As you can probably tell by now when I travel I manage to do my fair share of eating. I also manage to convince those I’m with to do much of the eating with me. I prefer to travel this way, what’s the point of trying a new bite if you can’t gush about it with someone else, right??
In Paris, one friend was not opposed to trying the ubiquitous macaron, but rather just simply had low expectations. Her only interaction with anything coming close to the sweet had been with the kosher for Passover Manischewitz version most Jews have been unlucky to grow up with their whole lives.
Unlike it’s French cousin, the Passover macaroon is a dense heap of shredded coconut, almond and sugar, sometimes covered in chocolate but most always dairy free. Sitting like a lump in your stomach and intrinsically attached to one of the Jewish holidays not necessarily lovingly regarded for food, the macaroon is a dessert most of us in the tribe tend to shy away from. Though they come in a small variety of flavors from original to Rocky Road a Passover macaroon is usually not something to write home about.
The macaron on the other hand is a light and delicate bite-size meringue based confection. Typical ingredients include plenty of sugar and egg of course, but also ground almond or almond powder which is probably (aside from the name) the reason most people see as a connection between the macaron and macaroon. Stuffed in between the sliced halves of the sweet is usually a luscious ganache, buttercream or jam based filling- though stuffing the meringue cookie did not become tradition until the early 20th century.
French artisans have taken the macaron way beyond typical cookie status. Intricate flavor combinations that challenge the tastebuds are not unusual. On my most recent trip to Paris I fell in love with an olive oil and vanilla rendition that I still consider traveling back to Pierre Hermé for four months later. And while the olive oil and vanilla combo may be more of a unique treat, even more typical versions like chocolate and pistachio are concocted in such a way that make the flavors come across your palate as something new entirely.
Luckily for us who are not lucky enough to live in France, the macaron is beginning to take the rest of the world by culinary storm. Recently famed macaron confectioners Ladurée and Pierre Hermé have opened up stores in New York City and London respectively, along with other cities throughout the States, Europe and Asia. Do yourself a favor and visit one of the stores if you can- the macaron is a bite you will not soon forget.