All about the macaron, the colourful French cake

The macaron is a small French cake with a delicious history. Many believe it originated in Italy, but it was the French who made it famous. Made with almond powder, sugar and egg whites, it has a crisp exterior and a deliciously soft interior. The round shape measures 3 to 5 cm in diameter and the recipe is derived from the meringue. There are many different kinds, the most famous being the Parisian macarons. These delicate and tasty treats can be found all over the world, with each country adding its own touch in terms of finish or visual appeal. In this article, we will explore the history of this small French cake, as well as its many variations. We will also provide you with a recipe so that you can make these delicious cakes at home!

The origins of the French small cake

Originally, the macaron was made in Arab countries, like many other cakes made from almonds. But it was probably during the Middle Ages, under the Renaissance period, that the small cake appeared in France, especially when Catherine de Medici imported them from Italy for her wedding. At that time, the first versions of the cake had the Italian name “Maccharone” which means “dough” and macarons were just simple cookies.

Assortment of Ladurée macarons
Assortment of Ladurée macarons

The different types

During the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, several kinds of macarons appeared in different regions of France. The most famous are :

  • The Joyeuse macaron : made in the Ardèche, this almond-based and completely crunchy cake appeared in 1581. It was served at the wedding of the Duc de Joyeuse, hence its name.
  • The Lannion macaron , originally from Brittany, is a cross between macaroni and oublie (a pastry from the Middle Ages, close to a galette).
  • The Saint-Emilion macaron : made in 1620, it combines sweet and bitter almonds, egg whites and sugar.
  • The Saint-Jean-de-Luz macaron: appeared in 1660, this small French cake was offered to King Louis XIV at his wedding.
  • The Montmorillon macaron: appeared in the 19th century in Vienne, this cake is distinguished by its appearance in the shape of a small crown.
  • The Lorraine macaron : known as the Nancy macaron, it has been around since 1850.
  • The Boulay macaroon : appeared in 1854, this cake has the particularity of being composed of a hard crust and a melting interior.

Macarons from Paris

The Parisian macaron is at the origin of modern macaron. In the middle of the 19th century, Parisian pastry chefs had the idea of assembling the 2 cakes shells around a ganache. The ganache can consist of jam, buttercream or compote. New recipes are then appearing in Ile-de-France pastries. Towards the beginning of the 20th century, Parisian macarons whose heart has a different flavor than the shell also made their appearance, and you can even find savory. The cake also becomes a symbol of French refinement and modern cuisine. Macarons in Paris owe their popularity to the tea rooms in the Latin Quarters operated by the Dalloyau and Ladurée brands.

Ladurée and Pierre Hermé macarons

Inventor of the modern macaron, Ladurée has existed since 1862. It was one of the first Parisian tea salons and today Ladurée salons are established all over the world: they can be found in the United States as well as in Russia. Another particularity of Ladurée macarons is to offer cupcakes colored in pastel tones indicating their flavor. The pastry chef Pierre Hermé, nicknamed king of the macaron, is at the origin of the revisited macaron. While perpetuating the tradition, its famous Ispahan macaron biscuit made of cream with rose petals, whole raspberries and lychees, has become a staple of luxury pastry, with its different flavors. Pierre Hermé was crowned best pastry chef in the world in 2016 by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and he has 47 stores in 12 countries.

The Ispahan macaron from Pierre Hermé
The Ispahan macaron from Pierre Hermé

The recipe for making chocolate macarons

To make the shell of the macarons, take the following ingredients:

  • 150 grams of icing sugar
  • 75 grams of ground almonds
  • 30 grams of cocoa
  • 3 egg whites
  • 90 grams of sugar

Here is the list of ingredients needed to make the ganache:

  • 130 milliliters of 35% liquid cream
  • 130 grams of dark chocolate

Cut the chocolate into small pieces and put them in a bowl. Boil the cream and pour it over the chocolate. Using a wooden spoon, mix delicately and leave to rest for 2 hours in the refrigerator. For the macarons, mix the icing sugar, almond powder and cocoa. Pass through a sieve to obtain a very fine mixture to make beautiful shells. Whisk the egg whites (they must weigh between 95 and 100 grams). Add the sugar little by little to tighten the meringue. The whites should be firm, shiny and supple. Then gradually incorporate the meringue into the powder mixture using a spatula to obtain a homogeneous paste. Put the preparation in a piping bag then form small circles on a baking sheet. Let stand 30 minutes. Then bake at 180 degrees for 10 minutes. Take out and let cool. Last step, all that remains is to fill the macaroons with the ganache, before storing them in the refrigerator. Note: to obtain a perfect balance, you need about 15 grams of filling per macaroon.

Chocolate macarons
Chocolate macarons

Where to buy macarons?

If you live in Paris or the Paris region, of course we advise you to go to a Ladurée or Pierre Hermé store. At Ladurée, the price of a box of 8 pieces is around 25 euros. Pierre Hermé offers a box of 12 heart-shaped macarons with flavors of lemon, caramel, roses and Belize chocolate, for 35 euros. The two brands also offer online ordering on their websites, with delivery by courier or home delivery. Click and collect withdrawal is also available.

Macarons around the world

The small French cake is also very popular abroad. In Switzerland, for example, Zurich macarons are made with 2 almond meringue shells filled with buttercream. In Japan, the cake is mainly present in the world of fashion and cosmetics: it is mainly found visually on phone cases or on fashion accessories. In South Korea, the “Makarong” is a cake decorated with powder and green tea leaves. In Tunisia, the small French cake is the equivalent of the petit four and it is served during family celebrations.

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