Like most people probably, I saw macarons before on the Internet before I ever ate them—perfect, colorful sandwiches, pyramids and pyramids of them arranged carefully in concentric circles or neat little rows, a spectrum of pastries.
Macarons are a small French pastry, made of almond flour, with flavors ranging from lavender to chocolate. They are notoriously difficult to bake; combined with the relatively high costs of almond flour, macarons have become wildly popular despite high costs for each one.
Perhaps both macarons and cupcakes are colorful, but macarons do not evoke the nostalgia that a cupcake does. Macarons retain an air of sophistication (probably because they originated in France); boxes from Laduree have the font and stylings of a Tiffany’s. Simultaneously, however, macarons have been subject to commercial forces, just like any other fad—McDonald’s sells macarons in France now, and Trader Joe’s stocks them in the freezer section. Notably, food bloggers and purveyors of French culture have protested the commercialization of macarons, saying that macarons are too “French” for Americans. As stated by Laetita Brock, “macarons are not meant to be mainstream”. Not many other desserts or foods attract a following that is so protective.
In contrast to cupcakes, which are a decadent, heavy treat, macarons are light and airy, a snack to be nibbled on and savored. Perhaps the relatively high price and the careful presentation that has always surrounded macarons is seen as a barrier to prevent the mainstream from eating macarons like the cupcakes one can buy at the grocery store. It is interesting to note how we have come to associate macarons with haute culture, and the cupcake and doughnut with merely comfort food. For that reason, macarons will continue to retain an air of exclusivity, to be spoken of in the same breath as Paris and brand names such as Cartier.