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Macaroons & Macarons

When most Americans hear the word macaroon, they think of a sweet, chewy mound of shredded coconut, held together by egg whites. While that is certainly a macaroon, the world of macaroons is more complicated than coconut and egg whites. The history of the word “macaroon” is complex and is worthy of some explanation, especially when the product that we carry here at the Co-op bears no resemblance to the chewy, coconut version of this delectable dessert.

The coconut macaroon is a dessert that comes to the United States via Scotland, Ireland, Spain, India and/or Turkey, but the unique product that the Co-op has recently started offering has its roots firmly planted in France. The French “macaron” is a delightful meringue-based sandwich-cookie confectionery made from egg whites, almonds, and sugar. This light, airy treat is radically different from the more prevalent macaroon. The two delicate cookies are formed and baked to perfection which creates a smooth eggshell-like crust with a light and moist interior. Two macaron cookies are fused together with a sweet buttercream, ganache, or jam to create one French macaroon!

Macaroon or macaron
The question that ought to be asked at this point is, “How did the French macaron come to be known as a macaroon over here?” While it is true that using the original French spelling of the word would go far in eliminating confusion, the truth of the matter is both spellings are accurate for describing the less-recognized French version. When the “macaron” made the leap across the English Channel there occurred a change in spelling and pronunciation. The French word macaron is, itself, derived from the Italian word maccherone meaning “fine dough.” Interestingly, the word macaroni also stems from this same root. Thankfully the difference between macaroni and macarons is quite apparent.

A brief history
As long as we are on the topic, a brief history of the evolution of the French Macaron offers some intriguing and interesting thoughts about this increasingly popular little treat. The exact origin of the macaron is not known, but there is some speculation that they may have been brought to France from Italy as early as 1533 by Catherine Di Medici and the pastry chefs she brought with her when she married the Duc d’Orleans, who in 1547 became King Henry II.
The story continues, though, that macarons didn’t become popular until 1792 when two Carmelite nuns, seeking asylum in Nancy during the French revolution, baked and sold macarons in order to support themselves. Sisters Marguerite and Marie-Elisabeth are credited with creating the Nancy macaron to fit their dietary requirements. They became known as the “Macaron Sisters” (Les Soeurs Macarons). This macaron was a simple combination of ground almonds, egg whites, powdered and granulated sugar. These were not yet the final version of the macaron; they were simply light, delicate cookies without any filling.

It wasn’t until the 1900s that Pierre Desfontaines of the Parisian pastry shop and cafe Laduree decided to take two of the Nancy cookies and fill them with a ganache, et Voila! Le macaron. To this day, a stop at Laduree is considered a “must do” for any macaron connoisseur when in Paris.

Although the French macaroon is gaining popularity in the U.S., they are still mostly found in pastry shops and cafés scattered throughout the country. Part of the appeal of this elusive treat is that the preparation is so delicate in nature, making mass production a difficult task. This coupled with the facts that they are meant to be eaten fresh, and transporting them is highly risky (nobody wants a broken macaroon), when you find them, you know that you are getting something special.

Five varieties
While the ultimate goal for macaroon or macaron lovers is likely to visit Paris and sample the wares of Laudree, we are so very happy to offer a more cost-efficient alternative here at the Willy Street Co-op. So if you can’t get to Paris any time soon, stop by and pick up one or six of these delicate, exquisite gourmet treats. We currently offer five varieties (vanilla, strawberry, lemon, chocolate and chocolate mint).

So call me a macaron, macaroon or delicious double-decker meringue sandwich. Just don’t call me a moon pie!

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