Well, that they’re not French. Did you know that macarons origin is from Italy?
Mind = blown.
For so many years, the macaron history has been identified with French culture, especially through pastry shops with French-sounding names and people trying to be fancy pronouncing it in their stupidest French accent.
The gimmick is real.
But almost every food item we humans indulge in has traces going way back. To such extent that it gets difficult to identify its origin. I’ve written about the Reuben sandwich before, whose origins are still debated, and that sandwich got invented in the 20th century. So you can imagine how the origins of the macaron has been misconstrued.
But let’s start with the actual name. The term “macaron” means something different depending of who you ask. Some will think of it as a big coconut ball, but to others – an airy and delicate merengue.
Both are equally delicious, though! Here’s how they came to be.
French Macarons History
The very first macarons were very simple cookies made of almond powder, sugar and egg whites. Food based on almonds were already popular in the Middle Ages, and the first recollection of macarons appearing were in Venetian monasteries in the 8th century, after initially arriving in Italy with the Arabs. When I read about the macarons history, I saw that a French abbey in the city of Cormery, France began making macarons in 791, but to be honest these macarons are not in the style we associate it with today.
The style we know of today emerged in Italy, introduced by the chef of Catherine de Medici in 1533 during her marriage to the Duc d’Orleans, who eventually became king of France in 1547 as Henry II.
Catherine’s granddaughter was supposedly saved from starvation by eating macarons, in the town of Nancy. So I guess Cormery is not the only French town that have their own variants and fables surrounding the macaron.
The Origin Of The Name
So let’s look at the word a little closer. The term macaron derives from the Italian maccherone or macaroni, which means “fine dough”.
For many years, “macaron” meant more than just a cookie, but something savory as well. Like flour based paste cooked with an array of spices and grated cheese, served with something to drink. Going longer back in time, the Italian term itself can be traced back to the ancient Greeks’ term for mixing or kneading. This went on to become the term for “baker” or sometimes “cook”.
The Italian verb “Maccare” means “to beat” or “to pound”, which could also be seen as a related meaning. A 1673 French-English dictionary defines macaron as “little Fritter-like Buns, or thick Losenges, compounded of Sugar, Almonds, Rosewater, and Musk, pounded together, and baked with gentle fire.”
Modern Style Variants
So this leads us to where we are today. The variant of the macaron that we all get in our head when we think of the macaron – a filling sandwiched between two shells – is a more contemporary invention. Only at the beginning of the 20th century did the macaron become a “double-decker” affair.
Ladurée, the famous Parisian pastry shop could very well be most associated with the modern-style macarons today. The shop was founded in 1862, but it was not until the early twentieth century that Pierre Desfontaines, grandson of Louis Ernest Ladurée, had the idea of piping ganache on a shell and topping it with another. It is now the ubiquitous way to sell and serve Parisian-style macarons—called gerbet, a name that still appears today—around the globe
Ever since then, the French macaron were nationally acclaimed in France and exploded onto the world scene, making this the best-selling cookie in pastry retail stores, this making the term “macarons” be associated to this style.
Which would infuriate any Italian, if they really knew about it.