So firstly, macaroon or macaron? The French spelling is the latter, with one “o” but many English speaking people have adopted this spelling too to avoid confusion between coconut macaroons (biscuits piped in a star shape and sometimes dipped in chocolate) and the more well known French version (meringue discs sandwiched with a cream in a range of flavours and colours).
The Ladurée website still refers to them as macaroons and even though they may be the foremost authority on the matter, I’m going to stick with macaron nonetheless. For those who have not yet discovered this veritable diamond in the patisserie world, allow me to walk you through the basic structure of this little wonder.
While macarons have been around for many decades, they have recently become fashionable and seem to be available all over the world. They did however originate in France (a fact often debated but which we’ll take as true for now) and I embarked on a quest to experience the “real deal”. First stop:
I mentioned in a previous entry that Ladurée sells about 12 000 macarons a day. That fact is wrong, the number is actually 15 000! They have several outlets but even so, given that almost every other patisserie sells them too, is quite impressive. The shop itself is sometimes just a macaron section, but the bigger areas have a formal tea-room with a range of delectable pastries on offer.
These macaron towers come in a range of sizes and all kinds of colour combinations. Any Masterchef fans will be familiar with Adriano Zumbo’s creation that caused so much havoc!
The one above was on display at Ladurée, and the following one was at a stall in the Christmas markets opposite the Eiffel Tower.
Of course Ladurée is not the be all and end all of macarons, and after having tasted extensively, I will even go as far to say that they are not necessarily the best either! Their macarons tend to be on the more classic side, usually single flavours such as vanilla, hazelnut, raspberry etc. For more interesting combinations, I recommend Pierre Hermé.
His combinations include things like passionfruit/chocolate, crème brulée, ginger/banana/chocolate, white truffle/hazelnut etc. Above all, Pierre Hermé is home to my all-time favourite – salted caramel. This flavour is available absolutely everywhere and in absolutely every form! From ice-cream to pancakes, chocolate to macarons, it is delicious, and I think his is the best in macaron form.
Another memorable stop was Sadaharu Aoki – a Japanese patisserie with a more interesting range of flavours.
In this particular bag we have (going clockwise from bottom left) salted prune, matcha tea, sesame, violet, lemon and most unusual of all – WASABI. They were all strangely good! The wasabi had all the flavour of wasabi, but none of the kick. All of them were still somewhat sweet, but Aoki demonstrates just how different macaron flavours can be.
After some time I was wondering whether I could really identify a good macaron or not and whether I was buying the most expensive I could find and convincing myself that they were the best. I realized I did know a thing or two when I tasted the worst macarons I’ve had in Paris so far – from McDonald’s!
They were overly chewy and the pistachio flavour I had for some reason left a bizarre sushi aftertaste! I was not alone in thinking this so I know I didn’t imagine it. Besides the weird taste, the texture was definitely not what it should be.
As shown in the first picture, the perfect macaron has a crisp outer shell and a soft, slightly chewy interior. Different patisseries will offer different textures, but for the most part it is a balance between the two. I took a bite out of one for good measure in this picture:
I recently went on an indulgent macaron mission to buy some gifts for my family. The following box is from Ladurée containing coffee, vanilla, raspberry, chocolate, hazelnut and pistachio. They are by no means cheap, with each piece averaging around €1.50. Knowing that they are simply meringue discs with filling, this price is really quite exorbitant! Rest assured that when they arrive in Maryam’s Kitchen, they won’t be so expensive!!
Besides forming the little bite-sized treats that one sees everywhere, macarons also serve as the base for certain desserts. An example is Ispahan – a dessert sold by both Pierre Hermé and Ladurée (I wonder who copied who!) and pictured below. The two meringue discs are sandwiched with fresh raspberries, litchis and a rose flavoured cream. Unfortunately Pierre Hermé’s contains alcohol which, being a Muslim, I don’t consume so I just tasted the Ladurée version which was good, but not as great as I hoped for.
I’ve also seen macaron shells being used as decorations on desserts such as this one, giving it a distinctly Christmassy feel as they kind of look like baubles when they’re covered with lustre dust.
They also come in inedible forms including soap and jewellery like these necklaces which I found in a bookstore.
As you can see, I have been quite busy with all my tasting and photographing. It seems fitting that I discovered this last item after yet another day of ‘tasting’ -
Nothing more to be said!