By Andrea Burzynski
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Macarons, the small almond and sugar cookie beloved by the French, are replacing the cupcake in the United States as a favorite dessert.
Bakeries devoted to the colorful confections have been popping up in New York, Seattle and San Francisco, and the legendary Parisian patisserie Laduree, whose pastry chef Pierre Desfontaines created the macaron over a century ago, opened its first U.S. branch in New York City in August.
"It's exactly the same shop and spirit," said Laduree chairman David Holder about its new U.S. store. "The products and the quality are the same."
Although the Laduree recipe is a closely guarded secret, Holder said all of the company's macarons are made in Paris from a mixture that is about 50 percent ground almonds, as well as sugar, egg whites, food coloring, and naturally derived flavors. The cookies are also gluten-free.
The New York shop is so popular at times on weekends the line of customers curls down the sidewalk.
At the macaron shop Bisous, Ciao in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a sign in the window makes clear that macarons, which Bon Appetit magazine had dubbed "the new cupcake" last year, are not the same thing as macaroons, a chewy coconut biscuit.
Like their trendy predecessor, macarons win many fans with their bold appearance and array of whimsical flavors.
"I think people like them at first because they're striking colors, and they're dainty and pretty," said Bisous, Ciao owner and founder Tanya Ngangan.
Holder agrees, describing them as "small accessories" that can be given as gifts in place of champagne or flowers.
At Bisous, Ciao, the cookies are lined up like jewels in a glass case. Laduree packages its macarons in limited-edition boxes, which are frequently the result of designer collaborations. The latest was created by British fashion designer Matthew Williamson.
The delicate treats come in almost every imaginable flavor, from classics like raspberry at Macaron Cafe in New York to more innovative options such as salted peanut and grape at Bisous, Ciao.
"It's kind of like an upscale PBJ," said Ngangan, referring to peanut butter and jelly.
For New York Fashion Week in September Laduree produced a cinnamon raisin New York macaron, which Holder said was a nod to the popularity of cinnamon in American sweets -- something that is uncommon in France.
Both Holder and Ngangan say their most popular flavors are salted caramel. With prices starting at $2.50 each, many consumers see macarons as an affordable luxury when bigger ones are out of reach in a tight economy.
"We are living in a complicated world," Holder said. "Small pleasures are important."