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.
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.