Although some culinary historians trace its roots back to the intersection of Muslim and Christian cultures in Sicily in the 9th century, the macaron is believed to have been introduced to France by the Italian chef of Queen Catherine de’ Medici, during the Renaissance. By the mid-16th century, the sweet had migrated from Sicily to the rest of Italy, Spain, England, and France. But it is two Benedictine nuns who needed to earn a living after their convent was closed during the French Revolution who are credited with developing the basic recipe for macarons — a simple combination of ground almonds, egg whites, and sugar that produces a light, crisp, melt-in-your-mouth meringue.
The macaron as we know it today — two round cookies held together with jam or ganache — was introduced in the 1930s, the brainchild of the grandson of the founder of Ladurée, the high-end Parisian bakery that has been producing the fabled cookies for more than 150 years.
If you want to see what the iconic macaron is all about, you could order a box from Ladurée — but be warned that the cookies sold outside of France are made in a Swiss factory and then frozen for shipping. And why would you want to do that when native New Mexican Chainé Peña makes the genuine article, by hand, right here in Santa Fe?
Peña’s delicate meringue shells, made from only almonds, sugar, and egg whites, are as smooth and thin (maybe thinner) than eggshells, with just the right amount of crunch and chewiness.
Made-from-scratch fillings rotate with the seasons.
Now on display: New Mexican hot chocolate, a café au lait shell filled with Chimayó chile-spiked dark chocolate ganache hiding a tiny marshmallow; the bestselling churro, creamy white
shells sandwiching a cinnamon cream and dulce de leche center; the pretty-in-pink strawberry
rosé, featuring a reduction of Gruet’s sparkling
rosé blended with whipped organic strawberries and cream; and chocolate candy cane, deep-red disks filled with chocolate ganache and banded with a chocolate drizzle and crushed peppermint candy.
The naturally gluten-free cookies make an elegant gift for the host or hostess of a Christmas, Hanukkah, or New Year’s celebration — or fill out a tray of bite-sized confections for an afternoon tea or cocktail party.
Peña’s macarons are $2.75 each. A bamboo and wood gift box containing seven macarons is $28. With a week’s notice, she will create custom flavors and hand-paint the shells (prices upon request).
Chainé Gourmet Cookie Shop is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday; 131 W. Water St.,
— Patricia West-Barker