Although you may have gotten the impression that my brain is bursting with macaron knowledge, the information I know is just an insignificant crumb compared to the macaron database stored in Dorie Greenspan's head. Her culinary prowess encompasses seemingly all things sugary and delicious, as seen in her library of publications, which focuses on three of the most mouthwatering topics in the world: baking, chocolate, and Paris. Knowing that she had worked extensively with the macaron king Pierre Hermé and written two of his recipe books, there was no question that she was the perfect macaron specialist for me to talk to.
How did the macaron craze begin? What in God's name caused me to having a giggly conversation (the giggling was just on my end of the phone, by the way) about a sandwich cookie? According to Dorie, I could partially blame it on Hermé. She explained that when Hermé opened his shop in Paris in 2001, he was the first person to hold a show for his seasonal desserts in a somewhat unconventional style.
"It was held like a fashion show. The desserts were brought out by models and the last new pastry was the new macaron, which in that year was hazelnut white truffle. I think he started the macaron flavor craze with the opening of his store and fabulous idea to show the collection the way you show fashion."
Although macarons may be gaining popularity Stateside, Dorie explained that the macaron obsession can't fully set in until you've visited its birthplace. "You'll have to have gone to Paris and fallen in love with them. It's not the same as hearing about tasting a tarte tatin or a brioche or any other French pastry that we know well. Macarons are really a little esoteric and certainly would've been before this craze."
For all the times that I've struggled trying to describe the perfect macaron, Dorie had no problem painting a picture of her ideal specimen: "The Mallomar-shaped cookie must have a 'foot,' a crackly ringlet that surrounds the flat side. The outer shell is thinner than an eggshell but has an eggshell-like quality. Poking through the shell gives way to soft, almost-meringue texture. The macaron is just a tiny little thing made of only sugar, egg white, and almonds, yet it has bunches of texture and flavor that you can play with ad infinitum."
"The macaron is remarkable for its creative possibilities," she added. "For instance, there's a candy bar in Paris called Bounty; this summer Pierre Hermé made a macaron just like that. It's such a giggle to have that fabulous play of elegance and delight."
A better example of her experience with macarons as a vehicle for elegance and delight came during a meal at Jean-Gorges. One of the macarons on her tray of petit fours came decorated with a tiny photo of her head. Such personalized service isn't normally done in the restaurant—Dorie is friends with head chef Jean Georges Vongerichten and pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini—but if any dessert were to be played with, it would be the macaron.
Since she splits her time between Paris and New York, I wanted to get her opinion on the unimpressive state of pastries in our city, at least compared to Paris, where its maddeningly easy to stumble into an amazing bakery or patisserie. Unsurprisingly, because she goes to Paris so often and can make most pastries herself, she doesn't feel the urge to buy pastries in New York. How does pastry culture differ between the two cities?
"The French don't bake at home—they buy dessert and they eat it without saying, 'I feel so guilty.' It's really a part of their culture. We don't have that—we don't stop at 4 'o clock to have a little store-bought snack or a pain au chocolat. We don't have tea and macarons in the afternoon," she explains.
I think now would be a good time to instate a nationwide "Mandatory 4 p.m. Snack Time." Surely no one disagrees with me? Yup, I didn't think so.
Last, I asked her a question about making macarons: What's up with the aged egg whites?
"You can get more air into old egg whites. Chefs never use brand-new eggs. Eggs are kept at room temperature; they keep them out for three days."
So that's their secret. My mom would be happy to hear it; she doesn't even like keeping refrigerated egg whites for three days.
Thank you, Dorie, for expanding our macaronic horizons. If you've never had a macaron before, I would agree with Dorie that the only way to experience its magic is in Paris. If you have already indulged in Parisian macarons and failed to see the big deal, that's fine too—it just leaves more macarons for the rest of us.