ARTICLE

La Macaronicité 1: an introduction to the macaron

fancy large macaron with raspberries and rose petal
The Rosier from Maison Stohrer, rue Montorgueil, Paris. Source: Harry.

Ladies and gentlemen, small children and furry Frenchmen,

Welcome to La Macaronicité!

This is the first article in a special series about one of the world's favourite petit fours. Two delicate almond meringue domes are sandwiched together with a flavoured filling to become le macaron.

Macaron. Note the spelling. Not macaroon. Note the spelling. I am a snobby Francophile pedant. Normally I spit on linguistic affectation (except for humorous effect, bien sûr), but when it comes to my beloved macarons, no 'o' shall interlope. Macaroooons can designate heavy, almondy, nay perhaps coconutty, creations which have their place in the world but most often pale into proletarian insigcookieness next to a macaronic beauty. The macaron is the diva of the biscuit baking universe.


Diva? It's just bakedgoods. Indeed, but such a fickle, frustrating, fabulous good! While the eater may delight in flavour, texture and the creator's artistry, the same creator must often experience heightened blood-pressure and many wasted egg whites.

Enlightenment

If you haven't yet experienced the world of the macaron, I present here an analysis of this shapely beauty.

chocolate macaron
Chocolate macaron. (c) Duncan Markham.

Within the shell is soft — not wet — almond meringue. When you bite into the delicate shell, it gives way with the slightest crunch and compresses to yield a mouthful of delicate, rapidly dissolving meringue and filling.

Macarons come in approximately three sizes: tiny 2-3 cm (often restaurant petit fours), small 3-5 cm (most popular, also referred to as gerbets), and large/standard 5-8 cm. You can go larger, but then you're making gâteaux! The smaller sizes are filled with various flavoured creams or other fillings, while the larger often include pieces of fruit, jellies or other firmer elements and decorations.

Background

For Parisians, the French and the travelling rich, the macaron de Paris has been a familiar friend for many a year. The Parisian salon de thé (tea salon) Ladurée claims this macaron as its own, attributing its invention to Pierre Desfontaines in the early 20th century (although there are many other macarons in France, it seems that none resemble the smooth, delicate, fragrant beauty of Desfontaines's creation).

What path the proto-macaron took to reach its apogee is hard to establish. The Larousse Gastronomique (1996) pays them no heed. Culinaria France (1998) mentions them only in passing, as caterers' petit fours. It's as if no-one cared about them until the turn of this century when, suddenly, pâtissiers like Pierre Hermé gained renown as very special culinary artists (I believe he is also responsible for the food-in-glasses phenomenon which is all the rage in France but, thankfully, doesn't seem to have spread). American writer Dorie Greenspan also attributes the macaronic wave to Hermé (read here).

Hermé's small, sleek boutique on rue Bonaparte (6th arrondissement) is home to perhaps the most revered meringues on the planet. Queues snake out the door on Saturdays as connoisseurs (and others) wait to try Hermé's latest flavours or to taste his famous Ispahan (a rose macaron with rose/lychee cream and raspberry jelly). Some of his creations are displayed and described by Fanny at the wonderful Foodbeam blog.

If Hermé is the artist, Ladurée is the classic purveyor. Located closer to the upmarket hotels and monied arrondissements of the Right Bank, here the queues seem to grow longer and longer every spring. Recent reports told of American tourists (and it really does seem to be mostly them) queuing 100 metres down rue Royale (8th arrondissement). Sensible Parisians probably flee to one of Ladurée's other salons or other excellent purveyors. In fact, there are so many macarons to be seen in pâtissiers' windows that I feel a recurring sense of trepidation that saturation point will be reached and, like the fickle batter they start out as, they will vanish, supplanted by something less stylish, less delicate, less diva.

