The macaron - or to give it its full name, the macaron gerbet - has replaced the cupcake as the fashionably indulgent snack. The only thing the two have in common is that they're sweet. While the cupcake is large (in comparison), lavish and often extravagantly decorated, the macaron is small and austere. Popularised by luxury French patissiers such as Laudurée and Pierre Hermé, the macaron always looks like a macaron; the only thing that changes is the colour of the shell and filling, although a few vendors are now decorating them with lustre dust or making them two-toned.

Although most people now think of the meringue and almond cookie "sandwich" when they hear the word "macaron", there are actually several types (and we won't even get into the subject of macaroons - which are a different cookie altogether). The macarons made in St Emilion, near Bordeaux, in France, have slightly crackled tops, are a little chewy, dense and sticky, and they're not sandwiched together. Other macarons are lighter and puffier, although they involve basically the same three ingre-dients - egg whites, almonds and icing sugar. It's the mixing method and the proportions of the ingredients that account for the change in consistency.

The macaron gerbet (also known as the Parisian macaron) should have a smooth, glossy, slightly domed surface, and it's essential that it has a frill (called the " pied", or "foot"). While they're sweet, they shouldn't be too sweet; it is the filling that gives them balance. Although I can easily make them myself, when I want real macaron indulgence I usually leave it up to the experts.