Confessions of a Macaron Hater

20 12 2012

Okay, it’s probably never been anything as strong as hate.  But “Confessions of a Macaron Ambivalent” isn’t as good a title, now is it?  My general reaction to the macaron-mania of the last few years has been a combination of eye-rolling and ignoring (not unlike what I went through with cupcakes around 2007, but that irritation has mellowed with time, and now I only roll my eyes at stupid cupcakes, by which I mean ones that are more about looking cute than tasting good, or ones that are clearly made just because they’re trendy – red velvet, I’m talking to you here, if people would just take a second to consider how much dye it takes to color a chocolate cake red they would just order a devil’s food cake with cream cheese icing which is a million times better – but I digress, please pardon the run-on parenthetical but I really do hate red velvet cake which is another post entirely).  About the macarons, here’s why.  The grand majority of macarons are composed of the same four ingredients: egg whites, sugar, almond meal, and food coloring.  You whip the egg whites to a meringue, fold in the other stuff, pipe out a gajillion little circles, let them rest so they develop the proper “feet” and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  Sorry, I fell asleep there.  Frankly, the things bore me silly.

Except.

my downfall

I don’t know how it happened.  I might have Heather to blame, a known macaron-lover at whose birthday party last year they were unavoidable.  Or maybe all those pictures on the internet finally wore me down.  Probably not, though.  No, I think the answer is simpler.  Pierre Hermé.  His book on the topic was so pretty I almost wanted to buy it.  Seeing them lined up in his shop, all shiny with luster dust (which I should be opposed to, but it’s just so pearly and delightful to look at… when it’s used correctly, that is), I couldn’t help but smile.  And then one day, hungry for a little sweet snack, I wandered in for a pastry and thought how gorgeous and interesting all his flavor combinations are and how it was a shame I couldn’t take them all home and it hit me that the macarons offered many of these same flavor combinations in bite-size format – I could try three flavors for the price of one individual cake!  So it began.  One of the flavors I chose that day was white truffle and hazelnut, and I admit I picked it because I thought it would be disgusting and therefore justify my dislike of the macaron in general.  Oh, how wrong I was.  The thing is marvelous – you start with a nose full of truffle and you think it’s going to be too turpentiney-strong, but then there’s a crunch of rich, buttery hazelnut and the whole thing is brought into balance.

So I could no longer justify my annoyance with the macaron based on its taste. (Which is not to say there aren’t hordes of really bad, too-dry or too-sweet or too electric blue examples out there.  There are.)  However, I learned something a couple of weeks ago that might just blow the top off this whole macaron charade.  You see, IT’S ALL A LIE!

According to L’Art Culinaire Français, a classic tome of French cookery published in 1950, macarons aren’t macarons at all.  While poring over said book with my good friend Jennifer, a fellow Macaron Eye-Roller, we discovered that the traditional macaron is a much more rustic affair – no meringue, so they’re denser, and the almonds less finely ground, so they have some texture.  There’s also no filling in this classic recipe.  Pictured next to the macaron in the accompanying photo was something called a “patricien” which was identical in looks and method to the little pastry we know as the macaron today.  It’s not really all that scandalous, I admit, but when and why did the name change?  Was “patricien” too snooty?  Did someone misread their pastry history book at some point and the whole misnomer spiraled out of control?  At any rate, I have a new reason to scoff at my secretly-not-hated macaron, and will continue to do so, even as I nip into Pierre Hermé for another fix.

On this day in 2009: Worthwhile French Beers: Ninkasi IPA

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

* In case you’re wondering about the flavors of the macarons pictured here, they are Quince & Rose (gorgeous), Chocolat Porcelana (yes, Hannah-who-also-buys-foods-she-thinks-she-won’t-like, you read that right, he made a macaron out of the Precious, and it was wonderful, with cocoa nibs pressed into the cream filling), and the afore-lauded White Truffle & Hazelnut.

