Tag Archives: Flourless

Is the American Passover Macaroon a Descendant of the Alsatian Macaron?

Last summer I visited Colmar, a town in the northeastern region of Alsace bordering Germany, that looked like it was right out of a Disney fairly tale. Since the 17th century, Alsace moved back and forth under German and French control, and walking through Colmar I could easily see the influence of both in its architecture as well as its food. The Jewish community of Alsace is one of the oldest in Europe, dating back to the 11th century, and at its peak in 1870 came to about 35,000.1 In doing a little research online, I came across a paper by the sociologist Anny Bloch-Raymond noting that the first major influx of Jews from the Alsace-Lorraine region and Germany to America was from 1820 to 1860 (with the majority settling in New York from 1830-1850  2) for economic reasons, while the later wave of immigration from 1872-1918 was because of cultural and political reasons.3

Macaroons_Alsace_4

While meandering along Colmar’s winding streets, I noticed a local bakery that sold unique Alsatian pastries. When I got close enough to take a better look, I discovered small parcel-shaped cakes called macarons that looked exactly like the Passover macaroons I had grown up with in New York!

Macaroons_Alsace_3

I eagerly purchased a variety of flavors ranging from orange, passion fruit, and rum raisin, to almond, pistachio, and chocolate. When I tasted them, the texture was similar to the American-Jewish coconut-based macaroon, but the flavor was richer (and well, better). I went back to ask the woman working in the store if these macarons had any flour in them, and she explained that while it was mostly made of dried ground coconut, or contained ground nuts (such as pistachios or almonds), there was indeed some kind of regular flour mixed in (which explained the difference in texture).

Macaroons_Alsace_1

It appears to me that the Alsatian-German macaron that I tasted in Colmar is directly related to the Jewish-American Passover macaroon, brought over by German and Alsatian Jewish immigrants who settled in New York and other northeastern cities in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The macaron (made with dried coconut and/or nuts, flour, egg whites, and sugar) likely evolved into the macaroon (made with the same ingredients, minus the flour), which made it perfect for serving during Passover when flour is avoided.

FOOTNOTES:

1 Dreyfus, Jean-Marc. “Histoire et mémoire des Juifs d’Alsace : recherches actuelles.” Seminar November -June, 2006-2007.

2 Bloch-Raymond, Anny. “Enemies abroad, Friends in the United States: Jewish Diaspora from Alsace-Lorraine vs. Jewish Diaspora From Germany, 19th century-20th century.” CNRS November 16, 17, 2002, Dickinson College, published by the Clarke Center, Contemporary Issue series, nov. 2004, p. 8.

3 Bloch-Raymond, Anny. 1995. “A la merci de courants violents, les émigrés juifs de l’Est de la France aux Etats-Unis. In Revue des sciences sociales de la France de l’Est,” (22) 110-121.

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Menu for Marge’s Passover Seder, 2013 (2nd Night)

Apricots_Chocolate1A

Chocolate Dipped Dried Apricots
with Slivered Almonds

For the last few years I have taught several Passover cooking classes at three of the major cooking schools in Manhattan (ICE, The Natural Gourmet, and The JCC) that focused on Sephardic specialties. One year one woman contacted me saying that she was very disappointed that she could not attend my upcoming Italian style Passover cooking class, but would I instead be interested in preparing that same menu for her family Seder? (Her husband then drove in from upstate to pick it all up.) This ended up being my first official Passover catering job, and since then every year I get several requests for anything from Middle Eastern Passover desserts, to appetizers, full entrees, and even entire Seder meals.

Of my regular clients, one of my most favorite is Marge, who lives just across the park from me in New York City. Together we have cooked two Chanukah meals, and now I am planning my third Passover dinner menu for her and her family. As is often the case with several of my clients, Marge likes to have some of her own family’s traditional Ashkenazic dishes (such as gefilte fish, matzah ball soup, chopped liver, or perhaps a kugel) while adding some new and unusual Sephardic dishes to change things around and make her meal more unique. With Marge’s family I now know that I have to balance certain individual likes and dislikes, such as the following: apricots and dates are preferred over prunes, cumin over curry (but not too much), no bell peppers, and not to put onions into every dish we make. This year the meal will be for 15 people. Here is my working menu (but there might be changes):

STARTERS:
Syrian Charoset with Dried Apricots, Orange Blossom Water, and Slivered Almonds
Gefilte Fish (Marge’s cousin will bring)
Chicken Soup with Matzah Balls (check with Marge who will bring?)

MAINS:
Tossed Green Salad with Artichoke Hearts, Avocado, and Toasted Walnuts
(with olive oil, lemon juice, and dried mint vinaigrette)

Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Parsnips, and Carrots (toss with olive oil and salt)
Syrian Meatballs with Allspice and Cinnamon in Tomato-Cumin Sauce
Sephardic Style Brisket with Coriander, Ginger, Tamarind, and Apricots (leave out the prunes)
Potato Kugel (with lots of onions and eggs–not too dry!)

DESSERT:
Syrian Flourless Pistachio Macaroons with Orange Blossom Water (1 1/2 dozen enough)
Egyptian Toasted Walnut-Pecan Macaroons with Dates and Cinnamon (1 dozen enough?)
Chocolate-Dipped Dried Apricots with Slivered Almonds (make fewer than last time)
Other Passover-friendly Cake or Chocolates (someone will bring?)
Fresh Fruit, Sorbets

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