A Macaron is made of a luxurious filling, normally ganache, sandwiched between two perfectly formed meringue cookies - it is a the beautiful dessert that has been around for over a hundred years and is here to stay.
The Macaron, sometimes called the Macaroon - I wrote an article on the macarons vs macaroons available to read here - is often said to be the replacement of the cupcake. Is this true? It is of course difficult to say but it is apparent cupcakes have stopped growing in popularity while macarons have become significantly more popular. There are now a number of shops selling the little delights in London and around the UK and in the past few years a large number of bakers have Macarons available to buy online.
People are often confused as to what the dessert is actually called, a Macaron or a Macaroon. The reason for this is primarily because ‘Macaron’ is a French word for which there was never a dedicated English word for, consequently over the years it took the word Macaroon, the same word for the coconut based biscuit. To avoid confusion is easiest to refer to the Macaron/Macaroon as a French Macaron.
One of the reasons I think the macaron will stay around is that making them commercially has huge barriers to entry because they are incredibly difficult to make in large quantities consistently. This has resulted in small number of companies making macarons on a commercially viable level [in the UK], the most well-known are Anges de Sucre, Pierre Herme and Laudree. Subsequently, the relatively small number of macaron makers have resulted in the market for macarons growing organically as opposed to the rapid uptake the cupcake ultimately suffered from.
Another reason is once you have dealt with all the hurdles presented in making macarons they are an extremely versatile product and an excellent product in terms of storage and ease presentation due to their visual attractiveness. The meringue shells allow a colossal amount of fillings in terms of flavour and type, there is cream, ganache, jam/jelly and no doubt a number of others. At Anges de Sucre we prefer ganache as a platform for delivering flavour. Furthermore the shells can be enhanced with a number toppings, like the exclusive Double Dip Macarons, for example, the 'all-americana' Peanut and Banana Macaron - see picture above - which is glazed with Belgian milk chocolate and topped with crunchy crushed peanuts.
Macarons in their current form were ultimately made popular in France in the early nineteenth century by a number of bakers including Pierre Desfontaines and Claude Gerbet who lay claim to inserting the filling between two macaron shells. A number of regions in France also make claim to the history the macaron. In 1792 is said that the Macaron Sisters or rather Les Soeurs Macarons, started macarons popularity by selling the shells (biscuits) to pay for their board. The Macarons Sisters were two nuns, Sister Marguerite and Marie-Elisabeth who sought asylum in Nancy during the French Revolution and created the "Nancy Macaron" which was just the macaron shell without the filling. The city of Nancy honoured the sisters by giving their name to the Rue de la Hache where the macaron [shell] was invented. Before this there is reference to the Macaron in 792 in the book, Larousse Gastronomique that cites the macaron as being created in a convent near Cormery. It is however most likely that the macaron originated closer to the home of its main ingredient, the almond, which is the Middle East. There are many references to many macaron like techniques being used in Middle Eastern cooking much earlier than 792 and it is very likely that the information filtered through to Europe as it began to be imported into the various countries. Almonds on a side note have an interesting history with the original source being a poisonous plant.
Macarons have been popular in France for well over a hundred years and have solidified themselves as a desirable treat for one self and as a gift – they are extremely popular as a dinner party gift. In recent years, like so many food items, they have crossed the border into England with Laudree first opening a shop in the heart of London in 2005. Pierre Herme followed suit and now Anges de Sucre (us!) have opened their first boutique in Kensington – a stone’s throw away from Kensington Palace.
The Anges Boutique is here to stay. Like a number of Macaron Bakers they are extremely skilled generally having received professional training in France and use these skills to create many different types of desserts and sweets that showcase their culinary skills and keeps customers coming back – this differentiates them and their shops and enables them to offer much more than just macarons. The Anges de Sucre shop in Kensington since its opening in, addition to the Macarons, has launched an exquisite range of Marshmallows (hailed by the Guardian as the best Marshmallows in the world) and more recently the Muffle, aka The Marshmallow Truffle which have gained a most loyal following. Early in the New Year Anges de Sucre will launch a new range of desserts, stay tuned for more information.