Yes, I ate some macarons last month in Paris. And made them too. So many in fact that I believe I went into a state that I am going to call “macaron fatigue”. Yes, folks, it is possible. However, now I’ve been removed from them for a while, I feel ready to look at my pictures and write a little bit about them. I didn’t set out to eat so many but everywhere you turn, on nearly every street corner in Paris, there they are. Looking cute and tempting. And of course you can’t resist. Well, I can’t 😉
My first encounter with macarons in Paris this time was rather unexpected. I was meeting a friend for a drink over on the Left Bank and popping out of the Métro, I literally stumbled upon this…
La Maison Georges Larnicol. A MOF! A MOF! Since seeing The Kings of Pastry, I have to admit I am a little bit obsessed with the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France. Basically, a MOF is an award unique to France according to category of trades in a contest between professionals – so, like pastry chefs – (you can read more about it here) and the competition requires years of preparation. So when you see the MOF label, you know that you’re getting, well, le meilleur.
Apart from the MOF label, what drew me in was this:
Of course I had to buy some macarons…. I chose les classiques: chocolate, pistachio, coffee and salted caramel. Larnicol’s macarons are made with no animal fats and only natural colours so I was surprised by the bright green of the pistachio.
These were not only pretty with lovely little ruffly feet and shiny shells, but nicely sized (About 1 1/2 inches in diameter – I don’t like my macarons too big – for me a bite-sized mac is better because then you can justify having more than one!). And at 2€50 for four, most definitely a good deal.
A slightly crunchy texture on top with a slightly chewey layer underneath and filled with a soft, not-too-sweet ganache centre. Sometimes I find the ganache too overpowering in either volume or flavour but these had the perfect ratio. Of course this means that they are somewhat flat but I am happy to sacrifice some height for a perfect flavour and texture. Well done M. Larnicol.
A trip to Paris for a macaron lover is not complete without a trip to “l’incontournable” (essential, that which must not be ignored) Pierre Hermé…
The Hermé macarons are gloriously attractive, it must be said. Perfect shells, with even feet and interesting flavours like Arabesque (apricot and pistachio, the dual-coloured one fourth from the top). The colours are vibrant and beautiful, though for me, I find they sometimes border on the extreme. His ganaches are smooth and creamy but I find them overly sweet. They are also slightly bigger than I prefer and, because they are made with Italian meringue, they feel much sturdier and less delicate than macarons made with French meringue (you can read about the different types of meringues here). I know I will be on my own here in saying that these macarons, beauty aside, are not my favourite Parisian macarons. I mean, I wouldn’t turn one down but I wouldn’t go out of my way.
Another macaron must is, of course, Ladurée.
Slightly smaller, less “puffy” than Hermé’s, the Ladurée macarons are also less vibrant colours but I actually prefer this. Smooth tops and fairly regular “feet” make these macs easy on the eye and the smaller amount of ganache really suits my palate. Much less sweet than Hermé, though I do believe it’s really a matter of personal preference and I may be alone in preferring less vibrant, flatter macs…. At 14€40 for 6 in the pretty presentation “coffret“, they are also slightly cheaper than Hermé. These *might* just be my favourite Parisian macarons but this list is definitely not exhaustive – there’s only so many macs a girl can stomach!
Now for something completely different – who can guess where this is?
Well definitely more brownie-like than a macaron but not unpleasant. Not a classic macaron, though.
And how about these?
Well I am sorry Mr Franprix but these were pretty unpleasant. Obvious problems with the feet and empty shells made for a macaron that fell apart as soon as you bit into it. That coupled with the fact that they went soggy after about 10 minutes out of the freezer and you have a pretty un-macaron-like experience all round.
Continuing in the depths of despair in macaron-land…. Boxed macaron mix….
Ok, I admit that I did not have access to my Kitchen Aid but I did have an electric mixer and I followed the instructions to a T. There are no photos of the horribly chocolately mess I got myself into because you really don’t need to see that. An unmitigated macaron-disaster. Worse than some of my very first tries. Seriously. I think I need to take a packet home and use it with my own equipment and in an oven I know to really pass judgement but the first encounter was not so promising.
To cleanse my palate and get back to le vrai macaron, I headed to Lenôtre. Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while might remember when I learned to make macarons at Ecole Lenôtre. Well on that trip, the only Lenôtre macs I ate were the ones I made. So this trip I decided I needed to taste the Lenôtre ones, especially given that they are made with French meringue, as a comparison to (especially) the Hermé ones.
These are much smaller than any of the others I tasted – about 1 inch in diameter – and much more delicate. They’re much lighter in their little bag, to start with.
Delicate colours, ruffly little feet, the Lenôtre macarons are definitely my favourites in terms of appearance. Gorgeous, not garish, and bite-sized. You can definitely tell the difference in the meringue – delicately crunchy on the outside and with a slight chew on the inside; filled with a small amount of ganache, subtle is the word which comes to mind… They *do* sort of fall apart when you bite into them but since they are so small, you can just pop them into your mouth all in one go. And still be lady-like about it! At 5€40 for the four, they are reasonably priced. So depending on the day, these might be my choice over Ladurée as they are just that smidge smaller and lighter.
I certainly hope my “research” will come in handy when I get home next week and make some more macarons. I am most definitely ready to tackle them again after over 6 weeks away from my own kitchen. But I might have to be giving them away. It might be a while before I can face eating another on! (Or not….)
Whilst I was in Paris, I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Jill Colonna from the wonderful blog and book Mad about Macarons. We actually had such a wonderful time chatting and eating pastries that we forgot to get a picture of us (doh!) but I did manage to get her signature in my own copy of Mad about Macarons.
Now I am excited to give away not one but TWO copies of the book and this giveaway is open to everyone everywhere – thanks so much Waverley Books
Simply tell me why YOU are “Mad about Macarons” in the comments below.
For a bonus entry, simply tweet “I entered to win a copy of Mad about Macarons from @eatlivtravwrite and @waverleybooks and you can too: http://bit.ly/rpZSgv” and leave me a comment below letting me know you did.
Contest closes Tuesday August 16th at midnight EST and I will choose the winners by Random.org and announce them the following day. (Edited to add: Contest closed on August 16th at midnight – winners announced here)
I am also extremely excited to announce that I will be teaching “Marvelous Macarons” at Le Dolci in Toronto on Friday September 30th. If you’re interested, you can register here. I am so excited to put into practice what I learned at my classes in Paris this summer (and I *will* be blogging about those classes soon too!).
Keep up with me this summer through my Summer 2011 Flickr set.