March is here! So that means that at BeyondYVR, instead of March Madness we’ll have macaron madness!
In recent years, the macaron has become a very popular confection. Its roots are shrouded in mystery, as some have traced it to the time Catherine de Medici spent in France but the Larousse Gastronomique, an encyclopedia concerning French cooking, claims it was invented in 791 in a convent. Regardless, macarons remained in relative obscurity, an aristocratic treat, until they recently became embraced by the masses.
Resembling an Oreo in structure, macarons are usually two outer cookie crusts sandwiching a sweet filling. The crusts are meringue-based, being fashioned from various combinations of eggs, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond powder and ground almond. Not all of the ingredients need to be used in the meringue, meaning that a standard macaron will usually be gluten-free and, if one desires, can be made vegan. The filling is commonly a chocolate ganache, a flavored stiff cream, or jam.
Given its composition, a macaron usually has a light, fluffy texture that is mildly moist, and melts in the mouth. The meringue should dissolve quite easily, giving way to the flavor of the filling which should be distinctive, but not overpowering. Given that macarons are almost as fragile as foam, they are then packed in specially-crafted boxes so that they are jostled as little as possible, adding to their dainty aura.
While macarons may seem to be of French origin, the actual word is derived from the Italian macarone meaning meringue. There are actually three different kinds of meringue – the French, Italian and Swiss – which each have a different firmness and finish. French meringues are stiffly beaten together egg whites with granulated sugar, resulting in a lighter finish that is more delicate and a coating that is shiny. Italian meringues replace the sugar with syrup, resulting in a more cohesive, solid meringue. Swiss meringues involve beating whites and sugar over a double boiler, which cooks the eggs enough to not need baking, resulting in a moister meringue that is still very solid.
As such, macarons can vary widely, as the combinations of meringues and fillings are virtually endless. Indeed, in recent years new flavors that have gained popularity include salted caramel, green tea and passionfruit. On top of this, you could mix up macarons and macaroons – I know I have when confronted with these tiny treats and the big coconut balls!
The Parisian chain Ladurée is considered one of, if not the standard, having sold macarons for over 150 years. That being said, the rapidly growing popularity of the macaron has inspired a large number of confectioners to make them all over the world. They are prized in Asia for their cute appearance, in North America for their creamy, sweet taste, and in Europe as a classic treat. Freshly made varieties can be found in the streets of any major world city, including Vancouver.
BeyondYVR, through the month of March, will be reviewing macarons around the Lower Mainland.
We’ll begin by reviewing the macarons of a local favourite, Thierry. Constantly abuzz with customers, it is no wonder this café is so popular as it regularly turns out beautiful truffles, cakes and desserts. Owner and head chef Thierry Busset, having served as the pastry chef of two three-star Michelin restaurants before coming to Vancouver, has been praised by Gordon Ramsay as one of the best pastry chefs in the world. Indeed, he is one of city’s top chocolatiers and is often cited for an innovative approach to sweets of any kind.
At $2.25 per single, $14.75 for seven or $24.45 for 12, Thierry’s macarons are not extravagantly priced, being perhaps slightly above the city average. One thing to note about Thierry’s macarons is that they are sizable – about 20-30% larger than other macarons we compared them to – rendering them quite reasonable. Indeed, a pair of macarons should make for a decent-sized snack.
Our sampling included four flavors of macaron. First was Earl Grey, which was aromatic, with even subtle hints of lavender and bergamot being detectable through the sugar and the buttercream. The taste of the macaron was nicely balanced, as the tea tannin helped to curb any excess sugariness on the palate.
Next up was lemon cherry. This was one of the favorites as the lemon flavor really shone through in the buttercream – it was remarkably tart, which was refreshing as macarons tend to be on the highly sweet side. At the very center of the macaron was a sweetened cherry, the flavor of which exploded on the tongue once the cream’s subsided. As such, there was quite a nice contrast of tastes on the tongue, adding a highly-desired variety.
Cassis was also a winner. Dark and jammy, but still with the tartness only black currants can have, the sheer flavor of fruit moved across the palate swiftly, overwhelming but not taxing the senses with an excess amount of sugar or sourness.
A little bit of a disappointment, pink praline was subtle and mild. As a positive, the cream was quite nicely shining through the sugar, giving the macaron a rounded, mellow flavor. However, the flavor of nuts was almost imperceptible, which is odd for a treat that is supposed to carry the flavor of sweetened almonds.
The finish of the macarons was very firm – while it did disintegrate if teeth put pressure on it, the meringue sat on the tongue rather than dissolve, giving this more of a cookie feel. I would suspect these to have an Italian style to their making, but the macarons did carry a sheen, which makes me wonder if the meringue was indeed French. This definitely added substance, which worked really well with the fruit flavours since the solidity made sure that the latent sweetness of fruit did not overwhelm the palate. However, with lighter notes, the structure was a mixed result – while the herbs present in the tea macaron shone through, it arguably obscured the nuttiness that one may have been seeking in the praline.
From the tasting, it is quite clear as to why Thierry is considered one of the best macaron producers in Vancouver. The flavors were quite consistent overall, the finishing of the meringues and fillings working to create balances rather than contrasts or even struggles of flavours. However, one of the problems with Thierry was that there was not enough variety of macaron available. Daily, there tends to be four flavors, which means a limited selection – most makers tend to have eight or more flavors, and even Whole Foods (whose line carried will be reviewed later) carries five.
That being said, saying that a patissier has a problem because they don’t make enough versions of their delicious treat is probably a problem most in the sweets world would recommend.
Thierry’s website can be found at http://www.thierrychocolates.com/.
If there are any macarons that you’d like reviewed, just let us know!