Already, the proliferation of macarons has produced many a poor imitator. It pains my heart to throw one in the bin, but there has been cause. I was amazed at a window full of overcooked (brown!) macarons in a shop in Chartres, and have chewed my way through large macarons filled with hard, cold, greasy buttercream in both Paris and Melbourne. I've seen lumpy things sold for premium prices and have heard tell of a restaurant serving macarons filled with split crème pâtissière.

Awareness

In the gourmet internet, English-language discussion of macarons commenced in late 2002. The mainstream media started writing about them. Guidebooks mentioned them. And, to my horror, Donna Hay magazine actually ran a small article and recipe in 2005, even though nary an Australian had yet seen these little divas in situ. As time has passed, they've popped up as tiny petit fours in fine-dining restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne and, slowly but surely, in Francophile pâtisseries. The decreasingly impressive Laurent boulangerie chain has sold macarons for at least a few years, but a recent visit revealed a display of garishly coloured, misshapen, broken mistakes. Other places do a much better job. Nowadays, with the grands maîtres of the macarons having boutiques in many Asian metropoles, you don't have to travel far to see what the hype is about (and oh how the Japanese and Singaporeans have taken to them!).

various chocolate macarons
Macarons from Jean-Paul Hévin. (c) Duncan Markham.

I haven't yet met someone who would poo-poo the macaron, though certainly some are shocked by their sweetness and may experience saccharine traumas at the hands of poor bakers. Of greatest interest for me has been the phenomenon of homecooks attempting macarons without ever having experienced the original. It goes against the modern trend of people only working from recipes for dishes they've already experienced (though this is not the case with many online cybernauts), and shows the strength of public enthusiasm for these little gems. The experimentation is wonderful but in, for me, a rare moment of anti-experimentation, I have to say that some of the marathon discussions to be found on the internet suffer from the fact that the cooks needed to know what the final goal really was. Macarons are tricky creatures and knowing the final goal gives a better sense of when things are going awry. (No other dish comes to mind as a parallel case right now.)

So here we have it; the scene is set. If you want to make some yourself, I'll attempt to guide you through the process. Stock up now on egg whites, almond meal and icing sugar. You'll need a kitchen machine or a good electric beater, a high-speed food-processor or a coffee grinder, and it would be wise to have good kitchen scales and a probe or sugar thermometer.

You can read Part 2 — La Macaronicité 2: basic technique and simple macaron recipe.
La Macaronicité 3: the more reliable macaron recipe and a few tips.
La Macaronicité 4: fillings, flavours, frippery.
La Macaronicité 5: Macawrongs and macarights, macarons day and night.

- DM

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COMMENTS

57 responses to “La Macaronicité 1: an introduction to the macaron”

  1. Y

    Your chocolate macaron looks so perfect. Love it! Whole books could be written on this subject alone. I can't say I'm completely enamoured by macarons, but I do appreciate a well crafted one. The beauty about them also is their the range of possible flavours and colours are seemingly endless. Laduree's displays are so gorgeous, but the best macarons I had while in Paris were actually from a small place called Poujauran, who also had the best croissants.

    Something else I discovered while in Tokyo (which I haven't gotten round to writing about yet), is whole macarons dipped in chocolate, which I thought was a brilliant idea, but which left you without the slight crisp note.

  2. Thanh

    Duncan, I am waiting with much anticipation for your instructions. I'm going to go out and buy a sugar thermometer now so I can achieve the best results possible. I'm sure I'll stuff up so many it won't be funny. But I'm going to give it a go anyway as I love the ones you made and they look so great.

    Please please post the instruction soon as I want to attempt to make them for Christmas presents.

    Will you be giving recipes for different flavoured one?

  3. Thanh

    Duncan, I just went out and bought a sugar thermometer already. I might go and see if I can exchange it for a probe one. Otherwise, I will use the sugar one and hope it doesn't shatter.

    What do you mean by a simple recipe but not reliable? Does the texture vary very greatly?

    I might wait for the reliable recipe if that is the case.

    I can't wait, I'm ready to start experimenting with flavours.

