Macarons became “the new cupcakes”. Consisting of two almond meal and egg white biscuits, sandwiched together with ganache, macarons in their current form were invented in Paris in the early 20th century by Pierre Desfontaines Ladurée (although forms of almond cookie had been around for much longer).
Flavours can be wild (violet, blackcurrant, rosewater and raspberry) and one bakery even concocted a Lamington version for Australia Day. (The idea has since had many imitators.) Macarons caused a stir on Masterchef and macaron towers became the new croquembouche as a wedding cake.
The forerunner of the macaron dates back to the early 16th century, not in France but in Italy, and is said to have been invented by the chef of Catherine de Medici. Catherine married the French king and brought her chef with her to Paris, introducing many new foods including olive oil, white beans, artichokes, truffle mushrooms, figs, crepes, onion soup and spinach. And macarons. However, it was four centuries before Ladurée was inspired to glue two of the little biscuits together, creating the macaron we know today.
There is some confusion between macarons (pronounced mah-kah-ROHNS) and macaroons (pronounced mah-kah-ROONS). Both begin with a thick Italian meringue of egg whites and sugar. To make a macaron, you add powdered sugar and finely ground almonds. To make a macaroon, a more substantial and less refined beast, you add shredded coconut. The coconut macaroons are often dipped in chocolate.
In Australia, the king of the macaron was Adriano Zumbo who designed a MasterChef challenge requiring contestants to prepare a tower of the biscuits. Zumbo was scathing, however, when the judges on the show got their pronunciation wrong and referred to the biscuits as ‘macaroons’.
On November 6 2010, Zumbo declared Macaron Day at his Balmain bakery and customers queued to buy flavours that included Salted Butter Popcorn, Toothpaste, Vegemite Sourdough, Beer and Nuts, Blue Cheese and Burnt Toast. A toothpaste-flavoured macaron. I think I’ll pass.