Monday, April 19, 2010
Au Revoir Cup Cakes, Bonjour Macarons
Personally, I’ve never been a fan of cup cakes. I guess I’m too old.
In my day cupcakes were known as fairy cakes, the staple of childhood birthday parties (together with those disgusting rice krispie/chocolate things). My dear old Mum, she of the culinary disasters, never really got the hang of cake decorating, and anything involving icing was sure to end in tears. So my birthday offerings were neither tasty nor artistic. From memory, the cake bit was dry and the topping was a drizzle of icing with a scattering of hundreds and thousands which had been applied before the icing had started to set, so consequently the hundreds and thousands either dissolved into a lurid splodge of purple, yellow, pink and blue, or they slid gently off the top of the cake and collected in a pool around the rim of the paper case. Needless to say, there were always dozens of them left over at the end of the party, even though Mum had shovelled as many as decently possible into goodie bags for the departing guests. I guess most of them finished up in the dustbin or on the bird table. There were quite a lot of bird mortalities in our street just after my birthday.
The modern day ones, on which small fortunes have been made, are almost as bad. Mum’s lack of decoration was distinctly minimalist compared to these overblown works of confectionary. I regard any highly decorated cake with suspicion as they rarely live up to their promise, and those who were falling over themselves to be seen as cupcake connoisseurs are now admitting that most of them were dry and flavourless, and horror of horrors – laden with empty calories. If you’re going to be reckless with the calories at least get some satisfaction from it, I say. I’d opt for some Belgian chocolate, a slice of ‘Death by Chocolate’ cake, or a ‘proper’ dry martini (as made by a barman in Zaragossa in Northern Spain, but that’s another story)
Now it’s macarons that are the latest trendy confection. Not macaroons, they’re those big, flat almondy things which come with their own rice paper liner. Macarons are much more subtle.
So if cupcakes are passé, here come the macarons, little jewel-like delights of pastel coloured meringue sandwiched together with a rich butter cream filling.
Macarons have been around for years in France, although the word is derived from the Italian word maccarone. It’s reputed that they were introduced to France by Catherine de Medici following her marriage to the French king, Henri II in 1553. Mind you, so much in France has been attributed to Catherine de Medici it’s probably yet another myth.
Unlike macaroons, the macaron is small, neat and incredibly difficult to make at home. The finished result must be uniform, as they are going to be sandwiched together, and have a smooth shallow-domed top ( no peaky bits) It all sounds too tricky, unless you’re really skilled in the art of meringue making.
The fillings are divine. Anything from the traditional chocolate, coffee and raspberry (appropriately coloured meringue to match he flavouring) to pistachio, chestnut, orange blossom, mango, bergamot – new flavours seem to be added every day.
If you’d like to know more, visit the website of one of the best macaron makers in France .. www.laduree.fr. They have shops in Paris and many other French cities, as well as Dublin and London (Harrods). The website should really come with a warning: ‘Macarons can become addictive’.