  4. Debbie

    You have outdone yourself. Wonderful information on the sweet delight that is the macaron!

  5. Y

    Duncan: A little, but I was really excited when I saw it, all the same. They look fantastic on display. I'll have to post the pic up some time.

  6. Lee Lin

    I have never seen or eaten a macaron before but your pics & descriptions just make my mouth water wanting to try this delicate pastry..so I am also awaiting your recipe. In case the task is too daunting for this chemist who seldom bakes, could you pls let me know where I can purchase some to try? Thanks!

  7. YKWM

    Hello All,
    The Macaron is a delightful beastie and "Diva" is probably the best description ever of these temperamental little delights. However, gather up your courage and approach them as experiments and whatever else you do, cook them for yourself when first you try baking them, not for guests or a dinner party or you'll be tempting fate.

  8. pg

    Duncan!!

    bless you and your pedantic francophile self!!!

  9. LEMONPI :: blog.lemonpi.net » Christmas List 2007

    [...] a boxful of pretty french macaroons. With Duncan of Syrup and Tang's very detailed four-part guide to making macaroons, you can't possibly go [...]

  10. Anna

    I ate a macaron from Vue de Monde yesterday – and paid $3 for it. You know what? It had nothing on your little salted caramel gems. They were BLISS.

  11. Duncan

    @Anna: In one of those incredible coincidences, I today met the baker from VdM! Seems a nice guy and I invited him to come and look at the site and leave a comment if there was anything he felt like adding. Hope we see him here soon.

  12. Guillaume Dequidt

    Hi Duncan

    I just came across your aticle on the'macarons'(dec 07)and was really pleased with it.I have a french patisserie in Hawthorn in Victoria call 'La Tropezienne'and wanted to invite you to try them,we have 6 flavours but intend to make more.
    May be you already tried them,and like to know what do you think?

    Best regards,
    Guillaume Dequidt
    LA TROPEZIENNE
    780 glenferrie rd Hawthorn3122
    ph 03 98181895

  13. calypsodesigns

    Duncan, thank you for such a fabulous series of articles on the magnifique macarons… If only i had read your articles before attempting my first 4 disastrous attempts! My fifth attempt was almost perfect: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=2340555&l=ecff6f20e8&id=557533311 –so proud of myself! :P

    I havent tried the italian meringue method but will have to give it a whirl. Thanks again for sharing your deep knowledge of this mysterious diva of the pastry world!

  14. Holiday cooking :> « Monkeying in the Kitchen

    [...] it was 200g, thus doubling the dry ingredients!  Anyhow, I used the recipe from Syrup and Tang (http://www.syrupandtang.com/200712/la-macaronicite-1-an-introduction-to-the-macaron/)  I followed the basic (i.e., not the Italian Meringue) recipe and also used the caramel recipe [...]

  15. DJ

    i've had the macarons from la tropezienne. they're absolutely lovely!

  16. Ruth

    Hi! Great site. Very informative and scientific. I was reading on another site about how the french or traditional method, while unstable will give you a bit more fluff, whereas the Italian meringue method, while more stable tends to produce a flatter macaron. Do you agree? Also was wondering if using a copper bowl would be advised in the using the traditional french method. How much more stable would it be? Thanks in advance. The crazy thing is the first few times I made macarons, they came out great. But after reading about how troublesome they were, my macarons came out disastrous. Go figure!

  17. LB

    I just want to point out that my 1988 edition of Larousse Gastronomique has a decent (illustrated) entry for the 'Macaroon/Macaronas does the 2003 edition. The 1996 edition must be a bizarre anomaly. Furthermore it states the origins of the modern almond macaron are traceable back to the year 791 in the French town of Cormery.
    I will be attempting my first batch of chocolate macarons, following David Lebovitz recipe, tomorrow. Wish me luck.

