Macarons conquer Paris, now London

A craze for revamped macarons has swept Paris and Tokyo and now lands in London.

By , Staff writer

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    Fourth-generation French baker Pierre Hermé transformed a traditional 18th-century pastry into a Paris sensation with such flavors as ‘strawberry wasabi,’ ‘rose quince,’ and ‘infinite vanilla.’
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If the upgraded cupcake is an American craze, it may have met its match in the enthusiasm for transformed macarons in Paris, and now London.

Macarons are a quintessential French cookie that has a delicate almond-meringue shell with a filling that must be baked precisely.

(The light and airy French macaron, with one "o," shouldn't be confused with the heavier, coconutty macaroon, which has two o's in English.)

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For centuries macarons lined up in obedient rows in every French corner bakery. Always the same flavors – chocolate, raspberry, and pistachio.

But now the macaron is getting a make-over. Intriguing new flavors include strawberry and wasabi, raspberry and vinegar, rose and quince, and kumquat and anise, to name a few.

Much of the credit goes to Pierre Hermé, who comes from four generations of bakers. During his more than 30 years in the profession, Chef Hermé decided that the traditional macaron was a colossal bore.

So he transformed it, issuing spring and autumn "lines" of flavors, similar to seasonal fashion changes. The current year offers salted caramel, sesame, and green tea, to go with standbys like "infinite vanilla," passion fruit, and chocolate.

By culinary and possibly cultural contrast, the No. 1 cupcake at one shop in Washington, D.C., is "peanut butter blossom."

For several years now, Parisians have been lining up at Hermé's four shops for the revamped macaron. French friends describe the Hermé macaron in effulgent terms: "The aggressiveness of the fruit in the first bite is tempered by the sweetness of the chocolate."

Many Parisians wonder why no one thought of upgrading the macaron before.

The transformation has given Hermé rock-star status in France. It has also led to his opening seven shops in Tokyo, and in February he opened another at Selfridges in London.

Some American food writers predict that the United States could follow: Updated macarons are "the next cupcake craze," says Salon.com.

At the Hermé flagship store near upscale Saint Sulpice in Paris, well-dressed patrons – many with cameras – wait patiently as four young assistants select macarons and use silver tongs to carefully transfer them to wrinkly plastic carrying tubes, much as if they were an enriched uranium specimen.

What's the recipe? Don't even ask.

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