Macarons back in bakers’ list

2011-10-14 00:00

MACARONS, the small almond and sugar biscuit loved by the French, are replacing the cupcake in the United States as a favourite dessert.

Bakeries devoted to the colourful confections have been popping up in New York, Seattle and San Francisco, and the legendary Parisian patisserie Laduree, whose pastry chef Pierre Desfontaines created the macaron over a century ago, opened its first U.S. branch in New York City in August­.

“It’s exactly the same shop and spirit­,” said Laduree chairperson David Holder about its new U.S. store. “The products and the quality are the same.”

Although the Laduree recipe is a closely guarded secret, Holder said all of the company’s macarons are made in Paris from a mixture that is about 50% ground almonds, sugar, egg whites, food colouring and naturally derived flavours. The biscuits are also gluten-free.

The New York shop is so popular on weekends that the line of customers curls down the pavement.

At the macaron shop Bisous, Ciao in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a sign in the window makes clear that macarons, which Bon Appetit magazine had dubbed “the new cupcake” last year, are not the same thing as macaroons, a chewy coconut biscuit.

Like their trendy predecessor, macarons­ win many fans with their bold appearance and array of whimsical flavours.

“I think people like them at first because they are striking colours, and they’re dainty and pretty,” said Bisous­, Ciao owner and founder Tanya­ Ngangan.

Holder agrees, describing them as “small accessories” that can be given as gifts in place of champagne or flowers­.

At Bisous, Ciao, the biscuits are lined up like jewels in a glass case. Laduree­ packages its macarons in limited-edition boxes, which are frequently­ the result of designer collaborations. The latest was created by British fashion designer Matthew Williamson. The delicate treats come in almost every imaginable flavour, from classics­ like raspberry at Macaron Café in New York to more innovative options such as salted peanut and grape at Bisous, Ciao.

“It’s kind of like an upscale PBJ,” said Ngangan, referring to peanut butter and jelly (jam).

For New York Fashion Week in September­ Laduree produced a cinnamon raisin, New York macaron, which Holder said was a nod to the popularity of cinnamon in American sweets — something that is uncommon in France.

Holder and Ngangan say their most popular flavours are salted caramel. With prices starting at $2,50 (about R20) each, many consumers see macarons­ as an affordable luxury when bigger ones are out of reach in a tight economy.

“We are living in a complicated world,” Holder said. “Small pleasures are important.”

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