When the delectable macarons are mentioned, we may dreamily drift back in our mind to Paris, and the fond memory of enjoying the almond-meringue sweets there. Now you may have reason to think of Amsterdam instead.
Poptasi Pastry recently opened its doors in De Pijip, to sell only macarons. It’s a pleasant and friendly French invasion of colours, and flavours that are all natural. Nutty pistachio, chocolate cream, sharp lemon, rose, lychee, basil and hazelnut, are some of the available tempting flavours, not forgetting favourite Dutch gingerbread or stroopwafel.
No doubt created by some inspired French cook in the late 18th century, this delicacy, made of egg white, icing sugar and almond powder, has been melting in mouths, widening eyes, and filling gourmet stomachs ever since. Debate continues about the origins of this French confectionery. According to some, we owe the creation of the macaron to the kitchen activity of nuns in a convent near Cormery in central France, in 1791. As the word macaron comes the Italian maccarone, with both words meaning fine dough, some food historians traced the sweet back to travelling Italian pastry chefs of Catherine de Medici who accompanied her to France in 1533 on her journey to marry French King Henry II. Around 1830s, spices, liqueurs and jams were added to the macaron, now also called “Paris macaron” or “Gerbet”.
Macaron is sometimes confused with macaroon. Macaroon is a different baked sweet that has ground almond as well but also contains shredded dried coconut. There are many regional variations of the macaron in France. Macarons d’Amiens, made in Amiens and first recorded in 1855, are small, round biscuits made with honey, fruit and almond paste. There is even a macaron museum in the town of Montmorillon, the Poitou-Charentes region in western France, that is famous for this sweet. Since 1920, the city’s oldest macaron bakery, Maison Rannou-Métivier, has kept unchanged the traditional recipe for Montmorillon macarons that has been used for over 150 years. In Saint-Jean-de-Luz, macaron Chef Adam baked the delicacies sumptuously for Louis XIV and Marie-Therese at their wedding celebration in 1660. Nancy in Lorraine became part of the history of macaron with its Les Soeurs Macarons (macaron sisters). The abbess of Remiremont, a town on the Moselle river in northeastern France, founded the order of Dames du Saint-Sacrement and forbade eating meat. Nuns of the convent, Sisters Marguerite and Marie-Elisabeth, were credited with creating the Nancy macaron, to ease their strict food regime. Nancy honored the nuns in 1952 by naming Rue de La Hache, regarded as the birth place of the macaron, after their surname.
The confection current shape and composition of two almond meringue sandwich discs, with a layer of jam, buttercream, or ganache filling in the middle, was an inspired innovation of chef Pierre Desfontaines in early 20th century. He was the grandson of Louis Ernest Ladurée, of the famous luxurious Ladurée patisserie and salon on Rue Royale in Paris. The patisserie is now known as the inventor of the double-decker macarons and the salon sells 15,000 of these each day. Ladurée remains one of the best known makers of macarons in the world.
The Dutch version of macaron is Macaron Hollandais that is made of the same basic ingredients as the French varieties, using ground almond, egg white, and confectionery sugar but usually has a drizzle of chocolate on top.
They are served flat like little biscuits or with a middle layer of almond paste (marzipan) flavoured with cocoa and a touch of liqueur, and tending to taste slightly more coarse than the traditional French version.
A recipe for Macaron Hollandais is this:
2/3 cup ground almonds or almond flour, 1 1/2 cups icing sugar, 3 large egg whites (at room temperature), 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, marzipan filling, 8-once tube of almond paste (marzipan) at room temperature, 3 tablespoons cocoa powder,1 tablespoon chocolate/coffee or pear liqueur.
Preheat oven to 315F (after drying time) with preparation time of 20 minutes, plus 1 hour (drying time). Cooking time is 12 minutes and yields 40-48 macarons.
You may need to read a recipe online to find details of how to combine the ingredients.
Whichever type of macaron you may be fortunate enough to have on the little plate beside your afternoon cup of tea or coffee, it’s likely to be a real historical treat.
Bon macaron appétit.