Macarons do not only grow in Paris, you know. Their Basque country cousins are just as lovely, and considerably less pretentious.
Macarons Basques, the most famous coming from Maison Adam in St Jean de Luz, are not difficult to make. Called mouchous or muxu in the local Basque dialect, they are similar to Parisian macarons but a little chewier and a lot less elaborate.
Where do they make the best macarons? Some will undoubtedly say in Paris, Rue Bonaparte or another location of Pierre Hermé’s famous patisseries.
And quite rightly, for they are little bits of bliss coming in such impressive flavours as passion fruit, rhubarb and strawberry (divine), rose and rose petal (delightful) or white truffle and hazelnut (not sure, my palate is possibly not sophisticated enough).
I do seriously admire the folks that queue for a good long time to get their dainty bag of immaculately packaged biscuits and actually taking them home, instead of ripping the dainty and all apart and eating them in the street a hundred metres from the shop.
I have made Parisian style macarons, with reasonable success. I really dislike faffing about with food colourings though so mine are usually natural in hue. The unicorn palette of macarons on social media is definitely not my thing.
But my original question might have a different answer. In Pays Basque the folk are much more down to earth and probably don’t really care for pretty little rainbow-coloured things. Their version of macarons is different and in all honesty, I can’t say it’s inferior.
I once spent a delectable afternoon in Saint Jean de Luz, near Biarritz, walking from one patisserie to another (and there are quite a few) with the sole purpose of sampling and comparing the macarons they made and sold there. All for research, you see.
The famed Maison Adam won hands down. AND they have a chocolate fountain in the shop.
What are macarons Basque like?
Those biscuits are different than the Parisian, they are both a little crunchier and chewier at the same time. They are presented plain without any cream filling and they look quite rustic compared to their descendants of central France.
As they go back three centuries, they can truly be called ‘the original macarons’. They are called mouchous locally, from the Basque word muxu meaning a kiss. Which is very lovely indeed.
The Maison Adam recipe is a secret though it is obvious the macarons are made from egg whites, sugar and ground almonds. It’s the proportions and methods that vary, and there are several wildly disparate versions of recipes around.
The simplest instructs to beat the egg whites and fold them into the sugar-almond mix. Others tell you to make sugar syrup and whisk it into the marzipan paste. Both above make nice biscuits but not very faithful to the original.
The recipe below, found on Gateau.com, produces the result redolent of Saint Jean de Luz confections, which is a slightly cakier, flatter biscuits than the alternatives.
How to make macarons Basques?
It is not very difficult indeed but the outcome improves if you blitz the ground almonds with the icing sugar.
In France you can buy ‘tant pour tant’ which is a pre-mixed combination of very fine almond flour and icing sugar. Blending your ground almonds with icing sugar in a food processor gives you the ingredient closer to the French original.
The addition of potato starch or corn flour adds the cakiness to the mix.
It is possible to just beat all the egg whites to stiff peaks and then fold them into the dry ingredients in bulk but dividing the egg whites in half and making a paste with almonds and sugar moistens the powder and in effect delivers a smoother batter.
The other half of the egg whites is whisked ‘en neige’, as the French expressively say, and folded into the paste.
The baking tray should be lined with parchment or you’ll never get the macarons off it; alternatively use a silicone mat.
You can load the batter into a piping bag and pipe away neatly, or just scoop the mix with two spoons and go for the truly rustic look. They are usually about 4cm in size and they won’t spread very much in the oven.
After shaping, let the macarons set for about an hour, until they are not tacky to touch. You can also smooth any cheeky peaks left by the piping nozzle.
Bake them for about 20 minutes, until a little coloured and not wobbly.
They should be left to cool down completely on the parchment, no matter how tempted you should be to sample one. Lift them with a palette knife and store them in an air-tight container for up to two weeks.
More French biscuit recipes
Chocolate sable biscuits with raw cocoa nibs and sea salt flakes, meltingly tender, these are grown-up choc chip cookies.
Orange dacquoise biscuits, chewy almond cookies made similarly to macarons Basques, are like a meringue that changed its mind at the last minute and turned into sponge batter.
Sablés bretons are Breton butter biscuits made with lots of egg yolk and the best butter in the world. Definitely make top 20 in the biscuit charts.
More Basque recipes
Gâteau Basque is a traditional pastry from the region. A buttery tart, plain or filled with cherries or pastry cream, it is unbelievably gorgeous.
Piperade is the Basque take on ratatouille with the heat of espelette pepper. This recipe is easy and simple, like a lot of best things in life.