The History of the Macaron


Greetings, food history lovers!

Welcome to my first installment of  the High Tea Special that I promised in my Earl Grey post. If you may remember, I’m doing this in conjunction with a High Tea for Habitat that I’m hosting this Saturday.

Today we’re going to be looking into the history of the macaron – a magically delicious French biscuit that is typically filled with a rich ganache. Are you as excited as I am?

Macarons are typically known as being traditional French biscuits, however, evidence suggests that they actually originated in Italy and were introduced to France when Catherine de’Medici married King Henry II in 1543. When she moved to France, it is believed that she brought along her cooks and bakers and introduced a variety of pastries to the French.

If you haven’t heard of the name de’Medici, I highly recommend that you read up on them. They’re one of the original bad ass Italian crime families.

A delicious selection of macarons that I would dearly love to shove in my mouth right now.

Interestingly, the Italian origin of the Macaron can actually be found within the name itself. You may have noticed that it is incredibly similar to macaroni, and this is no coincidence.  To quote the Men in Black 3 ballad by Pitball, “To understand the future, you gotta go back in time.” As such, this etymology-rich section of the tale begins in 827 when Arab troops from Ifriqiya (modern Tunisia) landed in Sicily, establishing a Muslim emirate that introduced many new foods to Europe.

Along with lemons, rice and pistachios,  the Arabs also brought a rich repertoire of nut-based sweets, including almond paste candies wrapped in dough. Those familiar with macaron creation will already know that ground almonds or almond power are a key ingredient to the biscuits.

Another important Sicilian food tradition at this time was of course pasta, and it managed to merge with the almond tradition, resulting in foods with characteristics of both. Early pastas were often sweet, and could be fried or baked, as well as boiled. Many recipes from this period have both savory cheese and a sweet almond-paste versions. Their primary purpose was to be foods appropriate for Lent. For example, the almond pastry caliscioni had both almond and cheese variations, and was the ancestor of the calzone.

Out of this culinary morass arose the word maccarruni, the Sicilian ancestor of our modern words macaroni, macaroon, and macaron. We don’t know whether maccarruni came from Arabic or derives from another Italian dialect word. But like other dough products of the period, it’s probable that the word maccarruni referred to two distinct but similar sweet, doughy foods, one resembling gnocchi, and the other more like marzipan.

With the etymology lesson behind us, let’s fast forward to 1792. Despite the introduction of the macaron to France some two centuries earlier, it only gained fame when two Carmelite nuns baked and sold them in order to support themselves during the French Revolution. These macarons were a simple combination of ground almonds, egg whites and sugar. No flavours. No filling.

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that we saw the creation of the modern-day macaron by Pierre Desfontaines. He was the pastry chef and owner of the Parisian café, Ladurée. He decided to take two macarons and fill them with ganache, and it was an instant success. Today, Ladurée continues to be at the forefront of macaron creation and distribution. No longer a humble almond cookie, the macaron has transformed into a versatile treat, coming in a variety of colours and flavours. With each new season, Ladurée pays tribute to its most famous creation by inventing a new flavour.

In recent years, macarons have gained in popularity world-wide. Any self-respecting and trendy cafe or bakery have them on offer. Ladurée itself has gone global, its most recent cafe opening in Sydney.

Before I finish, I should probably point out that macarons are not to be confused with macaroons. Let’s examine the differences

Macaron

The shells are often made of egg whites, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond powder or ground almond, and food coloring and usually filled with a flavored buttercream, ganache or jam.

A delicious chocolate Macaron

Macaroon
Macaroons also call for egg whites in addition to ground or powdered nuts or coconut. They look a little something like this:

A Macaroon – it looks just a tad different

In closing, I propose an important philosophical question – What is your favourite macaron flavour?

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Death by Chocolate – Hitler’s Camouflaged Bomb Plot


A big thanks to Katie for bringing this story to my attention. I majored in WWII History at uni, and my waist line currently majors in chocolate, so this is the perfect topic for me to discuss.

Newly uncovered WWII documents reveal that the Nazis were plotting to assassinate Winston Churchill with a bomb disguised as a chocolate bar. The plan was to coat the explosives with a thin layer of dark chocolate and then package them as ‘Peter’s’ branded chocolate bars. The idea was to have them smuggled into the War Cabinet’s dining room where Churchill and other important members of parliament would often meet. The device was designed to explode seven seconds after being unwrapped, killing everyone within a few metres of the sweet and sugary impact. The theory behind this plot was to exploit the Prime Minister’s weakness for chocolate.

1920’s Peter’s chocolate bar wrapper. Photo courtesy of The Candy Wrapper Archive.

Unfortunately for the Nazis, it wasn’t just their chocolate that was foiled. British spies discovered the plot and quickly warned one of MI5’s most senior intelligence chiefs – Lord Victor Rothschild. He proceeded to alert the nation and advised them to look out for exploding candy bars. He even had an illustrator friend, Laurence Fish, draw up pictures of the bars so he could distribute them amongst the public. Interestingly, Fish’s wife found the correspondence between her husband and Rothschild in 2009. The letter was dated May 4, 1943 and was marked ‘secret’. It detailed the German plot and supposedly included a rather poor drawing of the device by Rothschild.

