In the 1970s, it was Jell-O molds. In the 1980s, it was frozen yogurt. And for the past decade? Cupcakes, cupcakes, cupcakes. Trendy desserts have come and gone, and some foodies predict another treat is poised to be this decade's defining sweet: Bonjour, macaron!
Her argument about the rise of the colorful little almond-and-air cookies included the following: that the show Gossip Girl has fetishized the macaroon in a manner reminiscent of the way Sex and the City launched a cupcake boom; that Starbucks recently carried a limited edition of macaroons; and that white-hot designer Jason Wu (who designed Michelle Obama's inauguration gown) recently baked them in an issue of Food & Wine magazine. Plus, McClements says, she's just seeing them everywhere.
"It seems the little French confections are partout," she wrote.
I contacted McClements and asked her to be my macaroon muse, my guide to the best macaroons in our city. She took me first to Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Va., where the macaroons are made by Chef Ed Jiloca, who trained in California. His macaroons are fat with buttercream, and they come in American flavors like peanut butter and jelly, and birthday cake (complete with sprinkles).
More traditional macaroons were on the menu at Adour, the restaurant at Washington, D.C.'s St. Regis Hotel. Macaroons have become so popular there that the hotel sells them in boxes for guests to take home, and chef Fabrice Bendano has started offering macaroon-making classes in the restaurant kitchen. They regularly sell out.
"Macaroons are the new cupcake," said one young man in a Penn State sweatshirt at a recent class, as Bendano explained how to make rose-flavored white chocolate macaroons. "They're now the fashionable snack. We're trying to get ahead of the curve on that."
Another student in the class, 26-year-old Lindsay Einstein, wants to learn to make macaroons for a relative's wedding. But she's had terrible luck at home.
"Mine look like blobs of toothpaste," she sighed, gesturing to the shells she had just piped. "And his" — Chef Bendano's — "look like pink silver dollars."
(Note: After I filed this story, Einstein sent me a picture of a successful macaroon-making session at home. Congratulations for mastering the confection, Lindsay!)
Americans' newfound obsession with macaroons has led — perhaps inevitably — to some ridicule from proper French pastry chefs. Restaurant Eve's Ed Jiloca says one of Paris' best-known macaroon makers, Pierre Herme, invented a macaroon that makes gentle fun of Americans and invites comparison with the cookie's hamburger-like shape.
"A ketchup macaroon — and he puts a bit of pickle on it," Jiloca says. "He did it as a joke, but it's become this staple, popular macaroon."