Macarons are taking over the world but don’t confuse them with macaroons, the small chewy coconut cakes loved by grannies. These are the psychedelic mini-meringues from France.
These brightly coloured gems went mainstream when Ladurée, the Paris-based cake maker, came to Harrods in 2005. Then last year, French pastry chef Pierre Hermé started selling his macarons at Selfridges, with flavours such as carrot, orange and cinnamon.
This sweet sophistication isn’t confined to the French. Zumbo – a recipe book by 30-year-old Australian pastry chef Adriano Zumbo – was published in Britain this month. With his piercings and his renegade attitude, Zumbo is hardly your archetypal pâtissier. His flavours are as outlandish as Heston Blumenthal’s, with the likes of strawberry bubblegum, chocolate marshmallow… vegemite sourdough. Even the book’s chapter titles – the likes of ‘Doggy Style’and ‘Cereal Killa’ – will make you blush.
The On Patisserie’s Christmas range of macarons at Harvey Nichols’ fifth-floor foodmarket is another bold departure from the norm. Award-winning chef Loretta Liu, formerly of Raffles Hotel in Singapore, has produced flavours such as jasmine tea and charcoal, and mango with yuzu cream cheese.
So why such exotic experimentation? Liu, who worked at Raffles with the legendary French chef Pierre Gagnaire, says: ‘I’m from China and my training was as a kitchen chef, not patisserie, so I’ve a lot of understanding of savoury flavours.
‘I can introduce challenging flavours here because macarons came to the British market around eight years ago, so there’s no real history, whereas in France they like plain chocolate and pistachio – they won’t change their habits. If I introduced new flavours for sticky toffee pudding here, no one would like that.’ Macaron-making is becoming more popular in Britain thanks to the likes of the BBC’s Great British Bake Off. Last year’s first Bake Off winner, Edd Kimber, aka The Boy Who Bakes, was rated one of ‘20 foodies to follow on Twitter’ by MSN.
In October, Kimber launched the Pudding Parlour at the Athenaeum in Piccadilly and teaches monthly macaron classes at the Miele Gallery in central London.
Unlike Ladurée, which has become a global brand, Kimber, Zumbo and Liu are more about playful home-grown imagination. But Liu, who also runs a cookery school in Clapham, south London, says there are limits to her radicalism. ‘I’m very respectful of the past,’ she says. ‘I’d never do a bubblegum or ketchup flavour. I think Gagnaire says: “Face tomorrow but respect the past.” This is what I try to do.’
Among her more unusual flavours is a charcoal macaron, which Liu designed for a friend who was suffering from cancer. ‘I got a charcoal coconut husk and steamed it and ground it into a powder. People associate charcoal with barbecues but this is more about using something that won’t hurt the body. Charcoal absorbs impurities and toxins.’
Then there is Liu’s alcohol series, which includes a margarita and an amaretto sour. ‘Champagne and peach are most popular,’ she says. ‘We use fruits from east Asia a lot. I’m not English so I’m not going to try to be. I like using yuzu, the bitter orange from Japan.’
While Zumbo’s bold flavours suggest a more edgy approach, it’s not all anarchy in his kitchen. At 19, he began a four-year apprenticeship in Sydney and represented Australia at the Pastry World Cup in Lyon. Zumbo then worked in Paris and rose through the ranks as a pastry chef in various five-star kitchens. He knows his cul-de-poule from his cutters.
Liu releases a new macaron range at Harvey Nichols, from £1.75 each. www.harveynichols.com.Her macaron classes are £48pp. There is a £5 reduction for the first 100 Metro readers to apply; email email@example.com; www.oncafe.co.uk
Zumbo (Murdoch Books, £20). See http://theboywhobakes.co.uk/classes/