A funny thing happened on the way to our regular sojourn on the Côte d’Azur last spring. We took a sharp detour west and for two delightful weeks we visited the Pays Basque, tucked in the southwest corner of France. I highly recommend that detour, if you have the opportunity.
The elegant Atlantic seaside town of Biarritz, with its renowned beaches, will enchant you. Surfers of all sizes, ages and abilities abound, attesting to the major international surfing destination reputation the area holds. Explore from the coast up into the rolling foothills and gentle mountains of the Pyrenees and you will fall in love with the Basque culture, cuisine, landscape and language (Euskara).
But that’s a story for another day. Today we learn the truth about “les macarons” … a subject dear to my taste buds and those of millions of other devotees.
First, mes amis, these are not to be confused with “macaroons”, the dense coconut lumps sometimes dipped in chocolate, popular in North America.
Neither are “les veritables macarons” to be confused with the delightful and delicious sandwich-style “macarons parisiens” of pâtisseries as famous as Ladurée and Pierre Hermé. The latter are, as a matter of fact, a fairly recent development in macaron lore: multi-hued and cream-filled in more flavors than anyone ever imagined, we speak not of those today.
The truth was revealed to us in the historic, fishing village of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, twenty minutes south of Biarritz and halfway to the Spanish border. History lives on here.
The area’s wealth stems from the port and its past, including pirates! The town’s prosperity reached a pinnacle during the 17th Century, still considered as its “Golden Age.”
It’s no wonder that Maison Adam markets its “véritables macarons” as the true originals. After all, they precede Ladurée’s by three centuries and can be traced back to the 1660 royal wedding of Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’, and Maria Theresa, the Infanta of Spain.
Apparently the king’s bride-to-be and his mother loved the cookies, so they were served at the wedding. Various legends abound as to whether the treats were created specifically for the occasion. All that matters is that they are still created to this day!
The closely guarded recipe remains the same, through all these centuries, and the family business has been handed down through father and son. Baked into rustic rounds that are sold as single biscuits, until recently, these Basque macarons were seldom found outside the Pays Basque.
This plain, unvarnished, rustic gem is simultaneously crisp and tender. The pure almond essence is unsullied by supplemental flavours and fragrances. There are no variations. That’s the rule!
These macarons are simply divine and literally melt in your mouth. Fresh almonds from Valencia and Marcona in Spain are the main ingredients. The recipe is simple, with egg whites, sugar and salt, and no artificial components whatsoever.
The balanced sweetness pairs as well with Champagne as it does with coffee.
The best place to find Basque macarons is the iconic pâtisserie Maison Adam still located in Saint-Jean-de-Luz at 4, Place Louis XIV. The website is a delight to visit on its own.
AND they have a chocolate fountain in the shop. Formidable!
Or stop in at the trendy Maison Adam shop in Biarritz, minutes away from the main beach.
These crisp, chewy taste sensations are called mouchous locally, from the basque Muxu meaning a kiss. How sweet is that?
It had to happen. Léna Coffee Shop and Bakery in Greenwich Village, NYC, is now bringing “les veritables macarons” to the USA. Léna, 1 W. 8th St., nr. Fifth Ave.
Patricia Sands lives in Toronto, Canada, and calls the south of France her second home. I Promise You This, Book 3 in her award-winning Love in Provence series, will be published in May 2016. Find Patricia at her Facebook or Amazon Author Page or her website.