Chinese, beware, the macaron are coming!

Virna Lisi playing the part of Catherine de' Medici in the movie 'Queen Margot.'
Virna Lisi playing the part of Catherine de’ Medici in the movie ‘Queen Margot.’

Macaron are marching out of Paris and are invading the world! They were a rare sight until a few years ago but they are since ubiquitous and even in Hong Kong they are seen in café and confectionery shops. We spotted them in great numbers in Italy as well as in Japan and Korea and if strong countermeasures will not be taken in a few years they might even replace the famed moon-cakes from the desk of world-savvy Chinese families. Macaron are predominantly a French confection and there has been much debate about the origin of the original recipe. They are basically a sweet meringue-based confection made with egg white, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond powder or ground almond, and food colouring, in French pastel colours. Then macaron is commonly filled with ganache, buttercream or jam filling sandwiched between two biscuits (cookies).


The name sounds clearly Italian, where it is widely used as maccheroni to call the oldest type of pasta created in Naples, a kind probably older than the spaghetti. We do believe that they could be traced back to the arrival of Catherine de’ Medici’s in France, on marrying King Henry II in 1533. Catherine brought several things to France like the art of making perfumes, taking her personal perfume-maker, a man called Renato with her, as well as the fashion of using fans. Reports sent to Isabella D’Este only a few years before Maria de’ Medici’s arrival described French noble-ladies as: “Rather filthy, but with pretty faces and quite available to be kisses and being touched.”

It was not until the 1830s that macaron began to be served two-by-two with the addition of jams, liqueurs, and spices. The macaron as it is known today, composed of two almond meringue discs filled with a layer of buttercream, jam, or ganache filling, was originally called the “Gerbet” or the “Paris macaron.” Pierre Desfontaines of the French pâtisserie Ladurée has sometimes been credited with such creation but another baker, Claude Gerbet, also claims to be the inventor.


The term macaroon was used in 18th-century England, where rich young hipsters sported outlandish styles characterized by certain over-the-top clothing with very tall powdered wigs and tiny caps on top. “Englishman Italianate, devil incarnate!” as they said. They were called the macaroons because on their travels to France and Italy were they acquired a taste for what was perceived as continental, hence the derogative nickname given to what was perceived as foreign. In the United States the name took another turn , and if you’ve ever heard the song “Yankee Doodle,” you will know what we mean. The chorus mocks a dishevelled “Yankee” soldier whose attempt to look sharp and well-dressed was to “stick a feather in his hat and call it macaroni.”