  18. LB

    I know the usage of the word, and I agree with you. However Larousee Gastronimque 1988 does not, however, as it talks about a Dark Age origins, describes and illustrated macaron de Paris and includes a recipe. I will try and scan the page for you if you like.
    Well, the film also had modern trainers under Marie Antoinettes bed for some absurd reason too. She did have a dog named Macaron, but of course it was not the macaron as we know it.

  19. LB

    Well, to be fair I think what Larousse Gastronomique is trying to say is that the origins of the modern macaron are very old, not that the modern macaron itself is old. Sorry about the double post.

  20. LB

    God, well, the macarons went well, right up until I had a phone call from my family calling from Britain. By the time I got back to the oven the little blighters had gone from perfect macarons with little feet to burnt around the edges. Another attempt tomorrow.

    P.S. Sorry about my apalling grammar in my posts last night, I'm sure I garbled my message well and truly.

  21. Rose

    WOW! :::bows down to macaron master::: I am in awe!

  22. Macarines not Macarons

    [...] Syrup and Tang's instructions and common pitfalls [...]

  23. Procrastinating online: It pleases us. « "…it pleases us"

    [...] adventures in baking french macarons. We'd tried them a few months ago, inspired by Syrup and Tang, but the blasted things wouldn't grow any feet. Our sadly footless macaron with white [...]

  24. soraya

    Wow! This website is incredibly helpful. I think this is the most in depth, and informative site I have seen so far on macarons! Thanks!

  25. Sheryl

    Love it. Macarons have become one of my obsessions of late (besides from cupcakes) and it's hard to know what a real macaron should taste if you haven't been fortunate enough to visit Paris. I love how detailed your description of your perfect macaron is. It is a pity that we don't have 'serious' macarons here in Melbourne, well none I've been able to try yet. I recently went to Tokyo and macarons are the craze. I have never seen such perfect macarons in my life, no cracks, no hollowness, each one perfect in size, shape and colour. They also sold each one for an arm and a leg but they did look perfect.

    Please do venture into business creating macaron masterpieces, I would love to try them!

  26. Kelise

    I baked my first batch of macarons today. They have feet! I am so very happy. :) However, they were not pretty like yours. I used a Ziploc bag for piping and the batter were neither creamy nor shiny. They were kind of lumpy. Do you know how I could improve the batter? Did I overbeat the eggs? Is my almond meal too coarse? I bought it in its grounded state so I didn't have to grind myself. Could you elaborate on what I need to look out for to know that the eggs are at the soft peaks phase and the firm and stiff phase. Thank you!

    Kelise

  27. Amie

    Dear Duncan, I had 10 egg whites left over from another recipe and decided to try my hand at macarons. Found your blog online and followed your recipe for the Italian meringue variety (recipe #2). Even though I'm in *that country*, I used a scale and followed your directions exactly. They worked out perfectly! Thank you! Instead of using water to make the sugar syrup, I used freshly brewed espresso, which went really nicely with the ganache filling.

  28. Yohann

    Hi Duncan,
    Thank you for your detailed posts! I have just picked up the "macaron bug" and have been trying and trying unsuccessfully to make macarons.
    I have been using a fan forced combi oven, I am wondering whether using a fan forced greatly affects the outcome?
    Would welcome your advice on this.
    Thank you.

    Yohann
    Queensland

  29. Mia

    Dear Duncan, thank you for sharing your knowlegde about macarons. I tried the more reliable macarons recipe but till 5 times I still cannot have macarons with "foot" :(. Is it because of my oven? ( I put it on 145C).

  30. Shara

    I am getting married in October and I am planning to attempt to make these for our favors. I would really like a fun flavor. Our colors are black, white and dark purple. I was thinking about doing 3 for everyone. One Purple with White filling and two White with purple filling. Do you happen to have a fun flavor that I could use for white and purple . . . . ?? ?? ? Please let me know.

