I think I first saw macarons on Helen‘s blog and remember wondering why her “macaroons” looked different! Until I realized that a macaron wasn’t even remotely related to a macaroon.
A macaron and a macaroon are both cookies, though I’m sure quite a macaron afficionado would be shocked to see me referring to the macaron as “just another cookie”!
A “macaron” is made with beaten egg whites, powdered almonds and sugar whereas a “macaroon” is a sticky and sweet coconut cookie. So totally different yet they are apparently connected in their origins.
Some say that the macaron is French while others think it is Italian but the general consensus is that they both get their name from the Italian word “maccherone” which means flour-and-water paste. This, incidentally, is where the elbow shaped pasta macaroni also derives its name from!
As the story goes, the macaroon (not macaron) was taken out of Italy to France by two Carmelite nuns who baked almond and egg white cookies for a living, and by Italian Jews to Europe where these flourless cookies were baked for Passover. These cookies eventually reached the U.S. where the almonds were substituted with coconut and became macaroons.
So maccherone basically refers to a paste which in the case of the macaron, is an egg white-nut paste. The French macaron as it is known today in its various hues and flavours, with buttercream (or ganache) sandwiched between two almond meringue cookies, is attributed to **Pierre Hermé
Updated (12th Sept., 2009) : Hilda tells me that it wasn’t Pierre Hermè who revived the macaron but the French pastry shop Ladurée** who were responsible for this. Pierre Hermé worked with Ladurée early in his career and became well known for the unusual and exotic flavour combinations he brought to the world of macarons.
Ladurée**, incidentally, spells it’s macarons as “macaroons”. So I guess the debate as to whether the macaron is to be spelt as “macaron” or “macaroon”, is very much alive!
In the past year and a half or so since I started blogging, I’ve been seeing more than my fair share of macarons in an unbelievable number of colours and exotic flavours. It was natural that all this made me want to hop onto the macaron bandwagon too, but lacked the courage to do so. I had also been reading a lot about how difficult it was to achieve “the” macaron.
So how difficult can a cookie made with some egg-whites, powdered almonds and sugar get, right? You have to try this one out to answer that question.
And there are only two answers to this. Either you’re lucky (and have lots, I mean lots of luck) and get it right and then it’s a breeze, or you don’t and wonder how something so simple can become such a nightmare!!
I didn’t have much luck and after a couple of miserable attempts, I was quite ready to give up! There are a lot of good recipes out there for macarons but they all require very precise weight measurements of ingredients and I’m someone who cooks and blogs without a kitchen scale! Which is why I chose to use David Lebovitz‘s chocolate macaron recipe (which is also a French macaron recipe like Helen’s) as a starting point as that deals with cups and spoons. I slightly adapted the recipe as I made coffee macarons (which was Jamie‘s chosen flavour) instead of chocolate macarons. My macarons were filled with a dark chocolate-Nutella ganache.
Bolstered by the heady feeling of my coffee macaron success, even if they weren’t perfect but somewhat chubby, I decided to experiment with flavours. This wasn’t one of my best decisions though. I dreamt of making rose macarons with a cardamom flavoured white chocolate ganache filling. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? I thought so too. Dream it shall remain, for now at least, as it never happened.
My rose macarons came out very pretty, like pink meringue cookies but had no”feet”. I was a bit disappointed here but felt reassured as I at least had cookies! So once they were cool, I peeled them off the foil and they seemed alright. Then I tried to fill them and found out they were so soft that they caved in, collapsed in my hands and I was left holding a slightly sticky and crumbling mass!
The rose meringue cookies (can’t call them macarons, I guess) tasted good however, and I managed to rescue just 3 cookies to take a picture. This picture does give me some hope though apparently that is what the original French macarons looked like. At least my “rose macarons” looked right, all the way down to the slightly cracked tops!
It always helps if you’re lucky to have friends who are willing to share their experiences and advice with you. I certainly was and wouldn’t have made mine without the following people who jumped in to offer me advice, answer all my questions and clear my confusion.
And here’s the David Lebovitz recipe I tweaked a little and used.