Yes, I admit I missed it — the Feast of the Macaron Day last week, to announce the burgeoning Spring. It was on March 20th and I was elsewhere, no doubt shopping in some department store.

This lovely Macaron day tradition was instilled five years ago at the initiative of Pierre Hermé, a French pastry chef formerly of Ladurée fame who invited you to taste free macarons in his Parisian shops or any of the participating Relais Desserts boutiques in support of rare illnesses.

Charitable causes aside, it is a little heaven to bite into a lovely, bright macaron – and there is every color in the spectrum of a rainbow. Past that crunchy shell of meringue, you are met with a downy softness like smooth velvet that explodes into an exuberance of flavor – be it sensual chocolate, light lemon, tangy raspeberry, heady vanilla, or exotic jasmine. It is the perfect pastry companion for an espresso, a cup of tea, or a flute of champagne. Or just by itself, followed by another, and another.

The macaron came into vogue in France about a decade ago when its appearance in restaurants and on dinner tables were de rigueur. With the years, they evolved into myriad sizes and shapes from little hearts to the double-decker version and even to the size of a cheeseburger, and available to epicureans all over the world. Flavors can range from the most traditional chocolate to exotic like rose petals, green tea, and ketchup (!).

But what exactly is a macaron?

What it’s not is a macaroon (with two ‘oo’s) made of egg whites, sugar and shredded dried coconut baked into a soft peaked mound.

The macaron at hand (with one “o”) is a small cookie the size of a half dollar consisting of crunchy egg white meringue, almond powder and sugar exterior and soft cream filled interior. Its origins are obscure and contested. The macaron appeared in Europe in the Middle Age where it would diversify and find new shapes and flavors. Its simplest form can be traced back to Italy during the Renaissance, according to “Larousse Gastronomique,” an encyclopedia of food, wine, cookery, and culture which suggested that this little pastry, also known as a monk’s navel, was invented in 791 in a convent near Cormery in the Loire region.

Filled with jams, spices, liqueurs, this crunchy soft cookie would come to be known as the Parisien macaron or “Gerbet” starting in the 1880s in the neighborhood of Belleville in Paris. It was made popular in the Latin quarter by the now defunct salon de thé Pons, as well as by the Ladurée house, which introduced the concept of “macarons season” corresponding to fragrances that are available only for the limited season. Ladurée also takes credit for the double-decker macaron variety.

Ladurée features a permanent collection of flavors to suit your tastes: chocolates – dark, bitter chocolate – vanilla – coffee – rose petals – pistachios – raspberry – violet cassis – caramel with salted butter – red fruits – orange water – licorice – lemon – coconut – icy mint – almonds – spices & dried fruit – chestnuts – praline – mocha…

So readers, what would be your pick for the day?

Pierre Hermé, 72 rue Bonaparte
La Durée, Boulevard des Champs Elysées
Paris
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