I’ve mentioned macarons (“macaroons” in English) in my past posts. These small meringue-like cookies filled with a thick layer of cream have always played a prominent role in my European culinary adventures. I realized the other day that, even though I’ve been known to plan a day around a visit to a famed macaron shop — like Paris’ Pierre Hermé or Ladurée— I didn’t really know much about the history of these tasty delights.
Let’s start off with the name. The French word macaron is derived from the Italian maccherone meaning “fine dough.” The origin of the French version isn’t exactly clear, but it is thought to have been brought to France from Italy as early as 1533 by the pastry chefs of Catherine di Medici (the wife of King Henry II of France from 1547 to 1559 and a great patron of the arts and culinary culture). However, the defining moment in macaron history was in 1792 when two Carmelite nuns seeking asylum in Nancy during the French Revolution baked and sold macarons in order to support themselves. They quickly became known as “les Soeurs Macarons/the Macaron Sisters.” Their macarons were basic almond flavored cookies (without filling). The original recipe from the Macaron Sisters has been kept secret for generations and they can only be purchased from the Maison des Soeurs Macarons shop on rue Gambetta in Nancy. The Macaron Sisters’ original concept of the macaron provided the inspiration for the variety of cream/grenache/jelly-filled “tiny sandwiches” available today.
If you mention macarons in Paris, you’ll surely be told to head to Pierre Hermé’s shop at 72 rue Bonaparte in the Saint Germain des Prés. He began his career at the age of 14 as an apprentice to the renowned pastry chef Gaston Lenôtre. He worked for many years at the famous pastry shop Fauchon, where he conceptualized myriad new macaron flavors. He left Faucheron in 1997 to start his own shop, first in Tokyo and then in Paris. For some serious eye candy, check out his book entitled Macaron (published by Agnès Viénot, 2008).
The Ladurée bakery was founded in 1862 by Louis Ernest Ladurée, a miller from southwestern France. The first Ladurée was located at 16 rue Royale in Paris. Ladurée’s wife, Jeanne Souchard, came up with the innovative idea of mixing the concept of the Parisian café and the pastry shop, resulting in the Parisian salon de thé (tea salon). They began producing airy macarons in the late 1800s and now offer a mind-boggling array of flavors (blackcurrant violet, caramel with salted butter, orange blossom and black licorice, to name a few of my favorites).
Written by Jen Westmoreland Bouchard for EuropeUpClose.com