SAN FRANCISCO — Watch out, cupcake! The macaron is angling to be the new darling of the pastry world, and it is one cute cookie.
"They're adorable," says Angie Dudley, who blogs about baking at Bakerella.com and recently took a class on how to make the meringue-based treats from France. "I think it's just the colors, and they're so uniform, they're so perfect-looking if you do it right."
The dessert (pronounced MAC-a-RON) comes from France and consists of just a few ingredients, mainly egg white, ground almonds and sugar. They're often also called macaroons, which is confusing because a macaroon more commonly is a coconut-based sweet.
A proper macaron consists of two rounds of meringue cookies sandwiched together with filling. Flavor? You name it. Macarons generally are treated like a blank canvas that can take on just about any color and flavor.
Sandro Micheli, pastry chef at Adour Alain Ducasse at the St. Regis New York, has long been a fan of the confection, crisp outside, creamy inside. In the last year, he has noticed the appetite for macarons growing and has been teaching macaron classes.
People are seeking the help of professionals as macarons have a reputation as difficult to make.
"Hard, no. Finicky, yes," says Helene Dujardin, a food stylist and photographer in Charleston, S.C., who taught the macaron class Dudley recently took. "No matter which method you use, French or Italian meringue, there are certain steps that require absolute focus. If the meringue is not stiff enough or too stiff before mixing in the almonds, the shells can be too weak or too hollow. If the whole batter is overmixed, the shells can spread too much, crack. It takes a little bit of practice."
Dujardin, originally from France, began making macarons regularly after moving to the United States about a decade ago and missing the treats.
Dudley, who lives in the Atlanta area, discovered macarons after coming across pictures of them on the Web. That's not surprising since this trend seems to have gotten a lot of its oomph from bloggers.
"They are the perfect item for blogging," said Dujardin, who blogs at Tartelette.com, in an e-mail. "You can teach your readers something, express your process, frustrations and joys included."
Three years ago when Paulette Koumetz opened a macaron shop in Beverly Hills, the French treat took a bit of explaining — was it a cookie? Was it a cake?
But she was confident macarons would win over American palates, and she was right.
"What is wonderful here is that American people are very open," she says. She has since opened a second Paulette store in San Francisco.
Visual appeal is a big part of macaron madness. The colorful confections make for spectacular displays whether built up into pyramids or other shapes or simply stacked in a glass baker's case.
In the race for culinary charmer, will macarons take the cake?
"I don't think it's a question of which one is more popular," says Dujardin. "Some of us have the mac vibe, some have the cupcake one. Some of us have both."