Oh macarons, how I love thee. If you've never had one, they are basically sandwich style cookies made with meringue shells and decadent fillings--not to be confused with coconut macaroons! The first time I tasted a macaron was in August 2010 from Ladurée at 21 Rue Bonaparte in Paris, a very short stroll from my hotel. I originally saw the store for the first time in 2009 when my family and I were staying at the same hotel. I remember walking past it and falling in love with the aesthetic of the place. The sage green storefront and black signage with gilded lettering demanded passersby to slowdown and look at the perfect candy colored treats in the window.
I can't remember why we did not go in, I think the store was closed every time we passed it. I do know, however, that my mom and I marveled at the enticing pastel macarons, expertly arranged into conical towers like sleek, color coordinated, and patterned croquembouches. I remember saying, "nothing that looks that perfect can possibly taste as good as it looks." I was wrong.
When I was lucky enough to go back to Paris this past summer, we stayed at the same hotel near Ladurée. On the plane ride over, I read a magazine article about macarons that described how beloved they were by some people. Ladurée were the ones used in Sofia Coppola's movie Marie Antoinette, but there were others that aficionados argued were the best: Pierre Hermé being the most mentioned name. I've since read from a few sources that Pierre Hermé is the best and will make it my duty to weigh in one day on such an important study. But since we were staying so close to Ladurée again, I knew I had to at least give them a try.
On the first day we went there, 3 of the 4 travelers each picked out one flavor to try: Chocolat Amer, Caramel au Fleur de Sel, and Noix de Coco. They were all incredible, but the caramel macaron won everyone's hearts. The meringue was crisp on top but not crumbly and melted in my mouth. The salted caramel filling was just fantastic. Sometimes salted caramel seems to lack any real saltiness but it was definitely present and complimented the sweetness nicely. Yeah, I could go for one now!
That's the other thing about macarons. I didn't say I could go get some and eat them until I explode. They aren't something you want to gobble down like, say, a sleeve of Oreos. (That isn't just me, right?) No. They are so easy and satisfying to savor.
Just do a quick image search on Google or Flickr and you'll see that people lovingly taking pictures of them in beautifully composed shots. Of course, they aren't cheap, but there's more to it than that. They make you feel special. Everything about the process feels decadent from when you first see the storefront, to the beautiful boxes you can get them in, to the wide range of amazing colors and flavors, to the moment that you actually take your first bite. It's multi-sensory experience that makes you feel like you've been pampered (except for the lines, perhaps).
And you were pampered in a way, because making macarons is hard. I decided I want to learn how to make them and quickly realized they are really technically difficult. One blog I read even said that you basically have to develop your own technique after trying lots of recipes and making lots of mistakes. Great! Since I can't go to Paris right now, I am determined to try making them, if only just to enhance my love for the truly well-made ones.
So I encourage you to go forth and search for macarons wherever you are. Apparently there are great ones to try in lots and lots of places. I had an ok one in Yorkville last week and then found out there are more to try other areas of Toronto. By the time I make it back to Paris and conduct some serious research on the best of the best, I hope to be a veritable connoisseur.