Serving up a Founding Father’s recipe
Marisa Renwald June 25, 2012 3:14PM
Updated: July 28, 2012 6:12AM
There must have been a celebratory meal on the first Independence Day.
After the Founding Fathers put down their quills and wiped the sweat from their brows on that balmy July day, what exactly did they all do to ring in their first taste of freedom with those certain unalienable rights?
Chances are Sam Adams went home to throw back an artisanal brew. Add Ben Franklin to that affair and call it a party. John Adams probably dove into a bowl of Abigail’s famous Indian pudding, and John Hancock may have just favored his cramped hand with an old-fashioned Shaker elixir.
But Thomas Jefferson is a whole other story. The third president of the United States latched on to a reputation lionized for many things, but his gourmet background isn’t usually one that gets thrown into the mix. Jefferson was, without a doubt, the first American foodie.
Lured to European culture, Jefferson is credited for introducing — and reintroducing — hundreds of flavors to American cuisine.
His European exploits pushed him to take giant gastronomic steps, popularizing dishes in America such as ice cream and macaroni.
According to essays in Marie Kimball’s “Thomas Jefferson’s Cookbook” and Damon Lee Fowler’s “Dining at Monticello,” Jefferson’s impeccable palate for flavor brought parmesan cheese to the New World for the first time, resurrected the previously considered unrefined flavors of vanilla and sweet potatoes, and saw unrealized potential for true American fare in what became one of his favorite ingredients: the almond.
If Thomas Jefferson was going to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, he would have done so with a plate of macaroons — one of his go-to recipes that he often flaunted for his visitors.
His original recipe, according to Monticello historians, was half-written in French and only involved three ingredients: blanched almonds (which he blanched himself), egg whites and sugar. They’re rustic and old-fashioned, but they need no tampering.
While Jefferson may have had to blanch his own almonds, we have the convenience of purchasing them already blanched.
From there, we can pick up where the Apostle of Democracy left off. Grind the almonds with the sugar and a pinch of salt to a fine flour, then fold into foamy egg whites. Baked until barely golden, they’re perfect for eating immediately or saving for a more patriotic celebration.
To show these off at an Independence Day celebration, hold together two macaroons with a Swiss meringue buttercream tinted blue or red.
THOMAS JEFFERSON’S MACAROONS
11/2 cups blanched whole almonds
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon each: vanilla and almond extract (optional)
Swiss buttercream (optional)
Preheat oven to 300-degrees.
Pulse the almonds in a food processor until roughly ground. Add sugar and salt and continue to pulse until ground to a fine flour. In a medium bowl, whisk egg whites until foamy and white, but not firm enough to hold soft peaks. Whisk in extracts, if using, and then fold almond flour into egg whites.
Spoon walnut-sized amounts of macaroon batter onto buttered parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake for 17-20 minutes, or until golden. Allow to firm on the sheets, then let cool on baking racks.
If using filling, be sure to let cookies cool completely.
SWISS MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM
2 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Red and blue food coloring
For buttercream, whip sugar and egg whites in a double boiler until sugar is dissolved, and temperature reaches about 120 degrees. Pour into mixer and mix at high speed until meringue is glossy with stiff peaks. Continue to beat until cool. On medium speed, add butter, a tablespoon at a time, scraping down sides after each addition. Add vanilla and continue to whip until thick and fluffy.
Divide into two bowls. Beat about three drops of blue food coloring into one bowl, and three drops of red into the other.
Use a knife to spread 1 teaspoonful of meringue onto the flat end of a macaroon. Close with the flat end of another macaroon.
Macaroon recipe adapted from “Thomas Jefferson’s Cookbook” by Marie Kimball, 1938.
Swiss meringue buttercream recipe adapted from Gourmet, August 2007.