Macarons: What are they, and why haven’t you had one?
The first time I tasted a macaron coincided with my introduction to Paris in 2004 – a time when so many aspects of French culture and the French themselves were mysterious to me. Are they really rude? More importantly, are the pastries as good as I’ve heard?
No, the French are not rude. And yes, the pastries are all they’re cracked up to be.
Especially macarons – almond meringue cookies sandwiching buttercream, ganache or jam.
Fortunately, macarons are a growing trend in the United States – the hundred-year-old treat has been called the “new cupcake” – and two Sacramento shops do a flawless recreation of the French classic.
Ginger Elizabeth Hahn, owner of Midtown’s Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates, told me that she was initially exposed to macarons through foreign food publications, and when she graduated from culinary school in 2003, macarons weren’t even part of the curriculum.
When she opened her shop in 2008, she offered macarons in both their traditional form and, with an eye toward Sacramento’s hot summers, as ice cream sandwiches.
Macarons are also featured at the French-themed Estelle’s Patisserie, which opened downtown last year.
“It’s one of the epitomes of French dessert,” owner Esther Son said. “I had to have it, otherwise it would be like not having hamburgers at an all-American restaurant.”
With fanciful flavors such as rose and orange blossom complementing salty caramel, raspberry, espresso and pistachio, there is something for everyone, and Son said the size means you can have one as a snack, or have three or four as a dessert.
“They’re really aesthetically pleasing,” Son said. “You can make a nice display with them, and if I get invited to a friend’s birthday party or something, I am probably going to bring macarons.”
Macarons sell for $1.75 at both shops, and that might seem high to some, but Son and Hahn said it’s reflective of the high-cost ingredients and the amount of skill and time it takes to make them.
“They’re hand-piped,” Hahn said. “You have to be very precise, and we make the jams and fillings ourselves.”
She added that the humidity in the refrigerator has to be right, because the slightly crispy shell needs to absorb the filling just right so the proper texture is achieved.
Son said that experienced home chefs can make them, but they are definitely not entry-level desserts.
Visiting Estelle’s Patisserie or Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates, you can get either a classic flavor like you’d find in the case at Ladurée on the Champs Elysées, or you can get something with an American twist.
“We have a peanut butter and jelly flavor, and we can really do any flavor you can think of,” Son said. “They could even be savory. I could do one with bacon. If there’s demand and they will sell, I’ll make it.”
Hahn decided to use the macaron as a starting point for ice cream sandwiches, since the cookies themselves don’t fully freeze, and they’re the perfect texture right out of the freezer.
Both Son and Hahn said they think the macaron is fast gaining popularity in the region, and it isn’t likely to go away.
I hope they’re right. If I had my way, macarons in the United States would reach the popularity level they enjoy in Europe, where, much to the chagrin of the purists, even McDonald’s carries them.
In 2009, when I decided I had to quit my job and try to live in Paris, I could get a macaron on just about any street. When Christmas season came, macarons were even parts of displays in store windows.
To me, the macaron isn’t just a dessert. It’s delicious in it’s own right, but it also reminds me of that first trip to Paris, when I wandered through streets once frequented more than a hundred years ago by macaron inventor Pierre Desfontaines of Ladurée, taking in the most legendary of cities.
If, like me, you’re looking for a little piece of France in Sacramento, or you just want to try a growing dessert trend, you can’t go wrong with the delicate, refined and oh-so-French goodness that is the macaron.
Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Darnell.