The Magical Macaron

Written by Astrid Lorcet

What is usually known as a macaroon in America is a sweet treat made with shredded coconut, egg whites and sugar. French macarons, which require a little more technical finesse, are tasty confections made with almond flour mixed in a sweet meringue shell and sandwiched with flavored butter creams in gorgeous pastel colors.

Macaroons should not be confused with the French macaron even if the English word macaroon and French macaron come from the Italian maccarone or maccherone. This word itself derived from ammaccare, meaning crush or beat, referring to the almond flour, which is the main ingredient.

Culinary historians claim that macarons can be traced to a 9th century Italian monastery. The monks came to France in 1533, joined by the pastry chefs of Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henri II. The earliest recorded macaron recipes are for the almond meringue variety, similar to amaretti, with a crisp surface and a softer interior. In the 1830's macarons were served in pairs with the addition of liqueurs and spices, but with no filling. The macaron as it is known today as the "Parisian macaron" was created in the early 20th century by Pierre Desfontaines of the French pâtisserie Ladurée, who decided to sandwich a layer of ganache filling between two meringue discs.

Today, Ladurée continues to be one of the first stops for macaron fans in Paris; as well as Pierre Hermé, a world-famous French pastry chef who was involved with the expansion of Ladurée into a chain of luxury pastry shops in 1997. No longer a humble almond cookie, the macaron became a diversely flavored treat with a thin, light crust, briefly giving way to a layer of moist almond meringue, followed by a center of silky smooth filling.

There's an entire macaron subculture. Macaron fans worldwide, and even French locals, now make a pilgrimage to the Parisian patisseries Ladurée or Pierre Hermé to gaze upon, buy, and feast on dozens of exciting flavors. There are the basics, of course: chocolate, vanilla, raspberry and pistachio; the latter customer favorite, along with salted butter caramel or special seasonal flavors like anise, chestnut, or basil lime. In addition to the regular macaron, Pierre Hermé takes the Ladurée concept one step further, making macarons with two flavors of filling layered together. These little fancy delights are usually served alongside with a coffee or a tea, offered as dessert, or even set up as an alternative to a wedding cake.

The master, Pierre Hermé, describes this quintessential Parisian treat best: "Macarons only weigh a few grams, but that's enough to leave your senses quivering with pleasure. Their thin, crisp shell, slightly rounded shape, tempting colors and tender interiors draw devotees to devour them with their eyes, and caress their smooth surface. Their flavors solicit the nose and, when one bites into that crisp shell, the ears tingle with pleasure, and the palate is finally rewarded."


Dr. Jean-Michel Cohen
is the founder of The Parisian Diet, which is about the pleasure of eating and being able to eat all types of food.

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