French Lifestyle  A Short History of the French Macaron: From Humble Religious Cake to Ladurée (Part 2)
24/06/201900:00 Paris Unlocked

From Humble Nunnery Cake to Luxury Commodity

As I think about the remarkable diversity of French macarons and their centuries-long history, something strikes me: only the most recent version of the cake has won global recognition as being the “default” one.


Modern-day macarons from Pierre Hermé


The eye-catching, perfectly symmetrical cakes that have become bestselling commodities around the world– boosted by their appearance in pop culture staples such as Gossip Girl– are a Parisian creation from the 19th century. The macarons that won the PR race? They're efficiently- marketed products ideal for a globalized world: one that tends to award shiny consistency. And they've all but crowded out their traditional, earlier, sometimes imperfect-looking cousins.

Ladurée reportedly nets revenues of over $1 billion, and now counts as many shop locations in Asia and the Middle East as it does throughout Europe. And while they're more artisanal and don't have quite as many shops, pastry chefs like Pierre Hermé and Jean-Paul Hevin have reimagined the humble religious cakes from St-Emilion or Saint-Jean-de-Luz as over-the-top gourmet creations, flavoring them with everything from fig and wasabi to black sesame seeds and foie gras.

Of course, I’m a fan of some of some of these latter-day macarons, and I don't mean to suggest that there’s something “inauthentic” about them. But it does seem clear that they're far more adapted to the modern industrial era than the simple patisseries made in St-Emilion or Amiens. Their success in conquering the global market is no surprise at all: with their bright colours, trendy flavors and elegant packaging, they make a nearly-perfect luxury commodity.

The Rise of the Parisian Macaron



The modern version of the macaron only appeared in France sometime in the 1830s, reportedly invented by the baker Pierre Desfontaines. Fillings were initially jams, liqueurs and spices-- very different from ones we're now used to. Later in the 19th century, buttercream and even applesauce were used to press two almond, sugar and egg-based shells gently together. What's interesting is that these early Parisian versions were apparently first sold at bakeries in the  working-class district of Belleville-- taking a divergent path from the macaron’s traditionally religious and royal associations.

During the late 19th century, a Paris tearoom called Pons began selling their own version of the filled Parisian macaron. Later renamed as Dalloyau after the royal pastry chef, the teahouse generated plenty of buzz during its time for its elegant filled cakes.
Special-edition macarons from Dalloyau.

In 1862, the Maison Ladurée opened its debut location in the French capital, with a bakery and lavish tearoom situated at 16, Rue Royale in the 8th arrondissement. From its beginnings, Ladurée sought to cater to the new Parisian bourgeoisie and merchant classes, who were anxious to display their riches by consuming a variety of modern new luxury products. Enjoyed accompanied with tea in lavish settings, the new Parisian macaron was one of these products favored by the newly wealthy.

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Courtney Traub founded Paris Unlocked in 2017 as a travel guide for the culturally curious, and as a forum for crafting unusual, sometimes-personal stories and histories about the capital. Originally from Los Angeles, Courtney is addicted to walking around the city with no particular aim and is happiest when writing about-- and tasting--good food and wine. She's also a film devotee and a scholar of contemporary literature.

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