The Washington Post

Plate Lab: Macaron? Macaroon? All about the little French cookie having a big impact in D.C.


(Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post)
Magazine articles editor

Francophiles, the gluten shy and those who find the ubiquitous cupcake not only messy but a bit, shall we say, declasse, have been cheered by the sortie being staged by the dainty macaron. This treat is popping up in bakery counters and tiny shopfronts around the Washington region.

“They’re cute and fun and colorful, and they’re trendy,” says blogger Laetitia Brock, who grew up in Paris, where the venerable Ladurée bakery set the standard. Once Lauduree expanded to New York and macarons became big there, she says, “it was D.C.’s turn to catch up.”

Elizabeth Chang is an articles editor for The Washington Post Magazine. View Archive

The cookies consist of brightly dyed almond meringue shells sandwiching an ever-broadening array of fillings, the traditional ganache giving way to exotic combinations such as lemon basil or caramelized pear goat cheese.

The shell, made of ground almonds, sugar and egg whites, originated in Sicily, where Arab invaders had introduced almond-based sweets developed in Persia, according to Stanford linguist Dan Jurafsky. (The cookie’s name, like “macaroni,” comes from a root word likely meaning “paste.”) The French first put two shells around a ganache filling. The Americans replaced the almond in the meringue mixture with coconut, giving rise to what we call a macaroon.

Enough history. In the delicious now — and this is a partial list — you can find macarons on Capitol Hill (the Sweet Lobby), in Bethesda (Praline bakery), Tysons Corner (Paul), and, especially, Georgetown, home to Macaron Bee, Dean & Deluca, Kafe Leopold, Patisserie Poupon and the latest, Olivia Macaron.

Olivia — co-owned by Michel Giaon, a onetime Ladurée chef, and Ana Claudia Lopez, a former financial analyst — serves only macarons (baked in Fairfax) and Intelligentsia coffee. Recent flavors, shown in photo, have included pistachio, raspberry and lavender. Lopez says she likes the comparison of a macaron to a cloud. “Imagine that you’re biting into a cloud where you get that light crunch first and then that smoothness in the middle.”

Cupcakes probably have little to fear from macarons, whose price is as dear as their appearance, ranging from $1.20 to $1.80 apiece locally. “It’s just a little luxury,” Brock says. And at 60 to 80 calories a cookie, “it’s not going to break the diet,” Lopez says. “It’s just enough…. It gives you the richness you desire, it gives you the good taste in your palate, and then you’re done.”

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