Finding the Romans, Macaroons and Macarons in England

We’re just back from holiday. It’s the first time we have driven around England with the children and as buckets of rain were thrown upon us, we can safely say that we now know a few museums. Avoiding the traffic of London’s Olympics live (we couldn’t get tickets, sniff) we still enjoyed the festive buzz around the country, as each town was proudly strutting their flag and the Best of British in many shop windows.

British flags English Bakery

Windows tempted us with giant scones, carrot cakes, STP (Sticky Toffee Pudding), Bakewell tart, apple turnovers, Victoria Sponge, treacle tarts, Bath buns, giant cookies, peanut brittle, jam tarts…. the list goes on. But if anyone really knows me, I don’t eat the heavier cakes. Since moving to France, it’s something I try to avoid; I’m converted to eating lighter sweet treats and that is why the macaron is one of my perfect sweet afternoon treats: they’re gluten free, not high in calories and above all, they come in so many different flavours.

Beatrix Potter Cake Stands

So where were the macarons? We were definitely looking in the wrong places outside of London. There are many French pâtisseries in England but some didn’t even have macarons. Quoi? There were, however, macaroons…

Macaroons in England

Macaroons but where are the macarons?

This is the reason why I prefer to call ‘macaroons’ macarons. When I say ‘macarons’, it’s not to be all French chic and snooty; it’s simply so that we don’t confuse the traditional coconut based macaroon (and in this case it looks like there’s no coconut but an almond biscuit more like a giant amaretti) with the Parisian macaron with it’s fondant filling between two almond-based meringue shells with its characteristic ruffled foot.

When I met with my publisher during the trip, they explained that a couple of outlets didn’t take on the book simply since ‘macaron’ was on the cover and not ‘macaroon’.  What would you say to that?

Taking a break from it all meanwhile, we were in awe discovering the crafty engineering work left behind by the Romans, thanks to talented archeologists around Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland. At Vindolanda, nearly 4000 shoes were excavated (some of which are still high fashion today) as well as hundreds of Roman coins, jewellery and even postcards with writing – unbelievable seeing face-to-face an invitation to a party from an Officer’s wife.

Roman Ruins England

The Romans’ central heating system (left) and clever foundations of the granary (right)

Can you imagine the fortresses that lined Hadrian’s Wall – built south of the border to keep out the ‘rogue’ Scots – with many of their foundations intact which give us an insight as to how they lived? This image perhaps doesn’t look much but when you realise that these pillar stones were built underneath the stone floors, the Romans were clever engineers; on the left, this is their central heating system, as fires would be lit around these pillars to have warm floors above; on the right, this airing below the granary’s floor would ensure that rats or any other stray unwanted creatures that would threaten their food stocks were chased away easily. They also had communal latrines, complete with communal wiping brushes (if you wanted your own, you had to carry it around all day.) Luckily things have progressed since then.

Thermal Springs Bath England

The Thermal Springs at Bath

The Romans also used this crafty heating system as a sauna and steam room around the thermal springs at Bath. The actual thermal springs pool (naturally at 46°C) was sacred and only used by bathers who threw notes to the Goddess Sulis Minerva, who had healing powers. More worshipping would go on in the Temple next door, then self-body worshipping via spa treatment rooms with mud rubs, a plunge pool and a final dip in the thermally heated grand pool. Not bad for 2000 years ago, eh? We were so inspired that we couldn’t resist a day’s pampering ourselves at Titanic Spa further north.  Highly recommended for boosting your batteries.

Talking of revamping, as we followed the Romans, somehow a sweet treat or 4 o’clock goûter would always enter into our plans.

Pub Stratford England

Antoine started to stop in his tracks at the word, Pâtisserie. I love using him as an excuse. In Stratford-Upon-Avon, it was much ado about Shakespeare. A brief look at Hobson’s Pâtisserie confirmed alas there were no macarons.

Then in a just as crowded York, there was an even greedier line forming outside its celebrated institution, Betty’s Tea Rooms. Eye spy my little eye – look what was in the window!

Macarons at Betty's Tea Room York

The queue was so long and as we had a walking tour of the Secret York, we didn’t have any time to spare and join in line. After discovering some hidden churches, being drenched in the Shambles (watching a couple of ladies being filmed for a documentary), spotting sculptures of cats on some buildings to scare away the pigeons, I found more macarons at Pâtisserie Valerie.

