For those of you who are unfamiliar with French macarons, they consist of 2 sweet, meringue-based cookies made from almond and egg whites. They are available in almost any flavour you can imagine (my favourites are pistachio and praline). The two cookies are sandwiched together with ganache or a cream filling. If you have never had a macaron, they are delicious – you need to travel to France immediately to try one (or several).
The French macaron should not be confused with the macaroon. which is made from shredded coconut and often dipped in chocolate. This type of macaroon is commonly found in North America.
Like most things, the history of the French macaron is not set in stone. However, most believe that Catherine de’ Medici and her Italian chefs are responsible for their introduction to France. In 1533, she married Henry II and moved to France, bringing her chefs and their recipe with her. The macarons they created were single cookies made from a simple combination of ground almonds, egg whites, and sugar.
Macarons quickly spread in popularity, and many French cities and regions began developing their own variations. The macarons in Amiens, for example, date back to the 16th century and are made up of almonds, fruit and honey. They are not as sweet as those found in Paris and have a chewier texture. The city of Montmorillon is well known for their macarons and even has a museum dedicated to it. They haven’t changed their macaron recipe in over 150 years.
After macarons were introduced in France, it was common for nuns to make and consume them, as they fit in with their strict dietary requirements. They were forbidden to eat meat, and macarons were a nutritious substitute. In the late 18th century, two sisters belonging to Les Dames du Saint Sacrement’s convent began selling them in order to make a living. They become known as “les Soeurs Macarons” (the Macaron Sisters) and now have a street named after them in Nancy, France.
The French macarons as we know them today were created in the early 20th century by Pierre Desfontaines, the second cousin of Louis Ernest Ladurée (he opened of the famous Ladurée tea salon and pastry shop in Paris in 1862). It was Desfontaines’ idea to join the two macaron shells together with a ganache filling. This version of the macaron has become so popular that even McDonald’s locations in Paris have started to sell them.
Ladurée continues to produce the quintessential Parisian macaron and is known all over the world. Each season, they come up with a new flavour as a way to pay tribute to their famous creation. So make sure you pick up a box or two the next time you’re in Paris.