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My Favorite Thing in… Paris

People first go to Paris for its clichés: climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower, losing an afternoon people watching on the terrace of a café, listening to an accordion player on the steps of the Sacré-Coeur, wandering along the Seine, getting lost in the Louvre. These are all great getting-to-know Paris activities, but as with anywhere you get to go several times, gradually you find your off-the-tourist-trail favorite spots: your favorite bakery, bistro, street, park or arrondissement.

Paris at dusk

I have to say that I’m not objective at all about Paris; I’m literally in love with the place for its qualities and its faults (that’s true love, isn’t it?). I can’t wait to go back there again (soon, soon), and in the meantime, I dream about my favorite things in the City of Light: wandering in the Jardins du Luxembourg early in the morning just after it opened; sitting on the steps of the Église Sainte-Madeleine, nibbling on some snack I just bought at Fauchon; grocery shopping at La Grande Épicerie; and eating macarons.

Before I first went to Paris in 2005, I had vaguely heard about these “cookies” that you supposedly ate very fashionably while having tea at La Durée (this is one of Paris’ clichés). While I was curious to taste them, they didn’t figure on top of my to-do list during my five-day cross-Atlantic trip there. I did go to La Durée, squeezed myself up to the counter, gasped at the price of these little wonders, and bought three, which I shared with E. I loved them, but the experience was so brief that I bookmarked it in my head as something I’d have to investigate further on my next visit.

Raspberry macaron and tea at La Durée

Since then, I have eaten more macarons than I can count, starting with the more classic and famous ones at La Durée and Fauchon, through those you find at pâtisseries throughout the city – which I don’t recommend. Macarons are a specialty and must be made by those who take them seriously (that’s not you, McDonald’s!). If you want to really enjoy them, go for the classics.

But those that bring tears to my eyes, sweep me off my feet and make me buy plane tickets just to get some are Pierre Hermé’s. I happily go to his tiny black and orange Rue Bonaparte store, choose an assortment of seasonal flavors and classic ones, walk back a few steps to sit on a bench in front of the St-Sulpice fountain and eat them as slowly as I can. Of course, this is a happy moment I love to share with E (who probably loves them as much as I do), but I have also often traveled back home with boxes to share the joy, and I’ve lured everyone who visited Paris with me, promising they would be bowled over by these bites of happiness (nobody’s ever been disappointed, I think). Mr. Hermé’s macarons are unconventional, yet perfect in a classic manner. The way he combines flavors is always surprising, always harmonious. There are the classics like the colorful fruity ones, the decadent single-origin chocolate ones, the light and flowery ones (rose and violet, which I admit are my least favorites) and the savory ones (foie gras and black truffles anyone?). The best thing is that his offering changes seasonally, so you’re always certain to find something new. My all-time favorite Pierre Hermé macaron was a fuchsia and green wonder – raspberry and pistachio to be precise. One side of the cookie was pistachio, the other raspberry. The cream was pistachio but the ultimate surprise (enter the tears in my eyes) was a square piece of juicy raspberry gelée de fruit hidden in the middle. Very simple but so sublimely executed.

Les incontournables de Paris - macaron assortment by Pierre Hermé

Macaron assortment by Pierre Hermé

I had never thought of making my own macarons, somewhat considering them rocket science, before I lived in Paris for a few months and my friend, who had been living there for many years, taught me. Seeing someone making it really unscrambles the mystery, and you figure out that the secret behind macarons consists of three basic principles:

  1. Be patient. You can’t rush anything or skip any step. This is not a last-minute dessert.
  2. Use only high-quality ingredients.
  3. Get to know your oven and be prepared to have to make many tries with every new oven you work with.

Since then, I have made a few unsuccessful batches and many absolutely delicious ones. I’m even at the stage where I’m starting to think of my own flavor combinations, being able to adapt the basic recipe and make the necessary tweaks that are in order with every change you make. As with anything else, practice is key! My friends and family are very happy whenever I try a new flavor because I make way more than E and I could eat in the few days they’re at their best. Since it’s one of the hottest new food trends on this side of the ocean, why not try your own? You’ll understand the hype, and with all your efforts, get why they are so pricey!

Many people who try my macarons ask for the recipe. In a perfect world, you would watch someone with experience make some before you. But since it’s not always possible, I am preparing a detailed step-by-step recipe that should help you be successful quickly. It should be up in a few days!

My own macarons

Yum

2 Responses to My Favorite Thing in… Paris

  1. This is all so fascinating. I'll admit I've only recently come to know anything about these little treats. I found your how-to via Holly B. from Life in the Fun Lane, and am excited about trying them myself. I recently tried her meringue recipe (the first I've ever had), so I figure these are the next step.
    I'll probably ask more questions on your how-to post soon, but at the moment I'm curious about a few of their features. Can macarons be made a bit larger that the large-coin-sized ones you teach? I thought they were always that small until I saw your photo of the fuchsia one from Paris, which seems much larger. Would you suggest trying bigger at all?
    If I can master them I thought it would be a neat Christmas present to give a pretty little cellophane bag of them to family (I'm a married-college student on a budget, you see).
    I think it would be so fun to make some red and some green, and flavor them with mint and maybe the other color chocolate, to mix it up. Can one use peppermint oil/extract to make a mint macaron…I' wanted to ask if that would mess up the delicate balance before attempting it. So I'd love to hear what you think, or any tips on the possibilities of making chocolate or mint flavored ones. Thanks very much & Happy December! I look forward to hearing from you :)

    • Hello Krystal, it's very nice having you on my blog!
      Answer to your first question: yes, macarons are traditionally made in two different sizes: the small (about 1.5 to 2" across) and the large one (about 3.5 to 4" across). I have never made the big ones myself because I like to enjoy (or make) many different flavors. One big macaron is something to eat and I wouldn't be able to have more than one! In fact, the only time I had a big macaron was when I took the picture at La Durée, and I shared it with my husband :) The thing that I find is a real challenge is to make them evenly sized. Mine tend to vary slightly, some a bit smaller, some a bit bigger. If you go to Pierre Hermé, they are all exactly the same! That's perfection. Some people use a template, a sheet of paper on which you can draw circles that you'll be able to see through the parchment paper (you pull the paper sheet out before putting the macarons in the oven). I tried it once but I think I lack patience to do it every time. I'll work on it!

      Macarons are the perfect gift! In fact, I just made 5 different kinds of macarons, boxed them in pretty boxes, wrapped with my business card with it and sent them to my clients. I can tell you that the gift didn't go unnoticed!

      I think a mint macaron would be delicious. I would suggest adding green food coloring to your shells, and using the peppermint extract into the icing. The shells are quite delicate and they don't tolerate a lot of variations. Pierre Hermé (my favorite macaron maker) says that the flavor should always go in the icing. You could crush green candy canes and sprinkle a bit of it over your cookies before baking them. It would be a beautiful touch and it would add flavor! As for the red one, I thought a while ago that it would be great to make a "red velvet" macaron. You could just color your shells bright red (always use gel or powder coloring if you can, so to not liquify your batter too much) and make a cream cheese icing. Yum!

      Good luck in making your first macarons, I really hope you'll succeed. They're such a great thing to enjoy!

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