Macarons or macaroons are those timeless little desert biscuits… fads may come and fads may go says Janine Marsh who knows a good macaron when she eats one – but macarons, those little aristocrats of the patisserie world, will always be in fashion.
Popular myth has it that macarons, the pretty little crunchy, soft biscuit cakes, came to France in 1533 when Catherine de Medici arrived from Italy to marry Henry II of France.
Macarons are certainly of Italian origin, possibly dating back as far as the 8th Century after almonds started to be imported to Venice.
They seem though to have become archetypically French over the centuries ensuing.
One of the legendary stories of macarons dates back to the 18th century in the city of Nancy in eastern France. At the Convent of the Dames du Saint Sacrement, the nuns baked macarons because meat was forbidden and the sweet little cakes were nutritious – and of course delicious.
In 1792, two of the nuns, Sisters Marguerite and Marie-Elisabeth, began selling macarons commercially to the general public after losing their home in the days of French Revolutionary chaos and anti-religious fervour.
Their little crispy rustic looking macaron biscuits became instantly popular and the secret recipe has been passed on from one generation to another. Today Maison des Soeurs Macaron in Nancy continues to produce the macarons to the same centuries old recipe, a single biscuit with a rough, cracked top and a scrumptiously soft and chewy inside.
Elsewhere in France there are other legends, more stories of the making and popularity of macarons including that of one of the most famous macaron outlets in Paris – Ladurée.
In 1862, Louis Ernest Ladurée created a bakery at 16 rue Royale in the heart of Paris. When it burned down, Ladurée rebuilt it and employed Jules Cheret, notable painter of the century, to redecorate the new bakery. Inspired by the techniques used to paint the ceilings of the Opera Garnier, he adorned the ceilings and walls. Over the years the bakery became well known for its beautiful interior and superior pastries, becoming one of the largest tea rooms in Paris. In the early 20th Century the grand-son of Louis Ernest Ladurée, came up with an idea to assemble the little macaron biscuits sandwiched by cream and it became a best-selling idea which made the macarons of Laduree their flagship product and famous all over the world.
Today in Paris there is one man who epitomises the making of a perfect macaron – Pierre Hermé of Paris is generally acknowledged to be the master . Described as a couturier of pastry, “the Picasso of Pastry” (Vogue) – his macarons are in a league of its own. For the last 15 years he has dominated the macaron market for enthusiastic gourmets.
So beloved are macarons in France that there is even a museum dedicated to them! The Musée de l’Amande et du Macaron in Montmorillon, Vienne, Poituo-Charente where you can learn about the history of this fascinating and enduring little cake and even have a tasting in the museum’s Winter Garden.
Eclairs may come and go, Cronuts (half croissant and half doughnut) may be the darling du jour, but the macaron will keep on going, changing flavours, sweet… savoury, vive la macaron!
More about cakes of France:
Opera Cake – inspired by the Paris Opera
Eclairs – the lip-smacking sweet finger cake!
Stohrer – the oldest cake shop in Paris