Friday, May 24, 2019

Macaron or Macaroon? It's A French Thing...

That delicately smooth and crisp outer layer on top as fragile as an eggshell matched with lightly ruffled clean and small "feet" on the bottom, the sumptuous filling in the center between two perfectly paired discs capped by its melt-in-your mouth finish with each indulgent bite...start counting your smiles and forget the calories. But say it wrong and you get your grandmother's homemade coconut treat instead...

You've probably seen all the brightest, most vibrant colors and hues of this most decadent nibble, but there's still so much more to discover. The range of colors is probably thicker than most Pantone color guides, and the flavor combinations have gone beyond traditional with inventive creations infused with matcha, foie gras, rosewater and even fermented sour mangoes and bacon. Still, the macaron continues to tempt and entice. And as the local culinary landscape evolves, you can expect even more creative interpretations of this very French delight.       

But it all started from humble beginnings as a simple cookie or sweet biscuit in Italy. The origins of this sinful indulgence goes as far back as the eighth century in Venetian monasteries as rustic almond biscuits, the soft maccarone, but it was transformed when the delicate treat was brought to France during the Renaissance. It's said Catherine de Medici of Venice brought along her Italian pastry chefs before marrying Henry II of France, thus planting the seeds for the soon to be famous biscuit in her new home. It wasn't long before versions of the Venetian treat was made in a French convent near Cornery in 1791. The macarons gained popularity when Carmelite nuns seeked asylum in Nancy to escape the chaos and violence of the French Revolution. To help pay for their rent, the Carmelite nuns baked and sold the single disc biscuits. Soon, word spread about the "Macaron Sisters" and their almond biscuits.

It was popular then as a simple single disc cookie, but things were about to change dramatically when someone decided to do a double serving with an indulgent filling...       

From Venetian monasteries to the French Revolution, the indulgent cookie-like dessert continued to gain popularity. But it wasn't until the early 1930s when Pierre Desfontaines of the famed French patisserie, Laduree, served two almond meringue discs stuffed with a sweet filling of buttercream, jam or ganache. Another baker named Claude Gerbet, is said to have created the macaron as we know it today. But whoever was the first, combining two macarons together with a sweet filling remains one of the culinary world's rare moments of pure epiphany.

From its humble beginnings in monasteries, the macaron's evolution to its familiar sandwich form elevated the simple biscuit into a decadent guilty pleasure. Today, the sweet meringue confection made with almonds has blossomed into the ultimate bite-sized indulgence romancing the palate with its delicate texture and decadent sweetness. The Venetian monks probably would have been amazed at their creation's development and character arc (thanks to GoT, "character arc" is a popular term now buzzing all over social media). 

Tradition still rules. Whisked egg whites folded with sifted ground almonds and powdered sugar still form the traditional base of the macaron, in a tedious process called macaronage. But it's the imaginative flavor combinations that make the macaron so contemporary and up-to-date. And as young pastry chefs challenge the norm and push the envelope with outlandish flavors, the macaron will keep pace and remain in step with the times.

Macaron or macaroon? Not to be confused with your grandmother's desiccated coconut macaroon that's simply world's apart, the French macaron is loosely adapted by the English as "macaroon" during the 16th and 17th centuries. Many bakeries in the UK still use "macaroon" for these prized high-end bites. You can say both macaron and macaroon are correct. No, not really. Not on the other side of the Atlantic. Say "macaroon" and your grandmother's dense, crunchy and homemade coconut cookies comes up and not the elegant round sandwich-like macaron. Does it matter how you say it? Maybe. Then again, it really does. Since the dual disc form with a sweet filling was first made in France during the 1930s, maybe it's just right and proper to call it the way the French have always called it. I'll go with the French on this one. Oui? And next time you enter a fancy patisserie, you just might get a nod of approval when you say it right.

It's a French thing. Besides, your indulgent experience with a macaron becomes complete, maybe even more authentic, when you say it the French way. Despite its Italian origins, you can say the current form and shape we all love was refined and perfected in France. Macarons, not macaroons. Weighing a gram or even less with a light and airy texture, the macaron has come a long way from austere Venetian monasteries to the affluent and posh Parisian cafes. But you don't have to go all the way to Paris to enjoy this lavish sweet treat...

The Peninsula Boutique at The Peninsula Manila is a delicatessen and bakery as well as a gift and flower shop offering fresh baked bread, lavish cakes and pastries, savory sandwiches, premium teas, fine chocolates and unique gifts and souvenirs, including the decadent macarons.

Elegantly packed in a compartmentalized box, the intricate macarons are neatly stacked and perfect gifts to friends and family. Or a well-deserved treat to yourself. Executive Pastry Chef Xavier Castello ensures each bite becomes a lusciuous sensory experience of pure decadence, textures and fragrances.

The elegant macarons are riding high on the crest of a resurgent popularity in the metro, and you can savor these tempting bites at The Peninsula Manila. But say it wrong, and you get your grandmother's homemade coconut baked confections instead.

The Peninsula Boutique is located at B1 of The Peninsula Manila, Corner of Ayala and Makati Avenues, Makati City or call 887-2888 for inquiries and more information.

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