February 23, 2010
By Dana McCauley
You probably consumed some during the holiday season, but if not,
you’ll soon be noticing that high on the trend list for caterers and
party planners is the colourful and fashionable French cookie known as
You probably consumed some during the holiday season, but if not, you’ll soon be noticing that high on the trend list for caterers and party planners is the colourful and fashionable French cookie known as the macaron.
These light, crunchy, almond-flour meringue cookies should not to be confused with macaroons, the similarly spelled coconut-based cookies. Macaroons are dense, rich and filling, while macarons are light-as-air sandwich cookies that feature two dome-shaped meringues hugging a silken filling.
Like the snow that’s settling over so many Canadian cities right now, perfect macarons are crisp, even and slightly shiny on top. A small, uniform ridged base called “le pied” – French for “foot” – also surrounds them.
Macarons have been popular in France for decades, but it’s only in the past two to three years that bakeries in major Canadian cities such as Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal have started to offer them. And it’s only during the past year or so that they have become chic party food. For instance, whereas these cookies were scarce in Toronto even last Christmas, they are now on offer at a dozen well-known bakeries and perhaps at many more outlets in that city.
They’ve even been tested in the lucrative Starbucks market: For two weeks this past December, 12-piece macaron boxes made in France by Château Blanc were sold for US$9.95 at the coffee giant’s outlets in the United States.
“We tried to launch macarons five years ago and it was too early,” says Dean Aronovici, co-owner of Amadeus Fine Cakes in Thornhill, a Toronto suburb. “Then, we made them again during the Passover season last spring and we sold out. All of a sudden, our customers couldn’t get enough macarons.”
This fervor for macarons seems to be widespread. In the Cirque du Soleil travelling show’s VIP tent, macarons are served not only as dessert, but also used for making canapés: The show’s caterer pipes blue cheese cream over a plain macaron base to serve as a sweet and savoury selection alongside other more traditional hors d’oeuvres.
Macaron towers similar to croquenbouche are also turning up more often at weddings and swish receptions. Moreover, egg company Burnbrae Farms recently added a lemon macaron recipe to its website to please consumers eager to try making these elegant cookies
Culinary historians trace the name of the macaron back to Italy, where the Venetian word macarone, meaning fine paste, was shortened to name the navel-shaped cookies Italian monks were making there as early as 791.
Many centuries later, in 1533, Catherine de Medici packed macarons alongside her fork in the luggage she took on her visit to France; from that time on, these cookies became permanent French citizens.
However, it took until 1930 for sandwiched macarons, fused together by creamy ganache, to be popularized at Ladurée, the Parisian family bakery that opened on Rue Royale in 1862.
While macarons are made in many parts of France, today two Paris bakeries vie for the distinction of being the most famous macaron makers. Ladurée is still credited with making the best macarons in the world. In fact, The Guardian newspaper recently awarded Ladurée the seventh spot on its “Top 50 foods to Eat in the World and Where to Eat Them” list for the bakery’s original chocolate macaron variety.
But it’s macaron visionary Pierre Hermé whose flavour-bending, seasonal renderings of these two-bite morsels has propelled them to international popularity. Besides making inventively flavoured macarons such as chestnut, matcha, wild rose, fig and even ketchup and foie gras, Hermé is also adept at making more mainstream flavours and wrote a popular cookbook on the subject. Hermé’s macarons are so popular that last March when he offered them at a discount to raise money for charity, a line formed around the block.
When asked about creating Hermé-style flavours for Amadeus, Aronovici notes that most of his customers are pretty conservative and still discovering basic macarons. Instead Aronovici and his brother Leo offer five basic macarons at Amadeus on a daily basis: raspberry, vanilla, pistachio, lemon and chocolate.
“We chose these flavours because they’re popular with our clients but also because the colours work well together in our display case,” Aronovici says.
In Montreal, where macarons are even more popular, the offering is generally broader. La Maison du Macaron, for instance, carries 17 varieties at all times. Likewise, Say See Bon Patisserie in Vancouver dabbles in exotic flavours such as matcha.
Although making the perfect macaron takes practice, the effort can be financially worthwhile. Prices range from $1 each at Amadeus to $2 at downtown Toronto bakery Nadege Patisserie and $3.25 each at La Maison du Macaron and Say See Bon – that’s about $25 to $30 per pound for egg whites, icing sugar, granulated sugar and almond powder!
Macarons are also gluten-free, which makes them a good choice for customers with celiac disease or wheat sensitivities. Similarly, this absence of wheat ingredients means that macarons are an ideal dessert for Passover, when practicing Jews omit wheat products from their diets for eight days each spring. / BJ
|Make macaron magic
Mastering the macaron can offer technical challenges, so before you preheat the oven and start whipping up egg whites, read these tips from Dean and Leo Aronovici at Amadeus Fine Cakes:
Dana McCauley is a food writer and blogger. She can be reached at email@example.com
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