The village of St Emilion in the Gironde department in Aquitaine is perhaps best associated with wine but did you know it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site?
Criterion (iii): The Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion is an outstanding example of an historic vineyard landscape that has survived intact and in activity to the present day.
Criterion (iv): The intensive cultivation of grapes for wine production in a precisely defined region and the resulting landscape is illustrated in an exceptional way by the historic Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion.
There are so many reasons to visit St Emilion, none the least being it’s one of the most picturesque villages I have ever visited.
Macarons you say? Of COURSE I’m interested. But these are not the macarons you are thinking of, the pretty pastel sandwich “cookies” (for want of a MUCH better word!) made famous by Ladurée. The kind I have spent years working on perfecting. The kind I teach in my classes around Toronto. Nope, these look like this:
Note that these were a little worse for wear after their trip home – they got squished – but I am sure you see the difference. Mainly in that, well, they look cracked. They kind of look like the *other* kind of macarons look when they don’t work out. With just 3 ingredients (egg whites, icing sugar and almond flour), they are similar to the macarons we know today however, these are a cinch to make. These are supposed to have cracked tops – and are more like a chewy cookie than delicate airy macarons. These are more like macarons as they were originally made, back in the 1600s and 1700s in France. I first discovered these “imperfect macarons” a few years ago at Aurore et Capucine in Paris..
The history of macarons is a complicated one… It’s said they originated back in the late 1700s when Carmelite nuns baked sweet cookies with almond meal as a way of supplementing their meat-free diet. According to the Larousse Gastronomique, these nuns followed Theresa of Avila’s principle to the letter: ‘Almonds are good for girls who don’t eat meat’. During the French Revolution, two nuns in hiding in the French town of Nancy started making and selling macarons, becoming known as “Les Soeurs Macarons”. In 1952, the street where their bakery and store was located was named after them and macarons de Nancy are are still sold there today. The original cookie was simply ground almonds, sugar and egg whites and not sandwiched together with ganache, like we know today and many parts of France claim to be the birthplace of the “original” macarons. The macarons craquelés that I ate in Paris did have a thin filling joining two flat cookies together – which you can do to make these “plain” cookies just a little fancier.
My favourite St Emilion version comes from Bernard Meysan. The box claims Ursuline nuns who settled in St Emilion in 1680 were responsible for the creation of this version – a certain “Sister Boutin” having shared the secret to making these with some families in St Emilion during the revolution. The tradition has been carried on by numerous pâtissiers around the town to this day and, in fact you won’t go far without seeing a store that sells them, each claiming to be “true” St Emilion macarons.
The recipe I am sharing here today is my version of what I tasted. I don’t claim they are “véritable” St Emilion macarons but they taste pretty close to the rustic cookies I enjoyed whilst I was there. In any case, they are infinitely more do-able than the version you might have already tasted. Macarons for everyone? Now that’s a concept I can get behind!
Macarons de Saint-Emilion
Rustic macarons that everyone can make!
- 150g almond meal
- 175g granulated sugar
- 3 large egg whites
- Heat oven to 300˚F.
- Prepare 2 baking trays with parchment or silicone mats.
- Prepare a 14" piping bag fitted with a plain tip (I like to use Ateco 803)
- In a medium bowl, combine the almond meal, sugar, mixing to combine well with a wire whisk.
- In a separate metal bowl using an electric hand mixer, whip the egg whites to soft peaks.
- Combine the dry ingredients into the egg whites, mixing to completely incorporate the dry ingredients. The mixture will be fairly stiff.
- Transfer mixture to the prepared pastry bag fitted and pipe out circles of the mixture, approximately 1-2 inches in diameter.
- Take a damp piece of paper towel and smooth the tips of the cookies over.
- Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with icing sugar.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cookies are just starting to colour (golden brown) around the edges. The cookies will crack on top and they will still be a little soft when you remove them from the oven.
- Cool completely on a wire rack.
Happy (French) Friday!
Are you in Toronto? Want to learn the difference between a macaron and a macaroOn? Join me on April 9th at Aphrodite Cooks to find out! We’ll made traditional coconut macaroons (with some variations), French meringue macarons and macarons de Nancy – the original macaron! You’ll learn tips and techniques for success with all three naturally flour-free treats – they’re much easier than you think! For more details and to register, click here.