York

Filming under the rain in the Shambles, York and a reigning macaron.

The coffee macaron caught my attention and before it could say try me, disappointment struck. Humbugs! It was more like a dry – really dry – cookie. No wonder some people say they’ve tried a macaron and they didn’t like it.  Gosh, these poor folks need to try a good one and see what all the fuss is about.

What do you think? Perhaps they need to make them at home instead (hint, hint.)

So my British macaronivore friends, I’m still hunting down macarons outside of London. Where did I miss? And be totally honest now: do you call them macaroons or macarons?


Update: See my article on Macarons vs Macaroons

28 replies
  1. JC Marc
    JC Marc says:

    I think Nami has it right. I think you should shower London with your book. Believe me, they will thank you.

    I’m working with my 3rd copy. (The first two were well used and were stained and torn – one page even had apricot/cardamom filling smeared over the recipe.) It took the 3rd copy before my macarons had “feet”, and before I could serve them to my guests. (I have even given copies of your book as Christmas gifts to friends who fell in love with your macarons.)

    Love, love, love your posts!

    Reply
  2. Nami | Just One Cookbook
    Nami | Just One Cookbook says:

    How interesting (to me) that you cannot find macarons there. London and Paris seem very close to each other yet “famous” macarons are not found in the city (at least the ones you checked). And the macaroons there are different from ones I can find here too as I don’t see coconut flakes? From your picture it looks like a cookie. Jill, I’m sure you can bring macaron sensation to London with your book!!

    Reply
    • Jill
      Jill says:

      Indeed, Nami. That macaroon is more of an amaretti cookie than a coconut version that you find in the US. Next time I’m going to London I know that macarons will be easy to find. Whether my book is, that’s another matter! 😉

      Reply
    • Jill
      Jill says:

      Kym, thank you so much for thinking of me. Isn’t it funny we both don’t like cake or frosting? Lol. I shall try to find time to get this in another post when I’m back from hols. Hugs xo

      Reply
  3. parisbreakfast
    parisbreakfast says:

    They do have them at Maison Blanc which has branches outside London too..but I don’t find them so thrilling. I’ll bet ther’s no coconut in that almond macarooooon in the window. Where was that? I will have to go check it out.
    Do you want to try macarons in New York when yr here?
    Easy but ahem…will they be any good?

    Reply
    • Jill
      Jill says:

      I’ve tasted the Maison Blanc ones at Waitrose. They’re ok but lack flavour (and vanilla is flavour, no vanilla bean in it :-() That almond macaroon was also in York. Why not try macarons in NYC when I’m over next week? Although in the mornings I don’t snack, just a good coffee and catch up! See you soon, J xo

      Reply
  4. Lucy Samuels
    Lucy Samuels says:

    I make my own (after seeing them in a little book, failing to get anything out of the recipe, getting obsessed and buying several books just about macarons including yours! I’ve had a few from Betty’s which weren’t bad at all, whilst on a holiday which ended at Vindolanda last year! I much prefer them when they’re a few days old and thoroughly matured by the filling. There’s a few french cafes, and Selfridges here in Birmingham you can buy them.

    I usually make cookies, but sometimes macarons, and resolutely spell it the french way, but absolutely everyone (apart from my mom, who knows she gets free macs if she’s nice) calls and spells them macaroons. Even after I’ve explained. It must be some kind of British mental block. Easier to just go with the flow and persuade people to eat them 🙂

    Reply
  5. Karen
    Karen says:

    Hello,
    What should a mac look like in the center-BEFORE it is filled.
    Jill, if you ever get the chance-would you mind posting a pic of one for us-every little bit of info helps!!!!!
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Jill
      Jill says:

      Hi Karen, this is when I say it’s in the book… but I shall remember this and put a photo up – didn’t think it was that interesting. The centre looks just like the rest, as I don’t stick my thumb in the middle like some people do to create more space for filling; there’s more than enough room for that!

