Move over cupcakes! Another trend for sweet-toothed foodies is macaroons; not English macaroons you understand, which are chewy confections of egg whites, sugar and coconut, but beautifully coloured French macaroons, or macarons. These come in a variety of bright colours and are crisp on the outside, yet delectably soft inside and are made with ground almonds, egg white and sugar.
Macaroons are thought to have originated in an Italian monastery; the name comes from the Italian word macarone or maccherone meaning 'fine paste.' Later the chefs of Catherine de' Medici took the recipe to France in 1533 at the time of her marriage to Henri II.
Some French towns have become celebrated for their macaroons; in Montmorillon they're shaped like coronets and sold on their cooking paper; macaroons from Niort contain angelica and those from Nancy were originally made by the Carmelite nuns there in the 17th century.
The French love their macaroons, which are sold in patisseries in boxes, to give as gifts, and served in fashionable Parisian tea salons. Macaroons from Ladurée in Paris are particularly renowned and are made in a range of pastel colours and flavours such as pistachio, rose and jasmine, then sandwiched in pairs with a smooth ganache. Once cooked and filled, the macaroons are set aside for two days before going on sale, to achieve the finest texture and flavour. Fortunately for us, beautifully packaged Ladurée macaroons can now be bought in London.
Renowned chef Pierre Hermé, famous in his native France for his luxurious macaroons in unusual flavours, is also keen to introduce us Brits to the delights of macaroons and recently opened an outlet in London. The colourful array includes intriguing flavours such as Marron & Thé Vert Matcha (chestnut macaroon with a green tea centre); Fragola (strawberries with balsamic vinegar) and the Magnifique (raspberry and wasabi).
I love French macaroons, but they are expensive, so I've started to make my own. They're not difficult to make but it's worth remembering that whole, freshly ground almonds give the best flavour and the egg whites should be at room temperature. I like to make them in a rainbow of colours by adding a few drops of food colouring to the mixture.
Feeling ambitious enough to take on the patisserie classic? Watch our video on how to make macaroons to gain a helping hand. Share your tips and favourite flavour combinations below...