Little bites of heaven
French-style macaroons come in a kaleidoscope of colours and look almost too good to eatAmerican cupcakes have overrun Bangkok patisseries in the last couple of years. But this year the US invader is losing the war to a French secret weapon, the |macaroon. Where once you could only taste this meringue-based confection in Europe, now you can find these delicate sandwiched goodies in every colour of the rainbow in local hotels and pastry shops.
French macaroons - not to be confused with their chewy, coconut namesakes - are finger-friendly meringue sandwiches filled with chocolate-cream, butter-cream or fruit jam. They give a gentle crunch, revealing a slightly moist and chewy inside that melts in the mouth.
"The macaroon is nibbling away at a cupcake business that is coming to an end," says Sopon S Beaudoin who owns the pastry shop Le Goute. "In previous years, this dainty treat was only known to a small number of well-travelled folk who'd tried it in Europe. It's a 'challenging' dessert, particularly in Thailand, where many have never had a true Parisian macaroon."
Making this diminutive delicacy is not as simple as you might think.
"Getting the perfect macaroon, where every detail from technique to ingredients is just right, can be tough. It may be getting more popular but that doesn't mean every bakery can meet the demand for the perfect balance of texture and flavour," Sophon says.
He opened Le Goute to sell nothing but macaroons three years ago - well before the current craze. His speciality together with the creations of other patisseries are currently starring at the Macaroon Festival, at the Emporium mall until tomorrow.
"The opening of French pastry shop Lenotre, the new classic French pastry classes at Le Cordon Bleu Dusit Culinary School, as well as its appearance in films and American series, have all helped launch this tiny dessert into the spotlight," explains macaroon connoisseur Ben Na Nakorn, who is about to open a pastry shop called Whisk. "Bright and pleasing to the eye, photos of macaroons are being shared on social networks and tempting more and more people to try them. Thais like to jump on new trends," he adds.
Ben and his Singaporean pastry chef Nick Lam shared their passion by introducing their macaroons in eight flavours at the festival. Their shop will focus on this French delicacy.
"We've been fortunate enough to travel and try macaroon recipes from all over the world," says Nick. "We took the best of everything and tried to create the authentic macaroon taste. We use only real fruit, not extracts."
Nick makes a variety of fillings - ganache, butter-cream and citrus fruit, as well as whisky-soaked concoctions that give an added kick and complexity. Among them is Spey Side, a mixture of single malt whisky and dark chocolate; Emporium, made from prosecco and strawberry; Brittany, which mixes salted caramel and French butter-cream; and Vene made from dark chocolate.
Sripoom Laowakul is another who was quickly hooked by the macaroon's colourful looks and unique taste. After a year of culinary classes, obliterating countless eggs and mountains of almonds and sugar, Sripoom was confident enough to open his Mille Crepe on Dinsor and Chakrapong roads three years ago. Among the 40 macaroon varieties on sale are his signature wasabi, rum raisin, young coconut and mint.
"Macaroons have actually become a test of a baker's talent. There are so many different things that can affect them and they show a chef's individuality. They can be coloured for any event and used to decorate any cake. Their taste, difficulty to make and cuteness guarantees the dessert's popularity," says Sripoom.
Sophon agrees, adding that this is no flash in the pan.
"The macaroon has been a classic confection for more than a century. One famous patisserie in Paris sells more than 10,000 a day. It's estimated that Parisians alone eat more than 100,000 per day. Here, I think it will take off as fillings are adjusted to match Thai palates. But they are difficult to make, so people won't be able to jump into the market easily," says Sophon.
Sophon produces about 15 macaroon varieties a day. He gets the chocolate, rose champagne and fruit purees from France and the vanilla from Madagascar while choosing to use chocolate colouring rather than food colouring so as not to affect the tastes and aromas of his ingredients.
Legend has it that macaroons originated in Italy but were brought to France by Catherine de Medici in the mid-1500s. Ever since, famous Parisian patisseries like Laduree and Pierre Herme have competed to outdo each other with colourful displays of these culinary jewels.
Macaroon batter requires three ingredients - almond flour, sugar and egg whites. Many patisseries opt for the Italian version in which a hot sugar syrup is added to stiff-whipped egg whites to produce a more stable meringue.
Whisk and Mille Crepe favour this method while Le Goute opts for the traditional French meringue recipe of egg whites, ground almonds, caster sugar and icing sugar. The French technique is very sensitive to environmental factors and requires practice and patience.
"To me, dessert is a culture and I stick to the traditional French technique for authenticity," says Sophon. "It requires more time but I believe the result is a lighter, softer and more delicate, cake-like texture, and I can control the sweetness. So far we can only produce 500 a day, which isn't keeping pace with demand."
THE LIGHT SIDE OF CRUNCH
>> The Macaroon Festival runs until tomorrow at the Emporium mall with a host of different varieties whipped up by 10 pastry shops. Call (02) 269 1000.
>> Le Goute is at Suzuki Avenue Ratchayothin mall. Call (02) 930 2913 or visit www.LeGoute.com.
>> Mille Crepe has two branches, on Dinsor and Chakrapong roads. Call (02) 629 4194 or (02) 281 4445 or visit www.MilleCrepe.co.th.
>> Whisk can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.