Chocolate and Macarons, Episode 36

Macaroons in France

Chocolate and Macarons in France

Today we admit it: we’ve developed a real sweet tooth and are going back for thirds with Chocolate and Macaroons!

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A Brief History of Chocolate

Chocolate is from Meso America originally. The Spanish went to find gold, but they found chocolate instead. Both the Mayans and the Aztec used the cocoa tree and the beans from it and they were considered to be a gift of the gods. The word “chocolate” sounds like the word they used to describe this exotic tree in Aztec and Mayan languages.

Cacao pod
Cacao pod photo Keith Weller

Chocolate was believed to have magical powers, those ARE the magical beans! Mayans and Aztecs even used chocolate beans like we use money today. Chocolate was given to newly-weds to bring them fertility. It was a very important part of their culture.

Mayan Nobleman offering cocoa paste
Mayan Nobleman offering cocoa paste photo Yelkrokoyade

Chocolate was used as a drink in those days, not as a solid. It was probably not tasty compared to what we have today, but that’s only a guess. Chocolate was a spicy unsweetened drink. The Spanish thought chocolate was awful when they first tasted it, but soon the monks who they had brought with them added honey and vanilla bean to the chocolate, making it better. Vanilla also comes from this area. So this version of the chocolate drink with vanilla and honey is what made it back to Spain.

Aztec Kings Drinking Chocolate
Aztec Kings Drinking Chocolate photo Mat Jones

Cortez is the first one to bring back chocolate drink to the court of Spain in 1528. It was well-liked and the court adopted it as the drink of the elite and it remained the drink of the Spanish court for a long time.

Hernán Cortés de Monroy Pizarro Altamirano
Hernán Cortés de Monroy Pizarro Altamirano

Jews had become involved in the trade of cocoa beans with the New Spain and when they were expelled from Spain (along with the Moors) they took their chocolate know-how with them. These Jews went from Spain to Portugal where they were welcome for 15 or 20 years and expelled again. From Portugal they went to the south west of France in the Basque country.

The local duke let the Jews in because it knew it was good business. They settled in a neighborhood of Bayonne call Saint Esprit where they resume their chocolate business. In 1615 the King of France is introduced to chocolate which spreads it further. From there chocolate becomes the drink of the French court also.

There is a nice chocolate museum in Bayonne where you can go learn about chocolate and taste some their wonderful creations as well as an old style chocolate drink with no milk.

Le Procope à Paris, photo LPLT

England and Holland played a big role in democratizing chocolate. It is still a drink but more people enjoy it. Two hundred years later people who went to La Procope, the oldest café in Paris serves this chocolate drink and coffee, the new rage. French author Rabelais, who was an epicurean, and you can get his most famous book in English for free on Kindle.

Baker's Chocolate

The first chocolate maker in North America was in 1780, a man named Baker, and we have Barker’s Chocolates to this day.

Cadbury ChocolateThe first person to make a solid chocolate was a Mr. Cadbury in England.

Van Houten ChocolateThe first person to make powder cocoa that you can make into a chocolate milk drink is Mr. Van Houten in Holland.

The chocolate that you can put in your mouth and bite on is a relatively recent invention.

Special cups for gentlemen with moustachesSpecial cups for gentlemen with mustache.

The first solid chocolate was developed in Switzerland in the 1870s.

Chocolat Menier PosterAnd the first company to make chocolate bars with scoring so you can cut it easily was in France, a company called Menier.

Chocolate makers start with a very large block of chocolate made of cocoa bean paste and cocoa butter, then they modify it, adding sugar and cream products. They can make the chocolate 70% cocoa or 80% cocoa, etc. High-end chocolate only uses cocoa butter. Cheaper chocolates use vegetable fats instead of cocoa butter.

There are three varieties of cocoa beans and they can grow all around the globe along the equator. Demand for chocolate is high and there are chocolates produced at all sorts of prices.

There are three varieties of cocoa trees: Criollo, Trinitario, Forastero.

Criollo Cocoa Pods
Criollo Cocoa Pods

Elyse thinks that France makes the best chocolate ever. In Toulouse we have eight chocolatiers. Olivier chocolates is the oldest one in Toulouse.

Cocoa Pods on the tree
Cocoa Pods on the tree

There are lots of high-end chocolate makers in France, Swizerland and Belgium where we have wonderful and high quality chocolates that are expensive but delicious. Chocolate is big business all over the world.

Cacao Flowers photo Kurt Stüber
Cacao Flowers photo Kurt Stüber

Chocolatine is the Toulouse word for Pain au Chocolat, used generally in the south of France. A very cute word!

Pain au chocolat or Chocolatine
Pain au chocolat or Chocolatine, photo Luc Viatour

In France buy some plain old chocolate bars at the grocery store, it’s inexpensive and really good. It’s a good gift to bring back to family and friends in the US. Any large French supermarket will have a great selection of good quality chocolate bars.

