This is the trendiest dessert/cookie to hit the food industry since probably Baked Alaska.  No, not the coconut “macaroon” you see in the grocery stores at Passover, I’m talking about the classic, tiny, ganache-filled French Macaron … pronounced with a short “O” like “on” not a looong “O” as in “une” … and made with ground almonds, not shredded coconut.

I first discovered this little, crunchy, chewy, filled confection quite a few years ago at a patisserie in London.  There were trays and trays of the pastel-colored cookies lined up in the window.  The colorful display and the exactness of each cookie was eye-catching to say the least.  The next time I saw them was a few years later at a wholesale food show in New York City, and buyers were standing in line to place their orders.  I stood in line too (not to place an order, but just to sample one).  A delicate, light, crunchy exterior with a soft and gooey interior … maybe one of the best little mouthfuls of sweetness I’ve ever had.  Fast forward to today and now these little confections are everywhere!!!  Not only on bakery shelves, but packaged macarons can even be found at Home Goods and Marshalls!  Really??

The Middle East should really be credited with giving us the origins of the macaron.  By the 1st century, they were exploring the culinary possibilities of adding honey, fruit and nuts to food, which resulted with almonds becoming their biggest export.  By the 7th century Persians were indulging in rich, luxurious cakes and pastries, made from these ground almonds called “marzipan”.  These treats reached Europe by the 14th century and it is actually Italians who created this little marzipan nugget.  The name “macaron” comes from the Italian word for paste which is “macaroni” (pasta is a paste made from flour, water and eggs).  I grew up calling pasta macaroni, didn’t you?

The cookies were produced in Venetian monasteries for centuries.  They were referred to simply  as “priest’s bellybuttons” because of the round shape.  You have to know that these cookies were rather plain in color and not sandwiched together as they are today.  In fact, the Italian amaretti cookie is also a ‘macaron’.  The differences are the amaretti is still not sandwiched together with a filling and is flavored with an almond liqueur.

The cookies remained an Italian treat until the Italian princess, Catherine de’ Medici, requested her pastry chefs travel with her to France to make these little delicacies which were to be served at her wedding to the future king of France, Henri II.  This all occurred in the 16th century, but the almond meringue cookies didn’t become popular until the 18th century when, during the French Revolution, two Benedictine nuns began making and selling the cookies in order to support themselves.  Sister Marguerite Gaillot and Sister Marie-Elisabeth Morlot became so popular they were referred to as the “Macaron Sisters” and the  village of Nancy in France has now dedicated a square to them.

The delicate, yet crisp meringue cookie stayed very traditional until 1930.  It was the brilliant idea of chef Pierre Desfontaines, grandson of the founder of the famous French Ladurée Tea Rooms, to elevate the cookie from its humble beginnings to what we know today.  Desfontaines quite simply decided to take the two cookies and sandwich them together with a ganache filling.  The tea rooms became the fashionable spot for London’s grand dames to gather, enjoying not only a pot of tea, but macarons as well.  Today Ladurée claims to sell over fifteen thousand cookies every day!

Have you ever been to Ladurée?  I have not (but I adore PAUL, their smaller venue).
Ladurée is definitely on my bucket list!!

The myriad of colors and flavors, shapes and sizes, available in shops today are never ending — from mint to chocolate chip, peanut butter and jelly, to lemon or peach, pistachio or strawberry cheesecake, salted pretzel, maple and, of course, pumpkin.  On and on it goes.  Every cafe in Europe has macarons on their menu, including McDonald’s in France and Australia.  If McDonald’s here in the U.S. sold macarons, I might even consider going.

Baking shows on the Food Network use the macaron as one of the ultimate baking challenges.  They can’t be that difficult to make, can they?  After watching an episode of Jacques Pepin’s cooking show, he made it appear so simple, using prepared marzipan (almond paste), beaten egg whites and sugar.  Mix it all together and pipe onto parchment paper, let rest and then bake.  Well, if Jacques Pepin says they are easy to make, then I’m going to give it a try.  And I have the perfect party coming up this weekend.  So here goes ….

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References:  The Nibble, The Daily Meal, Culture Trip, WikipediaBon Jour Paris



Although this is a classic French cookie, Madeline’s have been served at most of the formal teas that I’ve attended.  The classic recipe calls for vanilla flavoring, but  I’ve had many variations from rose, orange, lemon … some dusted with powdered sugar, some dipped in chocolate … all of which are absolutely delicious.  Baked in a shell-molded pan, these light, delicate sponge cakes are a great companion to a late afternoon cuppa.

There are a few versions on the origin of the Madeline (or Madeleine).  The most popular belief is this cookie was the invention of Madeleine Paulmier, a young pastry chef who worked for Stanislaw Leszczynski.  Stanislaw’s daughter, Marie, and her husband, who happened to be Louis XV of France, loved these little confections so much they named the tiny pastry “Madeleine” in honor of the young cook.  With a little prodding from Marie, Louis XV introduced these little “shell cakes” to the court in Versailles, and they became a sensation all over France.

Don’t be intimidated by the recipe.  They are quite easy to make and the batter can be made up to two days ahead of baking.  All you really need is a Madeline shell baking tray.

Have all ingredients at room temperature.  Bake at 400°F for 8 to 10 minutes.  Makes about 21 cookies.

1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted and then cooled
3 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
confectioners sugar
Optional:  Grated lemon zest, grated orange zest, rose water

Generously grease and flour the Madeleine mold pan(s).  Most pans have 12 to 16 shells.  This recipe will make approximately two sets of pans.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPut the butter in a bowl, melt it and then let it cool. In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, Then set aside.  In a third bowl, beat the eggs and sugar on high til thick and pale yellow (about 3 to 4 mins).  Beat in the vanilla (or whatever flavoring you’d like to use).  Slowly add the sifted dry ingredients, being careful not to over beat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen take a spoonful of the batter and mix it into the melted, cool butter.  This is important to break down the butter so it can be incorporated into the batter without breaking it down.  After the butter mixture has lightened, fold it back into the batter.  Be sure to scrape the sides and fold everything in well. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes (or up to two days in the refrigerator).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATake a teaspoon of the batter and put it into the shell mold.  Only fill the mold about 3/4 of the way – no more.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until the edges begin to brown.  Take the pan out of the oven and immediately turn the cookies out onto a cooling rack.  Regrease the mold pan and continue baking until you’ve used all the batter.

When the cookies or cakes have cooled, dust with confectioners sugar or dip into a warm chocolate glaze.  These are light, delicate and oh so yummy!!!  They will keep nicely in an air-tight container for a couple of days (but not in my house!!).


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References:  Wikipedia, Joy of Cooking, How to Be a Domestic Goddess, Prezi