Pop into any fancy bakery or patisserie and you will find a rainbow assortment of the delicious French treats called macarons. They shouldn’t be confused with the very different, but equally delicious macaroons, whose spelling includes an extra “o” and rhymes with “soon” and is a shredded coconut cookie. Macarons traditionally are made from a light meringue and using two are sandwiched together with buttercream.
I was curious about the history of the macaron and was amazed to find out that the origin may actually be Italian. Larousse Gastronomique cites the macaron as being created in 1791 in a convent near Cormery in the center of France. Some have traced its French debut to the arrival of Catherine de Medici. Upon marrying Henry II of France in 1533, she brought her Italian pastry chefs and the early form of macarons with her.
In 1792, macarons began to gain fame when two Carmelite nuns, seeking asylum in Nancy during the French Revolution, baked and sold the macaron cookies in order to pay for their housing. These nuns became known as the “Macaron Sisters”. In these early stages, macarons were served without special flavours or fillings.
It was not until the 1830s that macarons began to be served two-by-two with the addition of jams, liqueurs, and spices. The macaron as it is known today, composed of two almond meringue discs filled with a layer of buttercream, jam or ganache filling, was originally called the “Gerbet” or the Paris macaron”. Pierre Desfontaines of the French patisserie Laduree has sometimes been credited with its creation in the early part of the 20th century, but another baker, Claude Gerbet, also claims to have invented it.
Either way, they are melt-in-your-mouth delicious. I discovered them at the Duchess Bake Shop, a delightfully French-inspired but truly Canadian bakeshop near downtown Edmonton. The Bake Shop has an affiliated Atelier, where you can take the best baking classes, of which the macaron classes are the most popular and are sold out in minutes. While I didn’t get into the class, I was lucky enough to have Katie Robinson teach a private class to myself and a few friends. Katie is a SAIT trained pastry chef and works part-time at the Duchess Atelier.
I had never attempted making macarons on my own before, but we had a fantastic fun afternoon and learned lots of tips from Katie.
- Use quality ingredients such as a very finely and evenly ground almond flour
- Duchess’s recipe uses both fresh egg whites and egg white powder (egg albumen). The powder helps with stabilizing the meringue. Make sure your egg whites are at room temperature to help build volume. The albumen can be purchased online or at specialty grocery stores.
- With macarons, it is imperative to weigh out your ingredients.
- It was also the first time I had used powder colour which gives lovely tints to the macaron batter without adding extra liquid. A tiny bit goes a long way!
- Macaronage (yes, that’s a verb) and means mixing of the batter, which must be done carefully. Under mixing can lead to the shells not having a smooth top and overmixing the batter will make it too runny and your macarons will be flat.
This is a picture of the macarons we came home with. Our flavours were salted caramel, strawberry, chocolate ganache and lemon raspberry. We were all very pleased with how well they turned out. There are so many possibilities for flavours—try experimenting!
One of my favourite tips was that macarons freeze extremely well and only take about ½ hour to thaw, so they are the perfect make-ahead dessert to serve with tea or an after-dinner espresso. The added bonus is that you won’t eat the entire batch in one sitting.
I’ve included (with permission) Duchess Bake Shop’s macaron and buttercream recipes that are from their very popular cookbook: Duchess Bake Shop, French-Inspired Recipes from Our Bakery to Your Home by Giselle Courteau. Take the time to read the instructions, get your ingredients and your friends together and make some delicious macarons!!