High-end chocolate makers are making their chocolates small enough that you can afford a few without breaking the bank.

Christmas chocolates are seasonal and are not sold year-round in France, the are a perishable food.

Annie also loves crêpes with Nutella in it.

crepe and nutella

 Macaroons in France

Macaroons are all the rage in France and it has been that way for 10-15 years. There are some really good macaroons made in America now.

macaroons made in americaMacaroons were imported in France by Catherine de Medici and the Italian court was very advanced compared to the French court. For instance, the fork was introduced to the French court by the Italians.

Macaroons are really pretty and tasty and also gluten free. It is speculated that macaroons are from Syria originally. The sandwich with a little filling that we have is a newer invention.

MacaroonsRabelais also knew about macaroons. There are several regions of France that claims to have invented the macaroon: the Ardèche with the town of Joyeuse where it is the local specialty. Basque country is another, Mr. Adam gave Louis XIV some macaroons, the Adam house of macaroons still exists.

maison adam macaroonsVersailles Macarons Dalloyau. Mr. Dalloyau became the official macaroon maker of the French court. They are still made and shipped all over the world. Great book that talks about it.

macarons dalloyauReims and Amiens also claim the macaroons.

The house of Ladurée 1860 who invented the macaroon sandwich.

ladurée macaroonsPierre Hermé macaroons in the 6th arrondissment.

Pierre hermé macaroons

Macaroons are a great choice for people who have coeliac disease or are gluten intolerant.

Côte d’Or Haselnut chocolate is Annie’s favorite.

Côte d'Or Chocolate Bar

The ideal chocolate is 70% for most chocolate professionals. You get the most flavor out of the chocolate without it getting too bitter.

Elyse loves chocolate with coffee filling or orange chocolate.

Voice mail from Colin.

Recipes from Tiffany.




10 thoughts on “Chocolate and Macarons, Episode 36”

  1. Chocolat, yeuh! I agree with the original Spanish explorers: chocolate tastes awful (unusual for someone with French blood, I suppose). Café noir, on the other hand….

  2. Ladurèe make amazing macaroons, and I love all their flavours!!
    You thought they had crazy flavours, we have a baker here in Australia that revolutionised macaroons here in AUS.
    Check this video out!

    And you’re right Pierre Hermes desserts were AMAZING, I think I spend about €200 at that shop lol! I had a rose raspberry croissant, delicious and amazing are under statements of how great it was.

    Keep up the good work, I love the podcast!!

  3. The history of chocolate is fascinating, it must have been an incredible experience for people back then to discover a treat that we now take for granted. As I have gotten older my taste has changed and I prefer dark chocolate to milk, although I’m not adventurous with flavours.

    As Fatima said in her comment, we have Adriano Zumbo in Australia and he had alot to do with inciting the macarons craze here. I think that the celebrity chef phenomenon and related tv shows such as MasterChef are responsible for raising awareness of such tasty (and pretty) treats, food stylists and bloggers help to maintain the momentum. Laduree has even opened a small shop and cafe in the Sydney CBD, it isn’t in the best location but is quite popular. I love macarons and have tried a few different flavours, plus they’re so pretty to photograph 🙂

  4. Bonjour,

    My wife and I are planning a trip to France this next summer for our 15th wedding anniversary. I am dusting off my high school french and diving into the culinary wonderland to make sure we get the most for each region we visit. My wife is researching the art, architecture, and history. We are enjoying the planning and the resulting anticipation!

    I have listened to about half of your pod casts so far and have thoroughly enjoyed them, I appreciate your knowledge of both the American and French cultures and the great tips of how to be polite and enjoy our trip. We have two questions that we would like your help with:

    1. For religious reasons, we choose not to drink alcohol, tea, or coffee. (One may wonder what else is there to drink?!) How do we politely turn down these drinks and not offend? I am sure we will be saying “une carafe d’eau” many times, but do you have any other pointers to best navigate this pillar of french culture?

    2. My wife is a professional photographer and will certainly bring back thousands and thousands of pictures of our trip. What laws, rules, customs should we be aware of? Realizing that shop owners consider their shops as Americans think of their home/living room… If we go into a nice cheese shop or bakery, how do you ask for permission to photograph their wares? Are there uniquely french worries about photographing buildings, artists on the streets, people being people, general crowds near landmarks? etc… We don’t want to end up in jail, with a black eye, or come across as an impolite American.

    Again, I appreciate your pod cast and it has become a large part of my preparation, I especially loved the three episodes on pastries. I have since made Macaroons, Gateau Basque, and plan on working my way down the list.


    1. Hello Gavin and welcome to Join Us in France!

      On your first question, don’t worry about offending, you won’t stand out that much, especially if you order something else instead. There are plenty of French people who don’t drink alcohol!