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20 responses

20 12 2012
Katia (@AbsolutelyKatia)

Fellow ambivilent macaron person here too. Meh.
That said, the HISTORY of these little overrated puffs of stuff is SO interesting, as you’ve pointed out. And I LOVE the fact that there are several towns in France which claim to be the birthplace of the “original” macaron (as you cited, with no filling, etc). One town is the famed Saint-Emilion, which has a little boutique on top of the hill selling “véritable macarons”, the recipe for which they claim comes from the 1600s! Love it, and love the fact that these are the sorts of things are what cause debate in this country! (http://www.macarons-saint-emilion.fr/Accueil.html)

20 12 2012
croquecamille

Katia – I, too, love this country most of all for the fact that they have things like celebrity butchers and fromagiers and that heated debates can arise over pastries or cassoulet! :)

20 12 2012
Lindsey Tramuta (@LostNCheeseland)

I love this. I will never look at macarons the same way again!

20 12 2012
Pete

“on this day in 2009…”, which, by my calculations, was the 2nd-to-last post on this blog??

21 12 2012
Hannah

I totally get it. Because even though I had a few macarons in Paris that made me gasp “oh!”, I still think of them as utterly dreary, and I have no interest in cupcakes with their cloying greasy frosting and meh cake.

I just want to wait for you to create chestnut sweets for me. ;)

21 12 2012
Hannah

Oh my gosh, I missed the shout-out until I saw your WWF message! Clearly my brain has a synapse-firing signal that “On this day…” means End Of Post. Thank you darling! xo

21 12 2012
Anne

Thank you for allowing us non macaron enthusiasts to find fellow travelers. I wrote sheepishly about it myself, albeit without your expertise. http://justanotheramericaninparis.blogspot.com/2011/03/jour-du-macaron.html

PS glad to see you are blogging again.

21 12 2012
Debbie

I am right there with you. I was a macaron “hater” as well until the day I had a Pierre Hermé one. Then I fell into heavy “like” with them. Now I enjoy Lauderée’s ones as well. Thanks for making me realize I’m not alone! :-)

21 12 2012
Loulou in France

I love being called a Macaron-Eye-Roller! That is exactly what I am!

So, I think our challenge for 2013 is to find a pâtisserie in Paris (or France) who still makes patrieciens.
What do you think?

21 12 2012
croquecamille

Lindsey – Then my work here is done. :)

Pete – Now, now, no reason to be like that. For your information, my 2nd-to-last post was less than a month ago.

Hannah – You’re welcome! And that’s the problem with cupcakes. So many of them are so, so bad.

Anne – I had no idea I had so much company in the non-macaron-loving camp!

Debbie – I still haven’t branched out to Ladurée, as I’ve found their other pastries to be underwhelming and expensive.

Loulou – Looks like we’re in good company! I am totally up for that challenge.

22 12 2012
Tammy

We had a very similar macaron experience this year. I don’t eat them and then our local shop began creating the most amazing combinations. It’s almost a weekly habit!

23 12 2012
Jessica

There are so many awful macarons out there! Which is why I think they’ve gone down the same trendy-cupcake-road. But PH is definitely my fave. In the summer they had a caramelized fennel one which was quite nice.

24 12 2012
croquecamille

Tammy – And the bite-sized-ness makes it a more acceptable guilty pleasure! :)

Jessica – Oh, I’ll have to look out for that one when it warms up!

24 12 2012
nererue

I don’t hate macarons, but I don’t see the point in bothering when their are madeleines instead.

24 12 2012
croquecamille

nererue – Yes!! Eclairs, too. ;)

29 12 2012
hungry dog

I like macarons fine but I could live without them. And I definitely would never bother trying to make them (esp since I can walk a few blocks and get very good ones at the local boulange–perhaps nothing special by Paris standards but very good for SF standards). But I do think they are pretty and I love seeing the unusual flavors.

29 12 2012
croquecamille

hungry dog – They’ve never been something I felt compelled to make, either – a friend of mine wanted to make some for New Year’s Eve, but I convinced everyone that a croquembouche would be more fun! :)

1 01 2013
Troy in Las Vegas

While studying at a french style pastry school they drilled into our heads that macarons where THE thing to make. It was even mentioned on the tv show Sweet Genius recently that any pastry chef BEST know how to make a good macaron. Me? I was never really ever impressed by them.

1 01 2013
Needful Things

Lol. I hate fads too. Honestly – I’ve never baked a macaron. Not even one. I’ve been tempted (out of curiosity about the technique more than desire to follow the fad), but it just seems like a whole lot of work. Why bake them when I can just buy them instead? Or, better yet, why not just eat chocolate? ;-)

3 01 2013
croquecamille

Needful Things – Heh. Truth be told, a bar of chocolate serves as dessert in my kitchen more often than just about anything else.




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