Daughters of Promise November/December 2014 - Page 39

Luxurious and delicate, the French macaron is one of Europe’s most famed pastry delights. Its origin is ancient, yet the delicate macaron continues to be representative of fine French culture. Shyly, but progressively embraced in America, the macaron is truly an example of culinary artistry. My best friend Brittany and I love to cook, and we fancy ourselves culinary extraordinaires. As regularly as possible, we get together to experiment with random gourmet dishes and to practice our stunning plating skills. Anyone can throw a casserole together; we enjoy challenging ourselves to new culinary heights, and hope we can inspire you as well! Our latest baking interest is the French macaron, a stunning pastry composed of two fragile meringue shells which sandwich a light, delicious filling. Brittany and I got together several weeks ago to try our hand at this delicate dessert, and wanted to share the results with you - in the hopes that you too will step a bit out of your comfort zone and give this elegant pastry a try! Our cooking tends to reflect our attitude - ever notice that? Cooking done with precision and care generally produces orderly, savory results. Haphazard, rushed work often results in a sloppy product. You will find both of these truths especially true in the construction of macarons. Their perfection (even edibility!)requires a precise series of steps, executed with care and sensibility. Don’t be intimidated by this, but simply take your time and be willing to experiment in order to master the perfect cookie! Before we get to the fun stuff of recipes and helpful tips, it is necessary to understand the basics of macarons themselves. What, exactly, are they? And why am I spelling the word with only one ‘o’? You are probably most familiar with the traditional “macaroon”, a hearty, flourless confectionry that can be crafted relatively quickly. This egg-white-based cookie is thought to have hailed from Scotland, though the exact heritage is not entirely known. It’s basic identity remains unchanged: the macaroon consists of 3 basic ingredients: coconut, egg whites, and sugar. The macaron, on the other hand, is distinctly different. Spelled with only one ‘o’, the word ‘macaron’ hails from the Italian word maccherone (think macaroni), which means, “a pasta dish with cheese”, and is pronounced “mah-kah-ROHN”. French lore suggests that macarons made their debut in the country a few centuries ago when the Italian Catherine de’ Medici marrried Henry II and brought her Italian chefs with her to France. They introduced macarons: cookies made of almonds, sugar, and egg whites. At that time, macarons consistsed of only one flat cookie, rather than the sandwich-type dessert popular today. In old France, nuns were the driving force behind macarons, which provided an important source of income for many monastic orders. In the late 18th century, having been forbidden to eat meat, the nuns of a particular French convent began making macarons for their nutritional value. When the convent closed during the French Revolution, two of the sisters continued baking macarons to make a living for themselves. They became famous as the “les Soeurs Macarons”, aka, “the macaron sisters”. Today, a street in Nancy, France still bears this name in their honor. Macarons as a cookie sandwich are a relatively new invention. Not until the early 20th century did a man named Pierre Desfontaines have the idea to pipe a gonache filling on one shell and cap with another. Today, this is the going standard for serving the Parisian-style macaron, a sweet treat which can be found as common bakery fare throughout France and other European and Asian countries. Progressively, but shyly, the macaron is making its way into America, being available mainly in larger metropolitan areas and still relatively expensive. written and photographed by Rae Schrock, in collaboration with Brittany Shult -39-