What make a good macaron?

image of four macarons

Although I don’t consider myself to be a picky eater, I do have specific guidelines for the qualities a macaron must possess in order to be deemed “excellent.” Will I eat a macaron that lacks excellence? Probably—it’s hard to make a macaron taste repulsive. But I won’t be very happy about it.

Here’s what I look for in a macaron:

  • The cookie-to-filling ratio should be between 1:1 and 2:1. I have seen the atrocity that is a thin layer of filling spread upon one cookie, or a blob of filling that fails to extend to the edge of the cookie. Not cool, man, not cool. I feel like this is one of the easiest problems to “correct” when making a macaron; if the filling looks skimpy, just squeeze in a bit more. Just a bit! But no. We are frequently denied this extra squeezing.
  • The filling should be smooth, firm (like ganache), light, and not sticky. Aside from a few wayward crumbs, eating a macaron should be clean. Filling shouldn’t squish out of the cookie nor should it leave much residue on your teeth. (This may not apply to all fillings, such as caramel or jams.)
  • The texture and surface of the cookie should be very smooth. Bumps show that the almond wasn’t ground finely enough or wasn’t sifted to take out the chunks. A chunky macaron might taste okay, but a finer one tastes better.
  • The crust of the cookie should be thin and only provide the most useless protection against the soft cookie layer underneath. Biting through the crust should be effortless. A dry, semi-hard crust that shatters into the soft center of the cookie is not fun.
  • The cookie’s texture beneath the crust should be light, just a little chewy, and soft, but not so soft that it’s mushy. It’s okay if the cookie looks “uncooked.”
  • As much as I love sugar, sweetness shouldn’t take over in a macaron. They come in a wide variety of flavors for a reason—so you can taste the flavor. Cloying sweetness that forms a lump in the back of your throat is a no-no.

Is it Macaron or Macaroon?

picture of a macaroon and a macaron with Eiffel Tower in background

It’s high time we set the record straight: the word “macaron” is not an alternate spelling of macaroon. In fact, the two terms refer to distinctly different things. Both macarons and macaroons are confections, and both names are derived from ammaccare, which is Italian for “to crush” — but that’s where the similarities end.

A macaron specifically refers to a meringue-based cookie made with almond flour, egg whites, and granulated and powdered sugar, then filled with buttercream, ganache or fruit curd. The delicate treat has a crunchy exterior and a weightless interior with a soft ending that’s almost nougatlike in its chewiness. To add to the confusion, it’s often called a French macaroon.

In contrast, the word macaroon is a generic phrase that is applied to a number of small, sweet confections. Mostly, the term is equated with the moist and dense coconut macaroon, which is composed of egg whites, sugar, and dried coconut, often piped with a star-shaped tip, and sometimes dipped in chocolate. The coconut macaroon, or congolais, as it’s known in France, is frequently served during Passover because it contains no flour.

The Macaron Revolution

Introduction

Let me tell you a bit about myself. My name is “Macaron” or “Gerber,” but between the two of us, I prefer to be called “Macaron.” I am round and tempting to the eye. I am made primarily of almond flour, sugar, and egg whites. Throughout the years, very little has changed in terms of my components. I have always had a very classic flavor and my colors have always been very mellow, but recently, two renowned chefs have experimented with me by giving me countless colors and flavors beyond your wildest imagination. Over the years many have experimented with my shape, but whenever possible, I prefer my classic round form.

I have become the most coveted cookie in France, particularly in Paris. I am a bit of a trendy item for people to serve, the favorite sweet of children, the ideal breakfast treat, the beloved cookie of Parisian tea salons, the fashionable gift to give, and the ideal cookie for holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, and finally, without sounding pretentious, I am a bit of a * Star *.

Despite my popularity in Europe and France in particular, I have not had much success yet in the United States. Although it is possible for you to find me here, more often than not it is at extremely expensive prices. Even when I am sold at reasonable prices, perhaps I am not as crunchy outside or as creamy inside as I should be, or perhaps I am too dry, or made with poor ingredients.

Presently, two distinguished pastry chefs are planning to make me a *Star* in New York and the United States. These chefs are Florien Bellanger and Ludovic Augendre, they understand me and love me, and you will too.

A bit of history

The Macaron cookie was born in Italy, introduced by the chef of Catherine de Medicis in 1533 at the time of her marriage to the Duc d’Orleans who became king of France in 1547 as Henry II. The term “macaron” has the same origin as that the word “macaroni” — both mean “fine dough”.

The first Macarons were simple cookies, made of almond powder, sugar and egg whites. Many towns throughout France have their own prized tale surrounding this delicacy. In Nancy, the granddaughter of Catherine de Medici was supposedly saved from starvation by eating Macarons. In Saint-Jean-de-Luz, the macaron of Chef Adam regaled Louis XIV and Marie-Therese at their wedding celebration in 1660.

Only at the beginning of the 20th century did the Macaron become a “double-decker” affair. Pierre Desfontaines, the grandson of Louis Ernest Laduree (Laduree pastry and salon de the, rue Royale in Paris) had the idea to fill them with a “chocolate panache” and to stick them together.

Since then, French Macaron cookies have been nationally acclaimed in France and remain the best-selling cookie in pastry retail stores.