Shell out for French fancies

SAY the word macaroon to anyone with a drop of Scottish blood in them and they'll immediately think of Lee's sweetened potato-based confection, covered in chocolate and sprinkled with a heavy dose of dessicated coconut.

Down south a macaroon was something the Famous Five used to eat with their lashings of ginger beer and was rather large, chewy and again doused in coconut.

But ask for one in France and you'll be directed to something completely different - a brightly coloured, delicately flavoured, shiny smooth-shelled meringue delicacy filled with a creamy ganache.

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Indeed, if anything sums up the culinary differences between Scotland and France it is the "macaron". It's like comparing Carla Bruni to Nicola Sturgeon.

In fact, so beloved is the macaron in France that one of its most famous patissiers, Pierre Herme, created Macaron Day on March 20, and New York has followed suit.

While the macaron finally travelled through the Channel Tunnel last year - knocking the perennially popular cupcake from its perch as everyone's favourite sweet treat in London - it has taken slightly longer for it to make it to Edinburgh, delicate shell intact.

Although you're still more likely to be offered a fussied-up fairycake with your coffee, there are a few places where a macaron can be hunted down.

The counter of L'Epicerie Deli in Broughton Street is bursting with the cerise pinks, verdant greens, bright oranges and more subtle shades of cream and nougat of Marc Verdant's macarons and deli owners Fred and Betty Berkmiller claim the taste is a flavour sensation.

"They are so different from anything which might be passed off as a macaroon here," says Fred. "These are fresh, painstakingly prepared by a crazy man who has such attention to detail. They come in such wonderful flavours, and, of course, their colours make them look very attractive too.

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"They are more than popular, people come from a long way to buy them. At the moment we have pistachio, blackcurrant, nougat, chestnut, salted caramel, chocolate, raspberry, pineapple... so many flavours. I think my favourites though are chestnut, and pistachio and lemon.

"I have tasted macarons from probably 20 or so makers but I always come back to Marc Verdant. To me they are the best, in texture and flavour."

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Apparently the egg whites of a macaron are supposed to mature for five days before being whipped up with almonds, sugar and delicate flavours.

Fred reveals: "There is a great mystique about macarons. People think they are very hard to make, but really once you've done it a few times you realise it's not too difficult, although you'll struggle to make them like a patissier. I do not make them, I may be a chef, but I'm not a pastry chef. I do not have the patience."

L'Epicerie is not the only place offering macarons, of course. There's Patissiere Madeleine in Stockbridge where they make them on the premises and then there's Cedric Minel, who as well as being a purveyor of fine French cheeses is now selling his own macarons from his van on Meadow Place on Saturdays. If you can't make it to the van, they're also sold in Cuthberts cafe on Fountainbridge.

"Like the cheese, I came back from France and couldn't find anyone selling macarons," says Cedric. "So last year I started to learn how to make them. It took quite a few months to get it right. Not that they are hard to make, but I wanted them to look as beautiful as they do in France, and that takes patience and practice.

"I have customers from all over Edinburgh coming to buy them. I think I am offering something different as they're fresh, not imported. I plan to increase my production of them so I can have a stall at the farmers' market."

He adds: "I think anyone who loves food will love macarons. They just have to try them to find out how special they are."

• L'Epicerie Deli is at 56A Broughton Street. Cedric's Cheesee Peasee van is at Meadow Place, Marchmont, today, and all day every Saturday.