It is fascinating how a small circle of batter can carry with it such confusion from the way it is pronounced to its origin. I will be the first to admit that apart from enjoying these fancy little treats, I didn’t give its history much thought until I discovered La Belle Miette. It was here that I first heard the word MacarOn (Mah-Ka-Rhon) used instead of MacarOOn ( Mak-Kah-Roon) to describe these fragile cookies. This had me intrigued as I have always pronounced it like the latter and there was no way the Master Chef judges could get it wrong too or could they?
I didnt have to look far for answers as there are exhaustive information and endless online search results explaining the vast differences between the two or explaining that the only difference lies with
the country you are in. Some historians have set them apart stating that besides from both confectioneries containing egg white, they are like sand and pearls. It is believed that Macaroons are best known as holiday cookies in America; a plain Jane of a flourless cookie most often made with shredded coconut. The absence of wheat flour makes them a popular feature at Passover tables. A Macaron however is French; a dolled up meringue made with almond powder shaped into smooth dome tops sandwiched with either ganache, jam or buttercream and coloured in the prettiest of hues. On the other hand many references have been made to the famous encyclopedia of gastronomy first published in 1938, Larousse Gastronomique. According to the book, the English word “Macaroon” simply derives from the French “Macaron” which itself is derivative of the Italian “Maccherone” that means fine dough. So could we be talking about the same thing after all? I am beginning to wonder if the Americans have nicked the English word Macaroon to give their coconut cookies more appeal. Whatever it is, I am even more confused now than ever.
To make it even more perplexing, the earlier part of its origin is still debatable and uncertain. Macarons may possibly have been brought to France from Italy as early as 1533 by the pastry chefs of Catherine di Medici, wife of Henri II. During 1789-1790, two Benedictine nuns took refuge in the town of Nancy during the French Revolution and survived the hard times by making and selling Macarons. They soon became famous and were nicknamed the “Macaron Sisters”. The Macarons they made were a simple mix of ground almond, egg whites, sugar but void of fancy flavours, fillings and colors. They were also served single filed mind you. As far as confirmed facts, at the beginning of the 20th century Pierre Desfontaines from the world famous tea salon Ladurée had a brilliant idea to repackage the age old Macaron to the modern Macaron we so enjoy today. The clever creation was to sandwich two Macarons with a delicious filling and offer them in an endless array of flavours and colors.
What I thought was going to be an indulging and mindless post turned out to be a history lesson for me. So let’s move onto some serious Macarons shall we? La Belle Miette, French for “beautiful little crumb” lights up Hardware Lane in Melbourne’s CBD with its tiny picturesque Macaron salon. It is apparent that LBM knows exactly what the word specialty means because there is no sidetracking here. Opened in January 2011, this quaint little patisserie screams everything Parisien and its main intention is loud and clear as soon as you enter, the glass cabinet showcasing the jewels in their crown.
Together, owners Maylynn and Hugh tossed aside their University Degrees and dedicated some time in France to learn the secrets in making the finest “beautiful little crumb”. Thanks to their dream, Melbourne now has a little authentic piece of Paris to boast about, all 16 flavours at the moment. I blush at the thought of admitting how many of LBM’s Macarons I have indulged in but then again eating them by the boxful each time is a good gauge for consistency. The fresh crisp outer shell hides a moist and delicate meringue that dissolves in the mouth almost too quickly only then to reveal an addictive filling. The ultimate beauty of a Macaron is not only the smooth and even shells but they must have FEET or they will be like pretty birds with no beaks. LBM has pretty much nailed all the requirements of a perfect Macaron but some critics have questioned the lack of lustre shells. I personally think it doesnt make any difference and it certainly doesnt hinder them from being the best Melbourne has to offer at the moment. Getting the flavours right is also very crucial. All Macarons may be created equal but unfortunately, not all flavours have equal favouritism with Macaron lovers as the taste factor is so subjective. There is no wonder why Macaron purveyors invest so much in research, constantly chasing that ground breaking new flavour as its a good strategy to get ahead of their competitors and to keep us hopeless devotees going back for more.
My LBM favourites are Caramel, Rose, Raspberry, Earl Grey,Violet & Blueberry and Hazelnut. Two new flavours are due to launch soon, Cucumber & Mint and Mango & Coconut which signifies Asian immediately. If you havent taste tested LBM’s Macarons then please do yourself a favour and make your way there pronto. A little indulgence goes a long way at $2.50-$2.80 a pop. Business must be booming as they have opened their second salon not long ago on Church Street in Richmond so there are many more Macarons to go around.
LBM has only been in operation for a year and there seem to be many harsh critics who are quick to slam them for trying to compete with Ladurée and Pierre Hermé. Although LBM is very confident with their product I am sure they do not intend to be compared so closely to the Macaron Kings, well not just yet anyway. In the meantime, I think they are doing a great job standing on their FEET gracefully.