Available in a spectrum of flavors, the French treat is just as popular here as it is in Europe.
In the world of french pastries, macarons are central to everything we know and love about sweet french indulgences. For many, the first time you ever bit into a macaron prompted you to say, This is like nothing I’ve ever tasted before. It’s light on the palate, soft with a bit of crunch and playfully colorful. And even though the macaron’s rise to fame only happened within the past 10 years in the U.S., the delicate sandwich cookies have been around since the 16th century.
These sweet meringue-based confections are made with egg whites, sugar and almond powder. Of course, there is food coloring involved too—that’s how you get the perfect shade of pastel pink for strawberry macarons and the rich green color for matcha macarons. The first known macaron goes back all the way to the Middle Ages, when the small treat was made for special occasions. Although the cookie was born in Italy, it’s synonymous with France, where they became wildly known during the French Revolution when two nuns known as the Macaron Sisters began supporting themselves by baking and selling “Macaron Parisien.”
Before these baking nuns, the impressive cookies were reserved for the king and his court. The almond flour-egg whites-sugar recipe became a massively popular confection in France, and made a resurgence during the early part of the 20th century at Laduree, the famous Parisian bakery and tea salon now located on the Champs-Elysees. In France today, famed macaron master Pierre Herme draws crowds to his patisseries with his signature rose, caramel and chocolate flavors.
In order to add a personal spin to macarons, chefs fill the treats with their own ganache, butter-cream or jam filling between the two almond meringue discs. At La Tour Bakehouse (latourbakehouse. com), chef Rodney Weddle makes four to six thousand macarons a day in a variety of 20 flavors for La Tour Cafe. If anyone is familiar with macarons here in Hawai’i, it’s him. Weddle boils down the craft of a perfect macaron to this: Use really good ingredients and age macarons in the freezer. Weddle swears by letting macarons sit in the freezer for at least 48 hours. “That way the filling and the shell kind of merge together and get that texture—a little bit crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside so it all just comes together,” Weddle says. Eating a macaron fresh out of the oven, although it might sound delicious in theory, would be “a completely different experience,” and the firm crunch expected from the first bite of a macaron is lost.
Today it’s nearly impossible to go into a bakery without seeing a tray of macarons on display. Flavors mirror today’s taste buds as well—chances are King Louis XVI wasn’t snacking on an Oreo-flavored macaron after supper. Just like cupcakes, vanilla and chocolate aren’t your only options anymore. Part of the fun that comes with macarons is choosing from the wide choice of flavors on display. You can find almost any flavor of macaron around the world—there’s jasmine at Pierre Herme, birthday cake at La Tour Cafe and Fruity Pebbles at Macarons by Tiff any (instagram.com/macaronsbytiffany), owner Tiffany Pugay packs a large and loyal social media following who look forward to her nostalgic macaron flavors. “It just brings back childhood memories … I’ve always enjoyed eating cereal in the morning before I started my day,” Pugay says.
No one knows when exactly macarons triumphed over cupcakes and took over the throne as the dessert. Somehow the bite-size delicacies found its way into birthday parties, baby showers, neighborhood bakeries and weddings, with brides and grooms even opting out of a traditional cake for a less conventional macaron tower. Perhaps some of the best qualities of a macaron come from its allure of contradictions. It’s haughty and fancy but playful and youthful. It’s high maintenance but is eaten with your hands. It oozes decadence but is delightfully pillowy. But in the end, it’s technically just a cookie. Or is it?