Macarons de Saint-Émilion –
These are seriously addicting!
The macarons de Saint-Émilion (traditional French macaroons) are crunchy on the outside, and chewy on the inside…sort of like a soft Amaretti cookie, and not at all like the pastel colored Parisien Macaroons. In fact, don’t tell the Frenchies but Macarons (macaroons) likely have an Italian influence.
Macaron (not Macron) history
It is speculated that Queen Catherine de Medici likely brought it into the royal court after she married Henry II (1533), the soon to be King of France, at the Église Saint-Ferréol les Augustins in Marseille (they were only 14 years old).
The Italians had “maccherones” (also known as Amaretti biscuits) that closely resemble the recipe for “macarons”. Just to muddy the waters a bit more, the Italians themselves may have been influenced by the Persians nut and sugar confections. Regardless, the now “french” macarons became quite the rage at Versailles and were served at all the grand parties and royal weddings throughout the century. Marie Antoinette was also known to enjoy these as well – with a piece of cake of course!
The French dispute this Italian heritage by insisting that there had been a similar version much earlier from the early medieval period dating as far back as the 7thcentury. They were called “Nombril du moine”, or “Monk’s belly button”, named after the protruding belly button of the portly monk in charge of baking the treats.
As a matter of fact, you can find variations of these in many regions around France, they might be thicker or flavored but the base recipes are quite similar.
Look for variations in St-Jean de Luz, Nancy, Amiens, Melun, Montmorillion, Niorts, Chartres, Lucignan, Lauzerte, Reims, Pau, Massiac, Metz, Le Dorat, Sault, Boulay and Cormery where they will likely argue that theirs is actually the “real” original recipe.
The macarons de Saint-Émilion were created by the “Ursuline religieuse” (Carmelite nuns) sometime around 1620 as a delicious way to bring more protein (6 grams per serving!) into their vegetarian lives. They later sold the cookies to the public to supplement their meager income. Thankfully the recipe was saved after the French Revolution and passed down through the generations within the religious order until it was given to the Goudichaud widow who served them at the 1867 World Fair in Paris. From there it passed through several hands: Madame Grandet (her daughter), Joseph Grandet, Madame Andre, Madame Jeanne Passame, Madame Magdeleine Blanchez, Madame Daniele Blanchez, and more recently Nadia Fermigier.
Thus, the only baker using the “original” recipe from 1620 (macarons des anciennes religieuses) and still made completely by hand is Nadia Fermigier who acquired rights to the recipe from Madame Blanchez when she retired. My friends’ daughter Marion swears these are the ONLY one’s worth eating. They are sold in little blue and white boxes with the cookies still attached to the parchment paper they were baked on. They can be shipped to you anywhere within continental France.
If buying a few dozen on site isn’t possible for you, try making your own!
GGG’s Macaron de Saint-Émilion
Feel free to invite the kiddo’s to bake these with you, it’s a super easy recipe.
Keep in mind, these are nothing like the more modern version of the French macaroon that was invented by Pierre des Fontaines in the 1830’s. Those have two layers sandwiched with a creamy interior. The macarons from Saint Emilion “macarons traditionnels” are a unassuming flat disk and much better in my opinion – simplicity its finest.
My version of the macarons de Saint-Émilion have that same delicious nutty almond flavor which I can’t seem to resist, as the dozen+ missing cookies and my resulting crazy sugar high can testify! I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t love them. I dare you, try eating just one…
- Parchment paper
- 1 ½ cups almond flour or meal (150 gr) – buy organic commercial brands or blanch yourself, then soak overnight, and dry in a 300F oven for 10-15 min, cool and then grind just like Nadia Fermigier does in her bakery. I use almond meal that includes the skins because it is cheaper, but if you wish to avoid those brown specks, then by all means use almond FLOUR like in the bakeries.
- Note: Authentic recipes use almonds from Spain including 1 or 2 bitter almonds to intensify the flavor. Blanched and soaked overnight, dried, they are then ground by hand. Bitter almonds are toxic when eaten raw (as little as 7 bitter almonds can be fatal). In order for bitter almonds to be comestible, they MUST be soaked to release toxins. Although they are illegal in the United States, they are still available in France and Europe. Alternatives to bitter almonds include almond extract (often made from bitter almonds), or 2-3 raw apricot kernels (akin to the jam making technique). Please note, the “bitter almonds” (and also Marzipan) that you see for sale in the United States are usually the seeds of stone fruit such as apricots and peaches.
- 4 large egg whites (1/2 cup / 120 gr), whipped to soft peaks
- 1 cup granulated sugar (175 gr), gradually added to whipped whites
- Lightly whip the eggs until soft peaks form.
- Continue whipping gradually adding the sugar a little at a time until completely incorporated and the egg whites look thick and glossy.
- Gently fold in the ground almonds.
- Transfer the mixture into a large pastry bag, or alternatively use a plastic Ziploc bag and cut off the corner.
- Line 2 cookie sheets (preferably without sides) with parchment paper – this step is important as they will stick to a greased cookie sheet.
- Pipe small rounds of the mixture onto the parchment paper. Aim for about 1 ½ -2 inches (3-5cm) in width with a slight doming in the middle. They spread only a tiny bit, so you can get quite a few on a cookie sheet. If you want to get finicky, with a wet finger or the back of a spoon lightly smooth the top of the dome.
- Optional – Dust the tops of the cookies with granulated sugar (I think it’s a little overkill, but I let you be the judge.
- Let the cookies dry on the cookie sheet for about 1 hour before baking, they should be dry to the touch.
- Preheat oven and bake at 325F for 25 min or until lightly brown.
- As soon as they come out of the oven, lightly tap the cookies on the top with a spoon to get that crackly authentic look.
Serve with a dessert wine from Saint-Émilion or a sparkling rose that retains a touch of sweetness. Store in a sealed container, metal canisters work well. They also freeze quite well, and taste just as good frozen right out of the freezer! Oh my, the delicious things that I must do for my readers…
The village of Saint-Émilion
If you have the chance, make sure to visit Saint-Émilion if ever in the area – it’s well worth the detour especially if you are a wine buff.
Saint-Émilion’s is a UNESCO heritage site dating back to prehistoric times. The Romans were the first to plant wine grapes long before the area became the bountiful region for fine wine that it is today. The Romans called the town “Ascumbas”, but later renamed “Émilion” after a hermit settled here in the 8th century. As with many monasteries, the monks that followed Émilion tended vineyards thus paving the way for you to enjoy this prestigious wine.
Enjoy the twisting narrow lanes, roman churches, and intriguing history – and don’t forget to throw a bottle of Saint-Émilion into your suitcase!
–Girl Gone Gallic