Macarons or macaroons are timeless little desert biscuits… Fads may come and fads may go, but macarons, the little aristocrats of the patisserie world, will always be in fashion.
History of macarons
Popular myth has it that macarons, the pretty little crunchy, soft biscuit cakes, came to France in 1533 when Catherine de Medici arrived from Italy to marry Henry II of France.
One of the legendary stories of macarons dates back to the 18th century. In the city of Nancy in eastern France, at the Convent of the Dames du Saint Sacrement, the nuns baked macarons. Allegedly they found them nutritious, and forbidden to eat meat, the delicious cakes were a good substitute.
In 1792, two of the nuns, Sisters Marguerite and Marie-Elisabeth, began selling macarons commercially to the general public after losing their home in the days of French Revolutionary chaos and anti-religious fervour.
Their little crispy rustic looking macaron biscuits became instantly popular. Since then, the secret recipe has been passed on from one generation to another. Today Maison des Soeurs Macaron in Nancy continues to produce the macarons to the same centuries old recipe. It’s a single biscuit with a rough, cracked top and a scrumptiously soft and chewy inside.
Elsewhere in France there are other legends, more stories of the making and popularity of macarons. Saint-Emilion is famous for its macarons, and the Pays Basque macarons are renowned, and of course Paris. Especially those produced by one of the most famous macaron makers in the world – Ladurée.
In 1862, Louis Ernest Ladurée created a bakery at 16 rue Royale in the heart of Paris. When it burned down, Ladurée rebuilt it and employed Jules Cheret, notable painter of the century, to redecorate the new bakery. Inspired by the techniques used to paint the ceilings of the Opera Garnier, he adorned the ceilings and walls. Over the years the bakery became well known for its beautiful interior and superior pastries. It became one of the most popular tea rooms in Paris. In the early 20th Century the grand-son of Louis Ernest Ladurée suggested sandwiching two macarons together with cream. The idea was an instant best-seller which made the macarons of Ladurée their flagship product and famous all over the world.
Today in Paris there is one man who epitomises the making of a perfect macaron. Pierre Hermé of Paris is generally acknowledged to be the master. Described as a couturier of pastry, “the Picasso of Pastry” (Vogue) – his macarons are in a league of its own. For the last 15 years he has dominated the macaron market for enthusiastic gourmets.
So beloved are macarons in France that there is even a museum dedicated to them! The Musée de l’Amande et du Macaron in Montmorillon, Vienne, Poitou-Charentes where you can learn about the history of this fascinating and enduring little cake and even have a tasting in the museum’s Winter Garden.
Eclairs may come and go, Cronuts (half croissant and half doughnut) may be the darling du jour, but the macaron will keep on going, changing flavours. Vive le macaron!
More about cakes of France:
Opera Cake – inspired by the Paris Opera
Eclairs – the lip-smacking sweet finger cake!
Stohrer – the oldest cake shop in Paris
Pierre Herme’s recipe for chocolate macarons
How to make Saint-Emilion style macarons