Macarons Are the New Cupcake, But Why?
Think back to a few years ago, when cupcakes were introduced as glamorous desserts. You probably recall that cupcake shops such as Sprinkles, Magnolia Bakery and Georgetown Cupcake became household names. As the popularity of these personal cakes (sometimes filled) topped with colorful swirls of frosting, sprinkles, syrups and every other decoration under the sun grew, so did the number of shops, restaurants and stores specializing in the sugar-loaded treats.
Photos and design by Molly Dunn Move over cupcakes. Macarons have taken your place.
While many of us grew up eating the simple chocolate cupcake with butter cream frosting or a golden-vanilla cupcake topped with classic chocolate frosting, those two flavors began to seem passé, overtaken by fancy bacon-topped versions.
But the cupcake craze is over, and the French macaron has taken its place.
Don't confuse the macaron with the macaroon (note the additional "o"), a sticky American cookie made with egg whites, sugar and coconut, sometimes topped with a drizzle of chocolate syrup. The French macaron is so much more difficult to make. It's practically an art.
Photo by Kimberly Park Ooh La La Dessert Boutique now sells macarons. From left: salted caramel, vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, pistachio and tiramisu
Despite being a French dessert, the macaron cookie has Italian origins, supposedly invented by the chef of Catherine de' Medici, who was queen of France from 1547 until 1559; she was married to Henry II of France. It wasn't until the early 20th century that a filling was sandwiched between two macaron cookies. The grandson of Louis Ernest Ladurée (founder of the famous Parisian patisserie, Ladurée), Pierre Desfontaines, was the mastermind behind filling two macaron cookies with a ganache.
Bakers spend years perfecting the technique of making a macaron. Each cookie must have the perfectly crispy crust, or shell, but the interior must be soft and chewy; the "feet," or the ruffle on the edges, of each cookie must be symmetrical and slightly extended off the base; the filling (ganache, jam or buttercream) needs to be proportional to the size of the cookies and cannot overwhelm the two shells. Not only is it an art, it's a science.
There's a place to buy a cupcake in just about every neighborhood or district in the Houston area, but the number of macaron shops has increased over the past few years, especially, it seems, in recent months. Bite Macarons opened on Buffalo Speedway during the summer of 2013 and Oui Desserts opened to the public this month. Some other popular shops selling macarons include Maison Burdisso, The Pastry of Dreams, Fluff Bake Bar and Petite Sweets.
Photo courtesy of Macaron by Patisse The blueberry vanilla bean macarons at Macaron by Patisse are adventurous, yet quite popular.
However, one of the first (and most popular) macaron shops in Houston was opened by Sukaina Rajani, co-owner of Macaron by Patisse.
Macaron by Patisse was Houston's original macaron shop. Located in the River Oaks Shopping Center, it has built a name for itself with its offerings of more than 20 flavors ranging from classic French options like vanilla, pistachio and chocolate to exotic, more Americanized options like salted caramel, blueberry vanilla bean, and fig and goat cheese (a flavor the shop can't seem to keep enough of). Rajani opened her storefront in January 2013, and says macarons are more than just a trend and that Houstonians are becoming more and more attracted to the classic French pastry desserts.
"Prior to opening, we put up a sign saying, 'Macaron by Patisse Coming Soon,' and we were overwhelmed with the number of emails and Facebook likes, and just everyone's reception to it was amazing," Rajani says. "I mean, granted, I was also private catering prior to opening, so I was already private catering macarons to the point where I was doing 800 to 1,000 macarons a week out of my apartment kitchen, so I already knew that there was a need for them, or at least a market for them."