A Little Dessert with a Big Identity Crisis

They’re the prettiest, cutest dessert to make your foodstagram dreams come true. They have mastered the art of being light as air while at the same time the most decadent little treat you’ve ever eaten. The French Macaron is famous and is becoming increasingly popular around the world, and for good reason: They’re frickin’ amazing!

Now I will admit, I have not always sung the macaron’s praises. Before coming to France, I really wasn’t a fan at all. I’ve always found meringue to be an airy and dissatisfying dessert choice, and in Canada all the macarons that I’ve had have simple been icing sandwiched between two small meringues. Upon arrival in Paris, however, I knew that I had to give the iconic french pastry another try, in an attempt to discover what all the hype was about.

Macaron roughly translates to love…

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Okay just kidding, there actually isn’t an english word name for it (Macaroons are not the same thing!)

I can now say definitively that the French Macaron has become one of my favourite little sweet treats. Quality of both the ingredients and the final product is the cornerstone of all French food, especially when it comes to their pastries, including the Macaron.

Oh, the controversy!

The macaron has a major identity crisis- is it French or Italian!?

Behind these cute, colourful little pastries, however, is the question of how french they actually are. There is much debate as to whether or not the original version of the macaron, which does not include the ganache center, was invented by the French, or simply adopted by them from the Italians.

Either way, we have women to thank

There are a couple of origin stories to the macaron, both of which involve women. The

first dates back to 1533, when Catherine de Medici married King Henry II of France. Just like the everyday women, Catherine de Medici knew that she couldn’t very well move in with some dude, however influential, without the assurance that her sweet tooth would be satisfied with her favourite treats and pastries. Unlike the everyday women, this meant bringing her favourite Italian pastry chefs with her. Smart move, Cat.

Essentially, though more than one french pastry chef has claimed to be the inventor of the macaron we know today, it appears as though the original version is, indeed, Italian.

Thus, with Catherine came the original macaron: Rounds of sweet, lightly flavoured meringue. Though we have Catherine to thank for bringing the macaron to France, it wasn’t until a couple of centuries later that they began to gain real popularity among the French people. Again, we have women to thank.

The Macaron Sisters of the French Revolution

In 1792 at the height of the French Revolution, two Carmelite nuns came to Nancy looking for a safe place to hang their veils. Savvy bakers themselves, they began baking and selling their own macarons for extra pocket change. Perhaps their secret recipe involved some special blessings from the man upstairs, or they were just a sweet moment for people in a difficult time in french history. Either way, macaron became all the rage in France.

Time to fill in the gaps

While the Italians may have invented the original macaron cookie, it was the French who turned things up a notch in the early 20th century and created the adorable sandwich cookie we all know and love today. Some know it as the Paris macaron, with the ganache filling having been first added by Pierre Desfontaines of the famous Laduree French Patisserie. Others call it a Gerbet Macaron, named after Claude Gerbet, who also claims to be the first to make the bite-sized sandwich.

Personally, I don’t really care who decided to do it, I’m just glad that they did!

The French like it simple

While the ingredients are the same and the end product not much different, the method of preparation is very different for an Italian macaron versus a French one.

The italian version involves egg whites, sifted almonds, powdered sugar, and a hot sugar syrup. Making them requires a candy thermometer and is therefore a touch more complicated.

The french version, though the meringue is slightly less sweet, is much simpler to make. It involves egg whites, powdered sugar, sifted almonds, and no special thermometers or equipment that the casual baker wouldn’t already have in their pantry. As I said, the French like to keep things simple.

If you find yourself in France, eat as many macaron as you can!

Various regions all over France have their own history with macaron, and it’s worth trying on in each spot. Paris, Nancy, Montmorillon, the Basque Country, and many, many more celebrate and are celebrated for the little pastry. In our opinion, trying them all is crucial to understand the culture of the country. Consider this your permission to stuff your face with macarons the next time you find yourself in France.

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