      Sure, ask for a carafe d’eau (which is free), but why not also order an Orangina (carbonated French Orange soda) or a Perrier (French carbonated water)? Or ask if they don’t have a local organic fruit juice (“avez-vous un jus de fruit bio?”), lots of restaurants have them now.

      No coffee or tea at breakfast will make you stand out more than no alcohol, but again, you can ask for a “chocolat chaud” (hot cocoa), or “un verre de lait froid/chaud”, or a juice. Cacolac is a great French cold chocolate milk BTW, tastes better than most coffees, let me tell you that! Don’t ask for Orangina for breakfast, that would be strange, I’m not sure why, but it’s not a breakfast drink.

      Photography in France is straightforward despite what you read/hear. In public you can take pictures of anything/anyone unless they ask you not to, sometimes there are signs indicating no photography, look for those before you shoot. If you’re not sure and want to ask, show your camera to the shop keeper and say “je peux ?” Keep the camera in plain view and don’t try to hide what you’re doing. I usually don’t ask for permission, but if I get any hint that the person isn’t happy about it I stop immediately and move along.

      One rule to remember specifically for France: even in public, you may not take pictures of a stand-alone minor, but as soon as there are 2 or more persons in the photo, you’re OK. I’ve actually researched this because I take a lot of basketball photos, there are kids involved all the time, so I had to check on the law.

      Voilà, glad the show is helping you plan your trip.

      A couple of questions for you now: how did you hear about the show and where are you planning to go in France?



      1. Merci Annie for the guidance.

        I have been brushing up on my french using a great app/web site called Duolingo. It is great for written french, but I needed to supplement my study with audio sources to increase my listening comprehension. French podcasts seemed like a good place to start. So I was searching using my Podcasts App on my iPhone for “French News” “French Language” and finally “French Food” and your podcast came up. While your podcast may not help me as much with my french listening skills, it has been a gem in the rough to aid in our preparation.

        We plan to spend 3 days in Paris and then 4 days in a loop through the Loire, Brittany, and Normandy, with two more days in Paris at the end.

        We are struggling with the balance between seeing/doing as much as possible, and taking it slow and savoring the terroir, so to speak. We are doing our best to plan only two major things a day to assure we don’t rush, and can go wherever the sights, smells, or music may take us.

        Our current daily plans are:
        1. (Fri-Sat) Fly into Paris and stay in the Marais neighborhood.
        2. (Sun) Ile de la Cite, Sacre Coeur, and a Seine river trip at night.
        3. (Mon) Arc de Triomphe, and then a walk down the Champs Elysees to and through the Louvre.
        4. (Tue) Versaille and then a drive to the Chateau de Maintenon.
        5. (Wed) Chateau de Chenonceaux, Chateau de Villandry, and then drive to Brittany.
        6. (Thu) Mont Saint Michelle, Omaha Beach, Bayeux Tapestry, Cliffs of Etretat.
        7. (Fri) Ruins of Jumieges, Giverny.
        8. (Sat) While staying in the Rue Claire area, Eiffel Tower, Opera, Visit an open air market
        9. (Sun) Half day open before our flight back.

        It is a shame that we don’t have more time, but we love our little children and may need to rescue grandma. We are consoling ourselves that this is just the first trip of many to come. We have tentative plans for 3-4 years out, to visit the south of France along with stops in Spain and Italy. In addition it would be great, once our children are a bit older, to spend a few weeks in a Gite.

        Any suggestions or tips on our itinerary would be welcome. We still have 7 or so months of planning and we are open to change, especially if you have some gems for us!

        Again, merci,

      2. On a side note, your basketball action shots are very good, it can be quite difficult to capture fast moving action in indoor situations. My wife enjoys photographing outdoor portraits, landscapes, architecture, and animal life. You can see her website here: Upon our return we will have to post a few pictures to your facebook page.

        Again, Merci for your podcast!

  5. Hi Annie and Elyse
    I am like Elyse – I prefer just the macaron without the cream and plain dark 70% chocolate. BTW – Ladurée has three stores in the US – two in NYC and one in Miami plus stores in the Middle East and Asia. Dalloyau has stores in Asia and the Middle East. Many tourists flock to the Paris locations. Dalloyau invented the Opéra cake.

  6. Annie, Côte d’Or is Belgian, not a French house-brand. I must say that in my memory the Côte d’Or we bought when we lived in the Netherlands was higher quality than what we buy in the grocery here (Leclerc is our regular). They seem to be selling their “cheaper” lines rather than their best stuff in France.

    1. Interesting remark Kaye. I must say that to me country of origin doesn’t matter that much. I love Belgium anyway! A bar of Côte d’Or will still make me happy any time, and as I like to remind my family if I’m happy, everybody’s happy 😉

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