Snapshots from the South of France: Rustic Macarons
"Between the two cookie halves was no cream, no chocolate, no jam. It just was what it was. And it was perfect."
I never knew it before, but the macaron is a lot like Eliza Doolittle.
Imagine you met Miss Doolittle at the end of My Fair Lady, when she can talk, dress, and dance like all of the other society girls. It is in this altered, Pygmalion state that I first encountered the macaron, a two-bite cookie gem, in Paris. All you see is the polish. You have no idea that this girl, or this cookie, has an underside anything other than pure luxury, hauteur, entitlement. But indeed, you are mistaken. There is much that you do not know.
I was astonished when I found a little sign handwritten "Macarons" at a cloth-covered stall in the market in Aix-en-Provence. But where are they? There were no Easter egg hues handled by white-gloved, black-aproned macaron girls. There was no gold leaf, no signs for luxurious ganaches and impossibly perfumed crèmes. Instead, there was what appeared to be cookie rubble, all the same, but designated by such simple signs as "Almond," "Cinnamon," and "Vanilla."
This, I knew, I had to try.
Because macarons are made from almonds, and because these macarons looked so absolutely unaltered and natural, I order the almond flavor. I didn't even wait until the vendor had handed me back my change; I had stolen a taste. The outside is crisp like a Parisian macaron; the inside is chewy. But the texture is more zaftig, more voluptuous. The flavor of sweet almond pushed a grin up from the corners of my mouth through my whole demeanor. Between the two cookie halves was no cream, no chocolate, no jam. It just was what it was. And it was perfect.
It was as though Eliza Doolittle had come home from the ball, and gotten into the bath. Had washed off all the make-up. Had taken off her hat, and taken down her hair. Had hung up all those expensive clothes, and had untangled her diamond necklaces. And there she stands, naked and plain, but full of charm, screaming, "I'm a good girl, I am!” She has never looked lovelier.
After all, sometimes you don't want a cookie who only talks about the weather. Sometimes you want a cookie who can shout "move your bloomin’ arse!" And that's what these macarons did. They are good cookies, they are!
About the author: Kerry Saretsky is the creator of French Revolution Food, where she reinvents her family's classic French recipes in a fresh, chic, modern way. She also writes the French in a Flash and The Secret Ingredient series for Serious Eats.