    Thank You.
    Shara

  31. Louisa

    Hey Duncan…thanks so much for this blog! I made macarons from the French Culinary Institute's book and while they tasted and looked good, half of them stuck to the paper and had to be thrown away, while the others had giant holes under the shells. So on my next try I used your Italian meringue formula…and voila!

    http://hphotos-snc3.fbcdn.net/hs433.snc3/24947_1209644610477_1509592881_30507789_4342421_n.jpg

    I used raspberry jam and dark chocolate ganache as a filling (although the ganache turned out too runny and I couldn't get them as well-filled as I wanted to)

  32. candace

    Hi Duncan,
    Today is my 4th attempt in baking macarons. My macarons finally got feet, but this 4th attempt of mine is still a disastrous failure due to below reasons:
    1) The shells cracked while they were still inside the oven.

    2) The shells deflated once I pulled them out of the oven

    3) These macarons are hollow inside. The top thin shells are dry as a baked shells should be (eventhough they deflated), but the bottom parts are sorta wet and seems uncooked.

    Can you please tell me what I did wrong base on the above description? The recepi that I used is : C:\Documents and Settings\candace\Desktop\Macarons.mht. Please help. Thank you so much in advance.

  33. tyrrani

    First of all, love your site! Lots of great info and tips.
    What have you heard about using powdered egg whites? I've been seeing recipes in which powdered whites are added to the regular whites to give them stability, but none that use powdered whites exclusively, which is what I'd like to be able to do. Have you tried them?

  34. Michelle Chin

    I used some of the information for my macaron post.

  35. nancy

    Just learned about macarons and I've been bewitched by the thought ever since. Unfortunately, there is no Laduree here in the States. I did extensive research on all the macaron wannabees in New York that just don't make the grade. I certainly can't make them myself. Quel dommage! How am I ever going to get to try the real thing if I don't travel abroad?

  36. Shannon

    Nancy- This probably isn't much help but I had some beautiful macarons at Amore patisserie in Las Vegas.

    Still a long way to travel from NY though.

  37. Jessica

    Hey Duncan, my name is Jessica, and I had a few questions. I started about a year ago at a french restaurant here in Des Moines. My chef is straight from France and hired me on with no culinary background. I've never seen or heard of a macaron until a year ago when I started at this restaurant. I use the italian meringue method but my problem comes in when I bake them. We have a convection oven that I use to bake the macarons, but they always come out with a huge foot and/ or uneven. I take them out halfway through the baking process and switch them around so the heat is distributed evenly, but nothing seems to work. What am I doing wrong? Also I wanted to ask if it is better to use parchment paper or a silpat. What is your opinion?

  38. Jessica

    Awesome! I must be letting them rest too long. That has to be it! You can check out my macarons at http://www.baru66.com if you are interested.. I've been working on them for about a year, and it's all thanks to your site that I've gotten them to work out. Thanks SO much btw :)

  39. Cammie

    Duncan, thank you so, so much for all your wonderful instructions and experimentations. I've mastered the simple method which give me lovely feet and perfect macarons every time. I think the most important keys to success with macarons are a) the macaronage and b) knowing your oven heat. The rest, like aging your egg whites, or letting them rest to form a skin, were pretty irrelevant for me although I don't think it harms the macarons per se.

  40. Clare Joseph

    Hi Duncan,
    Just had my 1st / 2nd Macaron yesterday. Wow Wow Wow. Wish I didn't get started. It is simply divine. I do some baking and thought I'd get a receipe to try this little gem and cam upon your site. Thank you for the tips. I will try it soon and let you know. Can it be made with Splenda for diabetics?
    Thanks Clare

  41. ichiro

    Hi Duncan,

    I would like to ask, what should i do if macaron batter are umdermix?
    what are the main reason of undermixed batter?
    is icing sugar with corn flour content recommended to use for macaron? or was it a no no?
    blending my ground almonds with a dry blender would release some oil from the nuts can i still use them?

    Best of regards,
    Ichiro.

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