This post orignally appeared in the Bloomington Herald Times on February 22, 2006

In general, I am not one for window shopping, but when it comes to
French patisseries, I’ve got my nose plastered to the glass. The displays are
always breathtaking in these pastry shops – tiers of exquisite chocolates,
boxed and bowed, tiny tarts filled with jewel-like fruits, tortes and gateaus
layered with rich buttercreams and ganaches and simple but perfect croissants
and pains au chocolat.

Yes, the displays are always extravagant, but in February, the month we
most often visit Paris, the   the patissiers outdo themselves. With Valentine’s Day on the docket, their
window displays are designed to inspire true love, dreamy romance and massive
sugar highs.

A block or two behind the small, family-run hotel where we like to stay
is Gerard Mulot, a pastry shop par excellence that specializes in enticing its
customers to up their caloric intake in the most elegant and expensive way
possible. There are other fine patisseries in Paris, ofcourse – you can find raging
debates on the Internet about the comparative value of Laduree, Dalloyau,
Lenotre, and Pierre Herme, among others. Don’t follow my recommendations on
this; one of the chief joys in life is testing them all for yourself.

As soon as we arrive in Paris, wee stroll around to Gerard Mulot to see what’s in the window. For the last
couple of years, the pastry indulgence that has tugged on my heart strings is
not a gooey cake, custardy tart or layered puff pastry creation but something
much more humble, at least on its face – the French sandwich cookie called the
macaroon (or macaron.)

Macaroons, in France, are   are not the mountains of chewy coconut that we think of over here, although
they are remotely related through the use of whipped egg whites and absence of
flour. French macaroons are pastel colored meringues sandwiched with
buttercream or ganache. They come in all flavors – chocolate, almond, lemon,
pistachio, raspberry, caramel, champagne, violet, basil-lime, wherever the
impulse of the patissier takes him.

These cookies are sensationally delicious -chewy, crispy, creamy, fudgy,
melt-in-your-mouth-wonderful. They are beautiful too – it’s hard not to be
happy looking at them piled up in a store window, their gorgeous, whimsical
colors glowing behind the glass. This year Gérard Mulot had a huge cone of them
towering over the other sweets in the display like a multicolored croquembouche
or an edible Christmas tree with lights ablaze. Our first night in town, I
skipped dessert at dinner and headed back to the hotel with a box of macaroons

Made from egg white meringue, ground almonds, sugar, and various
flavorings, macaroons have a long history in france but authorship of the modern
multi-hued sandwich cookie is claimed by Ladurée, who began making them early
in the 20th century. Today their chefs invent a new flavor every year and sell
10,000 a day (that’s 8 million per year.)

Eight million macaroons in Paris –  just from one bakery! – and none in Bloomington.   It hardly seemed fair. From my hotel I e-mailed David Fletcher, one of the
pastry chefs at BLU Culinary Arts, and begged. Though his partner, Scott
Jackman, accused me of suffering from Franco-euphoria, within days of my return
they had a box of pistachio macaroons for me. Sans green food coloring they
weren’t as vibrant as their French cousins, but they were nuttier and even more
delicious. You can make them yourself, or head to Harmony School thisSaturday, where David and Scott will be selling them (as well as chocolate
and caramel versions!) at the Winter Farmers Market. Just be sure you get there
before I do.

Click here for more on the history of the Macaroon  

Pistachio Macaroons

(From Nigella Lawson, “How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the
Art of Comfort Cooking,” Hyperion, 2001.)

For the macaroons: 

5/8 cup or 3 ounces pistachios

3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

2 large egg whites

1 tablespoon sugar

For the buttercream: 

1/4 cup or 2 ounces pistachios

1 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment or
wax paper.

Make the macaroons: 

Grind the pistachios in a food processor with confectioners’ sugar until
as fine as dust. Whisk the egg whites until fairly stiff, but not dry. Sprinkle
with sugar and whisk until very stiff. Fold the whites into the pistachio-sugar
dust and combine gently. Pipe small rounds (2 to 3 inches in diameter) onto
your baking sheet using a plain 1/2-inch nozzle. Let them sit for about 10
minutes to form a skin. Then put them in the oven and cook for 10-12 minutes.
They should be set, but not dried out. Remove from oven and let cool on the
baking sheet.

Make the buttercream: 

Grind the nuts and the sugar in the processor as before. Cream the
butter, and continue creaming as you add the nut dust. Make sure you combine
them well. Sandwich the macaroons together with the buttercream.

Makes about 20

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