Trends come and go, and come again, and go again. I am not sure of the position of cupcakes and macarons in the limelight right now, but as sure as eggs are eggs, they will be pushed off the pinnacle again, and just become ordinarily popular once more.
I was thinking about macarons recently, and wondering when they changed from macaroons, which is how I always knew them, back when they were ordinarily delicious, not trendy delicious. Was the loss of an ‘o’ significant in their rise to neon-coloured stardom, do you think? On second thoughts, the macaroons of my childhood were made from little pyramids of coconut stuck together with sugar and egg, and baked, or with condensed milk, and not baked. Perhaps these coconut macaroons were a local phenomenon where I grew up – which is when and where macarons were just meringues.
So, what does the Oxford English Dictionary have to say about macarons? Let us acknowledge, then ignore for the purposes of this post, the confusion of it referring to a type of macaroni (pasta) in the early fifteenth century and beyond. One of the supporting quotations in the OED is from Chambers Cyclopaedia, published in 1753, which says:
Macaron, the name of a sort of vermicelli, a paste made of flour and water, and formed into the shape of the barrel of a quill, or the guts of small fowls.
The other definition of macaron given by the OED, and the one that concerns us today is “a small sweet cake or biscuit consisting chiefly of ground almonds (or coconut), egg white, and sugar.” The word is used with this meaning in Cotgrave’s Dictionary of the French & English Tongues (1611) which says:
Macarons, Macarons; little Fritter-like Bunnes, or thicke Losenges, compounded of Sugar, Almonds, Rosewater, and Muske.
So, there you have it, a super-mini summary of the concept of macarons. As the recipe for the day, I give you Hannah Glasse’s version from her famous book the Art of Cookery, published in 1747.
To make Maccaroons.
Take a Pound of Almonds, let them be scal’d, blanch’d, and thrown into cold Water, then dry them in a Cloth and pound them in a Mortar, moisten them with Orange-flower Water, or the White of an Egg, lest they turn to an Oil; afterwards take an equal Quantity of fine powder Sugar, with three or four Whites of Eggs, and a little Musk, beat all well together, and shape them on Wafer-paper with a Spoon round, bake them in a gentle Oven on Tin Plates.
I always figured the modern spelling of macaron for the meringue cookie was to differentiate it from coconut macaroons, which is what most people think of when they hear "macaroon."
I'm so glad macarons don't have musk in them anymore!
I do hope ratafia biscuits come back someday. I'd love to know what they taste like.
I did do a post on ratafia, and included a biscuit recipe, in a post quite a few years ago: it is here
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