Macaron Mania

They are pastel bites that melt on the tongue and make the mouth sing, delightful confections currently taking the dessert world by storm, macarons.

They are sweet meringue-based cookies made with egg whites, icing sugar, granulated sugar and almond flour.  Then can be further embellished by food coloring and exotic flavorings and are commonly sandwiched with buttercream, jam or ganache filling.  They are characterized by a smooth, domed top, ruffled circumference known as the “foot” and flat base. They have an egg shell-like exterior and a light moist interior that once fused with their filling create a wonderful marriage of taste and texture for the taste buds.

Often confused with their North American counterpart the coconut macaroon, their only similarity is their chewiness, one has very little do with the other.  Despite their massive popularity of late, macarons (spelled with only one “o”) are dainty delights whose origins date back to the 1500’s. They can be traced back to Venice during the Renaissance. In fact, the name macaron comes from the Italian maccherone, which translates to “fine dough” (this by the way is also where the name for the pasta came from, but that’s another story).  It is believed that delicate biscuit was brought to France by Caterina di Medici and her pastry chefs, but didn’t gain notoriety until 1792 when two Carmelite nuns seeking asylum in the town of Nancy, during the French Revolution, baked and sold macarons in order to support themselves and soon became known as the “Macaron Sisters”.  Other accounts state that the sisters created the cookie to fit the strict dietary requirements of their order.  No matter the variance in tale, the one commonality is that the treats they created were a simple combination of ground almonds, egg whites and sugar, a humble cookie, without a filling.  The introduction of the macaron as a sweet sandwich came in the 1900’s when Pierre Desfontaines, chef of the famed Parisian pastry shop and cafe Ladurée, decided to take two of the cookies and fill them with ganache.  Almost 150 years later, the pastisserie has become the macaroon mecca of Paris selling 15,000 a day and making it a definite stop in the city of love, for lovers of the almond cookie.

The almond merengue exploded onto the pastry scene after the 2006 film “Marie Antoinette” featured star Kirsten Dunst satisfying her sweet tooth by indulging in the Ladurée macarons.  They have now become known the world over. Outside of France, where macarons are even served at McDonald’s, they are extremely popular in Switzerland where they are known as Luxemburgerli, in Japan, known as the “makaron”, in Korea known as the “ma-ka-rong” in Korea and of course here in North America, where they are available in a myriad of flavors and a rainbow of colors.

So legendary has the pride of France become, that it is celebrated with its own day. In 2006, Pierre Herme of the noted Parisian boutique patisserie began Le Jour du Macaron, a day dedicated to honoring the famed treat, but also to giving back.  In collaboration other members of the prestigious Association Relais Desserts, Herme handed out free macarons to his patrons in the hopes that they in turn would make a donation to charity.  The day was hugely successful in raising money and awareness, and is now celebrating  its 9th anniversary.  Le Jour du Macaron has expanded beyond the French border to other corners of the world, including here in Toronto, where some of the city’s finest pastry shops will be handing out free macarons and 25 percent of all additional sales will be donated to a worthy cause.  So enjoy an elegant sweet today  and honor the magnificent macaron.

Buon Appetito!

For more information about Toronto’s Jour du Macaron visit www.macarondayto.com

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