The History Of Macarons

Most of us know that macarons are small French delicacies. But have you ever wondered where they really come from? What’s the history behind these finicky treats?

The History

A macaron is a small meringue-based biscuit made with almond flour, sugar, egg whites and food colouring. Two macaron shells are usually sandwiched together and filled with buttercream, ganache, or curd which gives them distinct flavours. On average, macarons are about 3 to 5 cm in diameter.

Despite being called “French macarons”, history shows that they actually originate from Italy. During the Renaissance, Catherine de’ Medici’s Italian pastry chefs made them when she brought them with her to France in 1533 upon marrying Henry II of France. However, macarons have been produced in the Venetian monasteries since the 8th century A.D.

It was in France, though, where the macarons became increasingly popular. This was due to two Carmelite nuns, who later became known as “Macaron Sisters”, that baked and sold the cookies to be able to pay for their housing during the French Revolution in 1792. At the time, macarons were different from what we know nowadays – they were served without special flavours or fillings.

Early Recipes

From Dictionnaire encyclopédique de l’épicerie et des industries annexes, by Albert Seigneurie, edited by L’Épicier in 1904, page 431.

Many Italian cookbooks of the 16th-century mention almond biscuits closely resembling macarons, although under different names. The earliest known recipe dates back to the early 17th century and appears to be inspired by a French version of the recipe.

To make French Macaroones
Wash a pound of the newest and the best Jordane Almonds in three or foure waters, to take away the rednesse from their out-side, lay them in a Bason of warme water all night, the next day blanch them, and dry them with a faire cloath, beat them in a stone morter, until they be reasonably fine, put to them halfe a pound of fine beaten Sugar, and so beat it to a perfect Paste, then put in halfe a dozen spoonefuls of good Damaske Rose-water, three graines of Ambergreece, when you have beaten all this together, dry it on a chafingdish of coales until it grow white and stiffe, then take it off the fire, and put the whites of two new laid Egs first beaten into froath, and so stirre it well together, then lay them on wafers in fashion of little long rowles, and so bake them in an Oven as hot as for Manchet, but you must first let the heat of the Oven passe over before you put them in, when they rise white and light, take them out of the Oven, and put them in a warm platter, and set them againe into the warme Oven & so let them remain foure or five houres, and then they wil be thoroughly dry, but if you like them better being moist, then dry them not after the first baking.

John Murrell, A Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen (1617).

It was not until the 1930s that macarons started to be served sandwiched together 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 its creation in the early part of the 20th century, but another baker, Claude Gerbet, also claims to have invented it. 

Nowadays, French macaron bakeries are trendy all over the world – many try to master them. In Portugal, Australia, France, Belgium and Switzerland, McDonald’s even sells macarons in their McCafés!

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