Give us a brief history of the macaron.
The French macaron -- not to be confused with the coconut macaroon, or the more rustic-looking almond macaroon -- actually originated at a monastery in 14th-century Venice! They were said to be shaped like a monk's navel, and French nuns used them to pay for housing during the French Revolution. But its modern iteration as sandwich cookie was popularized by Parisian pastry shop Laduree in the 1900s. The craze moved stateside a few years ago, and there’s no end in sight.
Why do you think they’ve become so popular?
Their Parisian heritage certainly counts for something, but don’t underestimate the power of pretty colors -- who doesn’t love a fancy, bite-sized treat? I think they look like jewels.
They’re also indulgent without being over-the-top. They’re high in sugar, of course, but the only fat comes from the almonds and possibly the filling. They’re naturally gluten-free, too.
Describe the cookie’s taste and texture.
Structurally, you’ve got two almond meringue biscuits sandwiching some sort of filling. The cookie “shells” are very crisp out of the oven, and they’ll stay that way for months in an airtight container.
Once you sandwich them, though, the insides begin to soften, creating the contrast we associate with the best macarons. Many people don’t realize that macarons have to be aged! This can take anywhere from 24 to 72 hours, depending on the filling -- something liquidy like jam will be ready overnight, while a buttercream that firms in the fridge can take up to a week. The perfect macaron should have a crisp outside and a soft, chewy middle.
Flavorwise, the possibilities are endless! We’ve developed six recipes for the issue, but so much can be done with mixing and matching -- for example, a mint cookie could go with a dark-chocolate ganache, a white-chocolate buttercream, or even something fruity or herbal. I love our rose macarons paired with raspberry jam filling.
Why would one make them at home instead of buying them ready-made?
The difference in cost is pretty incredible. A single macaron costs about $0.18 to make at home, whereas a bakery version can set you back up to $4 per cookie. They’re not difficult to make, either -- just very precise. Our recipe has removed all the guesswork. If you mise en place your ingredients before you begin and follow the directions exactly, you’ll be fine.
There’s also the customization factor. They can be colored as well as flavored -- just add a few drops of food coloring in the last beating -- so you could even match them to your decor for a party or special occasion.