There is a petite pastry that has been prepared and adapted for hundreds of years, yet in the past ten it has completely taken the world of sweets by storm. Chefs write entire books on them, base their patisseries around them and labour for hours to perfect flavour combinations that no one would even consider possible. In the few years that I have known about these little, slightly overrated morsels, I have read recipes using pig’s blood, hamburgers, bee pollen, balsamic vinegar, Campari and carrot just to name a few things. It is one of the biggest food trends in today’s culinary world and it only consists of eggs, sugar and almonds. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you “The Macaron”. (Pronounced as it is spelled, not with the “-roon” that everyone seems to determined to add.)
This isn’t exactly the type of food that a university student is going want to rush home and bake once they read this – they can, after all, buy them at McDonalds (???). However, I think that it is something worth talking about, as these little “biscuits”, as some call them, are becoming so huge they are almost inescapable. Even in Adelaide we have a number of stores based solely on them. From the Mac Factory on Hutt Street to Nick and Rocco’s store in China-Town, one must ask, is the humble macaron getting a little too big for its…shoes?
Adriano Zumbo is one of the most recognised Australian pastry chefs (thank you, Masterchef), who made the macaron famous in Australia after opening his little shop in Balmain, Sydney. However the most extraordinary chef when it comes to the sweet is Pierre Hermé. He discovered them in the 70s and made it his priority in life to push as many boundaries as he could to develop new flavours. His macarons I have unfortunately never tasted, however after pouring through his cookbook – and I recommend doing this – I became somewhat intimidated by the recipes he offered. He talks of adding pieces of olives to his “olive oil and vanilla macaron” to “release the flavour a little at a time and not uniformly as it would be if blended into the cream”. This was a little too advanced for me so I just looked at the pictures and Googled an easier recipe!
When I did first start making macarons, I went crazy for them. I made different flavours each week and even started selling them to my work, a café, for them to on-sell. They were enjoyable to make and it was always a little rewarding when they came out of the oven completely perfect. But as the sugar clouds started to settle, I realised I had a shit-load of egg yolks, a centimetre extra on my hips and not much money in my pocket.
It isn’t the most thought-out business concept I’d ever had so it was destined to fail, but it was easy to see how, in a commercial kitchen, macarons are an incredibly good way of making money. The macaron shell is super cheap to prepare; sugar, eggs and almonds are cheap to buy and in a patisserie there are a million uses for egg yolks too – you just have to sell something with custard. The biggest cost is in the filling and that is basically only the chocolate, if it’s the good stuff.
The complexity of the macaron comes in the skill used to make them; there are certain points in the process that do need extra attention to achieve a good quality product. Don’t be scared by this though. Here is a recipe for a basic vanilla and chocolate macaron which is almost foolproof and the result is seriously tasty. This is a French version, as opposed to Italian which is slightly more involved:
Macarons are everywhere. They have appeared so suddenly that it seems like it is simply a passing trend, however pastry chefs have been mastering the art of these dainty little biscuits for almost 40 years. I believe that they will be around for a long time because of their diversity and sustainability in a business. I understand why chefs and patissiers are tapping into the market and bombarding us with a vast rainbow of colours and flavours: they sell well, taste good and everyone wants to know about them…but really, McDonalds?