The Parisian Macaron
Despite having lived in France for a while, having studied and taught French for many years and being a fan of most things French, the Parisian macaron somehow passed me by until very recently. I remember coconut macaroons, pyramid- shaped and overly-sweet, that along with flapjacks, caramel slices and chocolate crispy cakes were the tea time treats of my childhood, but the delicious, delicate and delightfully pretty almond sort are a new-found pleasure. What started out as a cursory, motherly interest in my daughter’s culinary endeavours, has spiralled into a passion, – some may say, an obsession – and I find myself on a quest to create perfect macarons!
Everyone needs a challenge and, for now, this is mine!
Le Dictionnaire LaRousse defines le macaron (from the Italian ‘maccarone or maccherone’) very simply as:
“Petit gateau rond, moelleux, a base de pate d’amandes, de blanc d’oeufs et de sucre qui peut etre parfume a la vanille, au cafe, au chocolat”,
which doesn’t really seem to do justice to these charming, sweet treats. It doesn’t say anything about the potential for rainbow colours or for a myriad of delicious fillings. It doesn’t mention the delicate little frill around the lower edge – the all important foot – or the smooth, domed, crisp top. It certainly doesn’t mention that making the perfect Parisian macaron is an art and a science, and that, despite the simplicity of the ingredients, the recipe and the technique present even the most practised of bakers and pastry chefs with frustrating challenges.
Macaron or Macaroon?
Several well-meaning and generally, well-informed friends have challenged me on the difference between a “macaron” and a ” macaroon”. I wasn’t sure myself at the outset, and we’ve certainly had some good-natured debates about it at home. My Oxford English dictionary defines a macaroon as ” a small light cake or biscuit made with white of egg, sugar and ground almonds or coconut” – the same simple ingredients required to make the somewhat more sophisticated macaron. It stands to reason, therefore, that the difference must be in the recipe and the all-important technique – the macaronage – that appears to be second nature to french pastry chefs. My first, naive attempt at baking macarons certainly resulted in something more akin to a chunky, almond biscuit! A slightly wicked thought – but I can’t help wondering if the English macaroon evolved from the failure of yester-year cooks to master the Parisian macaron.