Suffice to say, with the plot made public, there were no chocolate bombs exploding in parliament.

A little research on my behalf also revealed that chocolate wasn’t the only item that the Nazis were planning on using to disguise explosives. German saboteurs also utilized tinned plums, throat lozenges, shaving brushes, batteries, wood, and my personal favourite – stuffed dogs. I can’t imagine how the latter would even work.

I’d like to finish by thanking everyone who contacted me after my Darrell Lea article. It was incredibly touching and I very much appreciated it.

Have a lovely Thursday!

Darrell Lea – An Employee’s Tale


As a young girl Saturday was always shopping day. Each week, three generations of Jones women – my nan, my mum, and my little self, would head off to Shellharbour Square. It’s a Stocklands now, but I don’t think I’ll ever call it that.

Our morning would consist of browsing the stores, putting a dollar in the Salvation Army box and buying the weekly groceries. I of course hated the latter task. Food is supposed to magically appear in the cupboard, right?

After spending half an hour in Coles (I, ever the brat, would complain loudly for the entirety), we would FINALLY finish the shopping and sit down for a snack. Coffee for mum and nan, a lemonade spider for me. Remember, these were the days before seven year olds were fed sushi and baby chinos.

I would always eat lightning fast and then have to wait for them to finish – rather impatiently of course. You see, my favourite part of the day was still to come. Eventually I would drag them away, only barely allowing a short pause for the bill to be paid.

I could smell it already.

Grasping mum’s hand, I dragged her through the centre, closer and closer to my childhood Nirvana.

We were almost there…just…a bit…further.

And there it was.

Sandwiched between two forgettable stores was every child’s dream. With its bright decor, shiny packets and the delicious mixed scent of liquorice and chocolate, there was no mistaking where we were.

Darrell Lea.

Caramel Snows – one of my favourites

It didn’t matter that I was there every week, it never failed to delight me anew each time. I would gaze around in wonder, not understanding how so much happiness could be contained in one place. The shop ladies knew us by name, and would always call me over with a wink and smile for a little taste test. I thought they had the best job in the world.

Mum would roll her eyes but also smile as she picked up some liquorice for herself and a little chocolate frog or a jar of Bo Peeps for me. Nan preferred the dark chocolate ginger. Eventually mum would say that it was time to go and that I should let the ladies get back to work. How she ever managed to drag me away I’ll never understand.

Little did I know that I would grow up to work for the company that is so firmly entrenched in the memories of my childhood. It happened about two years ago, not long before Christmas. I was handing out resumes around Miranda Fair, but wasn’t having much luck. I had all but given up, and was wandering around aimlessly when I saw Darrell Lea in the distance. I had nothing to lose, so I mustered as much confidence as possible, strode in and introduced myself to the manager. I was hired on the spot.

Mum laughed for about ten minutes when I told her the news. She referred to it as chocolate coated fate.

I’ve held several different positions since then – Christmas Casual, 2IC, Store Manager, and now I’m a Corporate Consultant at our head office. One could say that I’ve had a finger in many pieces of proverbial Rocklea Road. What I’ve found most remarkable is that no matter what position I’ve been in, I always hear from people who have had incredibly similar experiences to myself – The childhood memories, the weekly visits, the way that the company has permeated each living generation of their family.

The lesson that I’ve learned is that my family isn’t unique when it comes to our Darrell Lea experiences, and I absolutely adore that. It’s incredible. Inspiring. Beautiful.

The most touching story I ever heard was when I was managing the Hurstville store. I was busy packing shelves when a lovely old lady shuffled in and asked for a carton of coffee creams. As I began ringing up the sale she explained how these were husband’s favourite. Unfortunately, he had died four years previous. They had been together for over five decades. Every year since he had passed she would buy the creams on his birthday, sit down in his favourite chair and eat them whilst reflecting on their life together. I’m not ashamed to say that my eyes welled up on the spot, and they still do whenever I think about that story. I hope that she will be able to buy them next year.

You see, Darrell Lea is more than just a retailer – it’s something that has been an integral part of Australian family life for 85 years. It was created by a family for families. How many other companies can genuinely claim that?

In my time there I’ve heard hundreds of people comment on how Christmas, Easter, Birthdays and every other special occasion wouldn’t be the same without Darrell Lea. Evidence of this has can be found in the outpouring of love and support that the company has received over the last five days.

I’m not sure what the future holds for Darrell Lea, but I have hope. I believe in the magic that it has woven into people’s lives, including my own. All I can say is that I’m optimistic. I hope that the next generation of Australians will be popping into stores to ask when the Christmas Puddings/Coconut Roughs are going to arrive, and to suggest that we sell them all year round.

Thank you to everyone who has been supporting us with both sales and kind words over the past week. You have been an inspiration to us all, and we are incredibly appreciative. I believe that your support is what will secure the future of Darrell Lea for years to come.