      Reply
  6. Hester @ Alchemy in the Kitchen
    Hester @ Alchemy in the Kitchen says:

    Following in your footsteps, Jill. I’m spending the weekend with friends just a few miles from Hadrian’s Wall. It is magnificent countryside. I haven’t seen a single mac though! Sounds like the British need to buy a truckload of Mad About Macarons 😉

    Reply
    • Jill
      Jill says:

      Wow – to think that we were 2 weeks apart. I wish I could meet you, Hester! Enjoy your time there. Hm. Truckload of MaM – the equivalent went missing once with WHSmith. Wonder where they disappeared to… one day they may be excavated, lol.

      Reply
  7. Gerry @ Foodness Gracious
    Gerry @ Foodness Gracious says:

    Some people give me a double take when I call them macarons and I’ve given up correcting folks….I miss some of my treats from back home and I just made a STP last week for a guest post over at La Fuji Mama..damn I love that dessert! Did you make it to Scotland?

    Reply
    • Jill
      Jill says:

      Gerry, laugh when you say you’ve stopped correcting folks. Back in Scotland, I’m known in the family as the French Police! Yes, I made it to Edinburgh for a whirlwind stop where I was well and truly sticky toffee pudding-ed!

      Reply
  8. Vicki du Plessis
    Vicki du Plessis says:

    I call them macarons for the same reason you do, but mainly for my own clarification as most people I talk to haven’t still haven’t a clue what a macaron is but I’m slowly educating them! The first macarons I had were in Cape Town, trying to find them in Manchester was a nightmare although there are a few places that do them now! If you’re ever heading to Manchester I can point you in the right direction but I make my own now, it’s much more fun and a lot cheaper, especially with my macaron addiction! I’ve even started a blog about my macarons (only one post so far) as a way to encourage others to have a go too! 😉

    Reply
    • Jill
      Jill says:

      Vicki, sounds like you’ve turned into a real macaronivore like myself. Not just addictive to eat but to make too. Well done on your macaron blog! Yep, we need to encourage others to have a go as it’s not as difficult as people think they are to make, eh?

      Reply
  9. Kim - Liv Life
    Kim - Liv Life says:

    Those Romans were indeed crafty, weren’t they? I never tire of learning about their architectures and structures. I love trying to imagine what is was like when people were actually living in the ruins!
    We don’t have macarons here in my little town north of San Diego either… though I have read that there are some nice shops in Los Angeles. We saw them in Venice and thought of you! The lines were long though, and Liv chose gelato.
    Keep trying Jill! You will school them yet!!

    Reply
  10. Cupcake Crusher
    Cupcake Crusher says:

    Wow! What a trip…
    I agree about trying a macaron for the first time and not enjoying it…
    I had that experience at the local patisserie.
    I’m so glad I got the book “Mad About Macarons” for my birthday otherwise I would have that image of a macaron forever!
    Thanks so much Jill: you rescued me!

    Reply
  11. Vicki Bensinger
    Vicki Bensinger says:

    I have to tell you jill when my daughter and I had our first macaron at Laduree we hated it. We thought it was very dry and couldn’t understand why everyone loved them so much. If it wasn’t for their incredible hot cocoa to wash it down I may have never attempted to make them.

    However the reciPes I’ve tried from your book with some of my own filling adaptations have been moist and delicious. Not like those beautiful but dry ones from Laduree. Now maybe my palate has changed and if I tried them there today I’d like them or maybe I got an off batch. I’ll never know though until I make it back there again.

    I’m guessing as you say, homemade is the way to go. Thanks to your book I can create umpteen colors and flavors to enjoy.

    Reply
    • Jill
      Jill says:

      Sounds like you had one from an off batch, Vicki – it’s even happened to me at Pierre Hermé! Sad when they cost so much so agree – homemade is great and fun too (plus you can design your own flavours!)

      Reply
  12. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    Macarons are best eaten in France! And at home! And when in Britain….eat like the British, I say! Gorgeous photos and my husband is an absolute nut for archeological digs and finds and ruins and he’d love to go there! Great pictures! And this summer what with the Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee really is the best time visit the country. Rain or not it looks like it was great fun!

    Reply
    • Jill
      Jill says:

      I would thoroughly recommend going to Vindolanda in Northumberland if your hubby loves archaeological digs, Jamie. They’re still digging! Also at the Roman Baths in Bath, they still have yet more to discover and at Stratford-upon-Avon, he can even join in a dig at Nash’s House (Shakespeare’s last home.) Agree with eating British, but when you go to a “Pâtisserie” in the UK, I expected to see macs…

      Reply

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