We have all craved them at a certain point in our lives: those bright sweets called macarons. Delicate, colourful and light, they are one of the most desired desserts of pâtisseries all over France. However, in the past they were not as glamorous as they are today.
The origins of macarons
The iconic French dessert – macaron – is surrounded by hot debates concerning its origin. Typically associated with France, macarons are believed to have appeared in… Italy! They were already produced in Venetian monasteries in the 8th century A.D.
Back then, they were humbly called “priests’ bellybuttons” because of their round shape. In 1533, macarons finally made their way to France, with Catherine de’ Medici, who moved there to marry King Henry II.
The first version of the dessert has nothing to do with the modern French sweets. Macarons used to resemble simple cookies made of sugar, almond flour, and egg whites. In Nancy, the lullaby of the Lorraine region, macarons have been a local dessert since the 18th century, when two nuns, the “Sœurs Macarons”, refined the recipe of this delicacy. If you go to Nancy, you will still find Maison des Soeurs Macarons, where the recipe of the “véritables macarons de Nancy” is stored.
Macaron or Macaroon?
While some people think these names are interchangeable, it is better not to confuse macarons with macaroons, as an extra “o” makes a huge difference in the meaning. Both names refer to confections, however, a macaroon is a dense shredded coconut biscuit while a macaron is an elegant small biscuit made of almond flour, soft and rounded, usually of 3 to 5 cm in diameter. The name macaron is derived from the Italian word “maccarone” or “maccherone”.
Macarons across cultures
Switzerland has its special version of macarons called Luxembourgerli. It is a macaron formed by two almond meringue disks and a buttercream filling.
In Japan, these sweets are extremely popular and known as マカロン (makaron). Fascinated by their bright colour, Japanese people have started to create stickers, pillows, and nail decorations in the form of this sweet dessert.
Macarons are also beloved in the U.S., where one can get lost in the incredible amount of flavours: mint, salted caramel popcorn, pistachio, peanut butter, snickers, peach champagne, strawberry cheesecake, jelly and many others.
Last but not least: 20 March has been promoted as “Macaron Day” by a French confectioner, Pierre Hermé. On this day, participating macarons shops offer this dessert for free to their customers. Make sure to save the date!
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Olena Khomiakova is a Schuman Communication Trainee Terminology Coordination Unit. Currently she is enrolled as a Master student in Learning and Communications in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts at the University of Luxembourg.