If you were following me in Paris you know my fascination with macarons, the light, airy, jewel-like French sandwich cookie made with egg whites, almond flour, and magic. Like the search for an excellent croissant, however, the macaron quest off the Continent is fraught with high hopes and bitter disappointment. Perfection is elusive. The cookie part should be surfaced with the tiniest bit of instantly dissolving crunch before the lightly cakey center yields to a dainty bite. Whatever goo graces the middle should complement the flavor of the cookie and be sweet without mounting a full-scale saccharine tongue assault (‘sugar’ is not a flavor!)
It is traditionally acceptable [harrumph] to have jam as a filling option, but I am partial to more moussey, ganache-style fillings: think warm, whipped Nutella. Jam often tends to be too tough for the delicate cookie and you can quickly find yourself embattled, trying to rend with your teeth a substance with the consistency of tree resin morphing quickly into amber. Cookie carnage ensues.
Anyway, on her return from a recent trip to the glorious culinary mecca of NYC, Jess brought back droolicious tales of food adventures which we animatedly discussed on the ride back from the airport (merits of various Ippudo ramen styles were dissected in sensuous detail before I had to call a halt due to my rabidly growling tummy) along with a sweet and generous gift of an assortment of Ladurée macarons. All. For. Me!
Ladurée is a grande dame of the macaron world, her wares formerly only available in France, but after many years of negotiation and false starts (which I nail-bitingly followed), one of the eponymous salons du thé opened on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. So this was precious cargo.
The flavor selection included, left to right: vanilla, rose, violet, caramel with salted butter, pistachio, and raspberry. I pulled them out during an afternoon work break to sample just one or two, and ended up gluttonously chomping my way through them all, narrowly averting a serious and sudden diabetic coma as a result. (Which I totally would have deserved.) Best macarons, hands down, outside of France that I’ve ever had.
Working our way up: Vanilla was Jess’ least favorite, and mine too –the flavor was just sort of… odd — except for the pistachio one, which had a great, nutty cookie tragically over-ballasted by filling that seemed identical to an Oreo, all lard and granulation. She loved the violet, with its lilting flowery flavor; I fervently acknowledged her point and found a similarly wonderful experience with the rose, which proffered an almost-perfect filling: a cloud of sweetness and petal perfume. The tiniest touch too sweet, though, and the tiniest bit too airy to hit absolute perfection. The raspberry was satisfyingly suffused in both layers with strong fruit flavor, but again, missed the perfect ten by a nose with that smidgen of unseemly jam-wrestling. The trumpeting of the archangels was apparent, however, in the caramel. Cookie cloud crispitude? Check. Luscious, velvety filling that puts you immediately in mind of licking it off a loved one? Check. Balance of sweet and salty, crackling and gooey? Yep – that’s the spot, exactly there. Macaron heaven.