August 30, 2011

M a c a r o n ! Or is it macaroon?


None of the above, I craved marrons glacés (candied chestnuts). 
In the novel La Dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas, fils, marrons glacés are the only confection that Marguerite Gautier would eat. Her clients were expected to buy bags of them for her to enjoy. 
The next time you watch Greta Garbo in Camille, pay close attention to what she is really enjoying.  Nope, it is not Robert Taylor perish that thought, or George Cukor, who obviously forgot to bring her treats.

It is marrons glacés.

Exacting aesthetes will point out that the English translation of the French macaron is a macaroon. Thus, you may say you just sampled a macaroon from Ladurée for example. (Although, I’m told a trend is underway to resort back to the macaron pronunciation in order to distinguish this famed delicacy from the mercifully undignified common coconut variety.
Make no mistake, confusion abounds. Before embarrassment sets in, or a faux pas committed, again, may I alert the discerning on the differences.
The well known American macaroon is made with almonds (or almond paste), egg whites, sugar, and sometimes a flavoring, like coconut or chocolate.
Yet, it is the Parisian-style version of the macaron or macaroon that has captivated hearts and palates alike. These precious little delicacies have become so well known internationally over other varieties of macarons to be found in France, that when someone says macaron without precision, they are generally referring to the Ladurée version. It’s evident an entire subculture exists on the macaron/macaroon. (Dedicated gourmands might be interested to know that the Almond and Macaroon Museum in the town of Montmorillon in France is a well traveled destination).
In the infinite wisdom of Larousse Gastronomique, macaroons originated in Venice during the Renaissance. The Venetian word was “macerone” and the English term, “macaroon,” comes from the French “macaron.”
Italian Jews adopted the cookie because it has no flour or leavening (the agent that raises and lightens a baked good, like yeast, baking powder and baking soda—instead, macaroons are leavened by egg whites) and can be enjoyed during the eight-day observation of Passover. It was introduced to other European Jews and became popular as a year-round sweet.  Over time, coconut was added to the ground almonds and, in certain recipes, replaced them.  Coconut macaroons are more prevalent in the U.S. and the U.K.—and they’re a lot easier to make and transport than the fragile almond meringues.
As with the Madeleine, there are competing stories about the cookie’s origin.  There seems little dispute, however, that what came to be known as the macaroon, once called Amaretti (“the little bitter ones”) by the Italians, was created by Italian monks and refined by French pâtissiers.
Historians contend the macaron, ultimately, made its way to France in 1533 by the pastry chefs of Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henri II.
It was the thoughtful musings of Pierre Desfontaines Ladurée that truly revolutionized the famed macaron at the beginning of the 20th century, when he had the deliciously tempting idea to join two meringues together, filling them with ganache. The “originals” combined two plain almond meringues with a filling of [chocolate] ganache; but today, all manner of fillings (ganache, buttercream or jam) is elaborately “sandwiched” between meringues of seemingly limitless colors and flavors.
Go to a fine French restaurant and you may find miniature m’s among the petit-fours.  But, are you eating French macarons, Italian macerone, or that tasty hybrid, coconut macaroons?  
And what if you, as did I, request marrons glacés?  Confusion, and a stern lecture from the waiter. 
Ah, but not so fast.  Before I had to settle for macarons/ macerones /macaroons the proprietress came to my rescue.  She shared her private stash of marrons glacés with me.  All was well with the world.  Bon Appétit.


Sweet Swede In WI said...

Thanks for clearing this up. I must confess I have never tasted a marron glacé. Greta's got one up on me!
But I have been put into my place (so to speak) about the macaroons (this it what we called them in Beloit WI)and they where the 'undignified common coconut variety' ;-).

Ms. Edna (squared) said...

You are welcome ;-) Charlotte

Charlotte said...

What gave me away, my accent?

Ms. Edna (squared) said...

I only know TWO people from WI and the other is a Danish babe.

frenchtoast said...

That’s it, I finally tested them! The macarons at McDonald’s… For yes, ladies and gentlemen, in France, you can find the French delicacies in selected locations of Mac-Do (as we call it here). The cookies are in the ones that have a Mc Café inside (a little “sweet island” made to compete with Starbucks). Now the big question; are they good? Well they’re OK, not outstanding…and they are cheap: 4,90 € for 6 pieces.