About four years ago, my overachieving, obscenely fit sister decided to run the Paris marathon. I decided to go over to watch her. I promised to be at the finish line cheering her on. I had a feeling I would be munching on a croissant as she sped towards the end. In the end she was triumphant. She finished, and after she was done she somehow even had the strength to walk from the Arc de Triomphe, where the race ended, to the Ile Saint-Louis for a pitcher of the richest hot chocolate on the face of the earth. Quite an achievement.
My great achievement of the trip was the discovery of the best macaroon on the planet (perhaps somewhat less impressive than Robin's feat of athleticism). First of all, let me tell you, these are not your typical coconut macarons that we're used to in the United States. These morsels from heaven are a completely different animal. Almond meringue cookies stuck together by an intensely flavored filling (usually either fruit puree or buttercream), light as air.
Where did I come across these you may ask? On a wander through Saint-Germain-de-Pres, we stumbled across Laduree. And we saw these jewel-like confections:
God I am dying just looking at them. In the words of the 40 year-old valley girl Rachel Zoe, I DIE. I AM DYING. THESE MAKE ME DIE.
God I want that black one.
So I brought back a box of macarons as a gift for Paul. I felt he didn't appreciate them as much as one should so I ate them. I didn't realize until I had left Paris that Pierre Herme also makes macarons. Some say they are even better than Laduree, if that is humanly possible. I intend to go back at some point and have a macaron-off between the two.
But anyway, since the trip, I have been pining away for a good macaron. Until recently, there was no hope.
But now, a mini-macaron craze seems to be sweeping New York. Of course, none of the options that I've tried have even approached what I remember of the Paris confections, but there are some fairly respectable macarons out there.
Based on various blog postings and comment boards, I narrowed down my tour to three shops: Le Madeleine on West 23rd Street, Kee's Chocolates in Soho and La Maison du Chocolat on the Upper East Side.
What I found was, first, do not deviate from these three. I occasionally passed by a place I thought would have an at least competent macaron, and each time was sorely disappointed. Bouchon, who makes the best quiche in New York, if not the world, seems to have confused the term macaron with the term whoopie pie. People these things are supposed to be dainty! And small! And not tooth achingly sweet! And the dark horse, Pichet Ong's shop Batch, carries macarons from a company called Sweet Chick. The fact that they chose peanut butter and jelly as a flavor should have tipped me off. It is too painful to relive in great detail, but suffice to say the creation was awful.
But on to happier things. Le Madeleine does a very nice job with their macarons. However, they are refrigerated so you MUST allow the macaron to come to room temperature before you eat it, otherwise it will be gooey. The cookie has a nice crunch to it, they got the amount of filling correct, and I think of the three Le Madeleine's macarons have the most intense, recognizable (this is a positive thing) flavors. My only gripe is that they are too big, and the cookie isn't as refined as I would like. The almonds aren't ground quite fine enough such that the meringue looks glossy.
La Maison du Chocolat's macarons have an excellent cookie component. The size is right, and the cookie is dainty. However, they tend to put much too much filling in, which makes the macaroon too heavy, and I wasn't able to distinguish between the different flavors. They all just tasted like chocolate to me. Beautiful La Maison du Chocolat chocolate, but chocolate just the same. To my mind macarons are more about fruit flavors anyway, so the chocolate felt a little forced.
And Kee's Chocolates, the last of the three that I tasted. Her macarons are beautiful. The colors are intense, and some are even painted with some sort of gold leaf. The cookies are light, dainty and crisp, and the filling is layered on with a restrained touch, both good things here. But imagine my disappointment when I bit into the cookie and found it to be too sweet to taste the flavoring! Oh Kee, I was so happy for the five seconds between which I felt the texture and then tasted the macaroon, but then melancholy set in.
So I think the lesson of the story here is that there is no perfect macaron in this town. You need to eat several, all of which have one or two excellent components, to get all of the pleasures that one perfect cookie would afford. But you'll have a lot of fun trying out all of the options.