubts tend to stick and I have been known to regret the money spent, close the book with disgust and give it away without having read further than the first chapter. Cell phone? Had to have one forced on me when I began working outside of the house. Iphone? Just got my first and my men still roll their eyes in dismay that I only use it…to phone.
And food. Once one is plugged into the world of food blogging, one has a front row seat to all the newest trends and crazes, watching the hottest, the coolest, the funkiest scroll by with a flick of the wrist: cupcakes, macarons and cake pops, bacon or pork belly, this new restaurant or cookbook. Mini this or fried that, edible dirt, molecular and foam, have absolutely no charm for me. If you must tack the word gourmet, heirloom, redefined or gastro- onto the name of whatever you are selling, then count me out. Farmer’s markets and eating more leafy, green vegetables, eating local and seasonal…wait a minute? Well, we’ve been doing this for years! I wouldn’t call these trends as much as I would call them smart!
Screeeeeech…. Wait a doggone minute there. Did you say….macarons? Ah, the trendiest of food trends, that lovely little French confection, that wisp of powdered sugar and almonds, that mouthful of delicate, feminine froth. Since these tiny, colorful treats have taken the world by storm, shops spreading like wildfire across the globe, one pastry chef creating even more eye-popping, astonishing flavor combination after the next, I have tasted exactly five store-bought macaron selections: Ladurée (much too gooey and sweet), Fortnum & Mason (a tad dry, a tad bland), Pierre Hermé (luscious! Some I could have passed over but his cassis-chocolat and caramel au beurre sale are exquisite) and Vincent Guerlais and Sucré (my favorites, beautiful flavors, perfect shell-filling balance and not overly sweet, simply suggestive, seductive), but I tend to prefer purchasing a box of handmade chocolates to macarons any day. Macarons for a treat, a snack, a dessert are simply not my thing. There is little attraction and, quite possibly, the fact that everyone seems to go wild over them, everyone dreams of nibbling on a chocolate-truffle macaron by PH or is willing to spend hours queuing on the sidewalk in front of Ladurée, so many have elevated this tiny sweet to dizzying heights, had me simply turned off from the get go. Just another trend, fad, craze. And I am so not interested.
“So then why do you make macarons?” you ask with a sneer or a laugh. “I mean, just take a gander at your blog, stroll through your own recipe index and there they are for all the world to see: Espresso Sea Salt Chocolate Macarons, Coffee Macarons, Gingerbread Macarons, Blueberry Hibiscus Macarons with Blueberry Vanilla Mascarpone Cream, Tulip Macarons with Honey-Pistacho Mascarpone Cream, Violet Macarons, Vegetable Macarons with Chili Chocolate Ganache, Beetroot Macarons with Smoked Salmon, even Cotton Candy Macarons. Guilty as charged! I’ve been caught red-handed falling in line and succumbing to this latest food trend. But I can honestly say that I was seduced by the baking challenge rather than beguiled by the treat. Never one to be tempted and turned on by any dessert not rich and hearty, creamy and gooey, I would have never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would have taken to the delicate, ethereal French macaron. Husband despises them and I did long avoid both eating and making them, but THIS challenge got me started, thanks to Deeba, the wonderful baker behind Passionate About Baking, and ever since we have baked macarons side by side, in failure and in success, gathering around us so many passionate, talented bakers in our own virtual Mactweets’ Kitchen. And today is World Macaron Day, so I will heartily and lustfully shout out a cheery Happy Macaron Day to you all and share my latest creation: Raspberry Coconut Macarons with Chocolate Ganache for Mac Attack Challenge #27.
These rather brown macarons are indeed Raspberry-Coconut – having mysteriously turned the color of mud in the oven after beginning their round life a stunning, deep fuchsia pink. I added 2 tablespoons of dried raspberry powder – sifting out the seeds – and a couple of tablespoons sifted dried coconut powder to the powdered sugar/ground almond blend of my traditional recipe (without the spice, cinnamon or cocoa of course). I filled the shells with a simple dark chocolate ganache, although if I did not have such a persnickety family I would have stirred some raspberry or cherry preserves into the chocolate. In spite of their sad murky color, the flavor was brilliant, a mild yet wonderful fruity flavor which paired beautifully with the chocolate. The macarons were perfect: a thin crispy outer shell giving way to a perfect, tender, mildly chewy inside. Wonderful.
