When it comes to food, I live by the rule that if Blair Waldorf (of Gossip Girl infamy) likes it, it’s definitively delicious. Macarons, the traditional French cookie sandwich, are no exception. The sweet treat is a meringue-based cookie made from eggs, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond powder and food coloring, filled with ganache, buttercream or jam. You might be familiar with them via their frequent pictorial presence on thirteen-year-old girls’ Tumblrs, or as the symbol of wealth and decadence they’ve become through popular TV shows like “Gossip Girl” and Sofia Coppola’s film, “Marie Antoinette.”
I developed a fascination with the intriguing little things when my father brought me back a half-dozen Ladurée macarons after a business trip to New York. They had a slight crunch, a sophisticated sweetness and were gone all too soon. As I planned my spring break in Paris this past March, my best friend Gabi and I made sure macarons were high on the list of things to do. But where to start? And how to judge which is the best macaron when, to me, all macarons were the best macarons? It was a delicious journey indeed.
If you’re going to take a tour of macarons in the City of Light, it is absolutely essential to begin at Ladurée (our favorite location is located right off of the Madeleine métro stop). Founded in 1862, Ladurée is known as the inventor of the macaron, and they sell 15,000 of them every single day. Be prepared to wait in a lengthy line for your treats, but also be prepared to have a large number of options when you finally reach the counter. The flavors change with the season, but there is something for every palate, from fruity to decadent to experimental. I am a committed chocolate fan, so I went for variations on my favorite: chocolate, natural chocolate from Ghana and natural chocolate from Brazil. Just for good measure, I threw in a raspberry (because it still counts as a serving of fruit, right?).
From the first bite, it is glaringly obvious why the line shoots out the door and around the corner. The chocolate is sweet in a coquettish way and tastes like something from a Willy-Wonka-esque confectioner. I felt transported back to being six and eating Fudgesicles on my grandparents’ back porch — a sugary concoction that’s neither candy nor baked good. The raspberry macaron brought a burst of freshness with its jam filling, and the two different nationalities of chocolate confused and delighted my taste buds — one was earthy and natural, the other almost too rich — but I can’t remember which was which due to the speed with which I consumed them. All in all, the line was worth it and my friend and I have the inches on our waists to prove it.
As magical as Ladurée is, I find myself somewhat seduced by a particular man in the pastry business: Pierre Hermé. French Vogue called him “The Picasso of Pastry,” and I can confirm that he is that — and so much more. His career started in the ‘70s and includes many famous sweet French houses, like Fauchon (chocolates) and even Ladurée, which he left when his contract with them prohibited him from opening his own flagship store in Paris. Thank dieu that he left them — his works of art are absolutely the best thing I’ve eaten.
At Pierre Hermé, I ordered the dark chocolate and the milk chocolate with honey, both of which were a revelation. I take my dark chocolate very seriously, but one bite into monsieur Hermé’s cookie and I saw stars. The cookie has the requisite crunch, and the ganache is fittingly smooth, but something is incredibly different about this treat. It tastes like a real homemade baked good, and the dark chocolate has a special tang that you only find in the deepest, darkest, most natural chocolate barks. The milk chocolate with honey is sweet and light, but has a touch of magic in it — the honey adds a hint of earthiness to the smooth and creamy milk chocolate that I had to close my eyes to truly experience. Eating these macarons isn’t just a food experience — it’s downright sensual. It’s a struggle even to find the words to accurately describe these petites choses.
From the sweet smell of rain-soaked streets to the woozy glow of the street lights, going to Paris is a life-changing experience. If you’re lucky enough to go (as any self-respecting foodie should hope to), I advise you to drink too much wine and eat too much bread and cheese. But above all, channel your inner Blair and Marie Antoinette, and enjoy a macaron.