But to end this anti-trend, non-fad, craze-free sentiment and blog post, I will add on a recipe that immediately became a family favorite: Pudding au Pain. We always prefer the old fashioned, the homey, the comforting over the latest and the hottest. And what is better or more delightful or, for that matter, more popular than a Bread Pudding? But this Bread Pudding is no regular Bread Pudding…. This is French Bread Pudding. The stale bread is soaked in hot milk and then the softened bread is mashed into a purée into which is blended the rest of the ingredients. Plump raisins are added for sweetness to an otherwise lightly sweetened pudding and baked under a lovely caramel. Of course, I based the recipe on JP’s favorite Françoise Bernard from Recettes Faciles, but giving it my all-American twist of finely grated orange zest, a dash of cinnamon and a splash of vanilla.
The result? Instead of chunks of bread rising to the top and getting crusty while others remain soft and rather than, as so often happens, the custard separating during the baking, the puréed bread blends into a batter-type mixture and creates a dense, chewy, pudding-like cake. This is a marvelous way to use up any type of stale bread or cake, any and all kinds blended together; this is a staple of most French boulangeries: leftover breads and cakes are used to create a very popular, old-fashioned dessert, either vanilla or chocolate and topped with either gooey caramel or a chocolate glaze or ganache. Next time you crave bread pudding, next time you have stale bread piling up around you calling for attention, make this fabulous French Bread Pudding. Gorgeous, addictive, a perfect balance between very delicately sweetened pudding and sweet, sweet raisins, mildly bitter caramel and the hint of orange and cinnamon….a truly stunning treat.
PUDDING AU PAIN –or- FRENCH BREAD PUDDING
Adapted from Recettes Faciles by Françoise Bernard
3.5 oz (100 g) raisins, dark or blond
7 oz (200 g) stale bread, cubed
2 cups (500 ml or ½ litre) milk, whole or low fat
¾ cup (150 g) sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Finely grated zest of one orange, preferably untreated
Dash of ground cinnamon, ¼ to ½ tsp
½ tsp vanilla
10 sugar cubes (2 oz, 60 g)
2 Tbs water
Couple drops lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Have ready a regular loaf pan.
Rinse the raisins and place in a small bowl; cover with hot water and allow to soak for 15 minutes to plump. Drain and set aside.
While the raisins are plumping, cube the stale bread (smaller is better, but about an inch square is fine) and place in a large mixing heatproof or Pyrex mixing bowl. Bring the milk to the boil in a small saucepan and immediately pour the hot milk over the bread cubes. Allow the bread to soak up all of the milk, tossing and pressing the cubes down into the hot milk regularly. This should take several minutes.
Once the bread has soaked up all of the hot milk and is softened, either run it though a food mill or purée it using an emulsion mixer or robot until fairly smooth. Return to the mixing bowl and whisk or stir in the sugar, the lightly beaten eggs, the plumped and drained raisins, the finely grated orange zest, the ground cinnamon and the vanilla. Stir to blend well.
Place the sugar cubes, the water and a few drops of lemon juice into the loaf pan. Place the loaf pan over medium-low heat and carefully cook. The sugar will melt and the mixture will bubble; allow to cook gently, shifting the pan around and back and forth gently, until it turns into a deep golden/light brown caramel. This can take from 5 to 10 minutes but watch very carefully for as soon as the sugar begins to turn into a caramel (turning brown) it goes very quickly and can burn easily.
Remove the loaf pan from the heat and carefully tilt the pan back and forth so the caramel evenly coats the bottom of the pan and goes a little way up the sides. Immediately pour the pudding batter into the loaf pan on top of the caramel and smooth. Bake for one hour until puffed and golden.
Remove the loaf pan from the oven and allow to cool just until the pan can be handled (the pudding should no longer be hot but should still be warm). Run a sharp knife around the edges to loosen the pudding then place a serving platter upside down on top of the loaf pan. Quickly invert the platter and the pan and lift the loaf pan off of the pudding.
The Bread Pudding is delicious eaten warm or at room temperature, plain, with yogurt, whipped cream or ice cream. We love it plain with a cup of coffee.