My first experience with a macaron, sadly, wasn’t all that it could’ve, and should’ve been. I walked into Ladurée full of hopes and excitement to try my first macaron. The shop was filled with rows and rows of the colorful biscuits (what an inadequate word to describe such a delightful treat) in all sizes – small, medium, and large. My first instinct was to buy one of everything, but I managed to restrain myself, and after five agonizing minutes of trying to decide which flavor to get, I finally settled on the rose flavor.
The only problem was that it looked too good to eat. So I put it away in my bag, telling myself I would eat it when the time was right, convinced that I shouldn’t waste the experience while walking through a crowded part of town. It was only when I got home that evening, tired and hungry, that I pulled the bag out of my bag. This was the perfect moment, I thought. I would be able to enjoy the macaron, to fully taste and relish the flavor, using that enjoyment to wipe away any less than satisfactory memories from the day.
When I looked inside the bag, I saw that the macaron had completely deflated, and was broken into hundreds of tiny little fragments. I pretended it wasn’t broken. I pretended it was what I wanted it to be, the perfect little bite-sized piece of heaven. So I scooped up the pieces and ate them, trying to look past the fact that while I was able to taste the glorious flavor, I was gaining nothing of its appearance and texture. Half the experience was missing.
It was at this point that I decided to taste macarons anywhere and everywhere I could find them (which is just about every block – macarons are more ubiquitous than Starbucks outlets in Paris), in order to find the perfect macaron.
What is the perfect macaron? To me, there are three important features for a macaron: appearance, taste, and texture. The macarons should look smooth, without any cracks, bumps, or weird spots. They should have a slight sheen or gloss over them, but not too much that they look metallic. The taste, of course, is entirely subjective, but it should never be so strong that it overpowers the slight almond flavor of every macaron. The texture of the cookie part should be slightly crunchy, but should melt in the mouth. The ganache filling should be creamy and fluffy, and should definitely not feel anything like jam. All of these things make the perfect (unattainable?) macaron.
My first taste test was at Dalloyau, a patisserie/boutique dating from the late 17th century. I got four flavors: pistachio (a rather common flavor for macarons), orange, cherry and cream, and caramel salted butter. The flavors were well balanced, and not too strong, but the texture and consistency were all wrong. It just tasted like a regular cookie to me.
My second taste test was at Pierre Hermé, a rather famous establishment lauded for their interesting and creative flavors. The macarons had a strange glossy finish, which made them look metallic. I tried the yogurt and lime; caramel salted butter; and yogurt rose litchi strawberry. The last one tastes exactly like how it sounds – too many flavors! The macarons had a good consistency but the filling and flavors were all wrong.
So, on to the next test, from Georges Larnicol, more famous for their chocolates than their macarons. Here, I only got two macarons (clearly I was starting to lose faith, as the number of macarons purchased at each patisserie was decreasing). I tried lemon and strawberry, and both were too soft – and there is such a thing. It’s when the macaron doesn’t quite make the trip from the box to your mouth without falling apart. The ganache filling felt a bit pasty to me, and it felt like a chore to finish it.
By this point, it was safe to say I was sick of substandard macarons. I wanted to stop eating them. I wondered if the perfect macaron was just some dream I made up in my head. I was just about ready to give up on macarons, and switch to another, less exotic treat, one that I was more comfortable with.
Then, I bought a Ladurée macaron, wanting to give it one last shot before admitting defeat. I bought a vanilla macaron – a plain, almost clichéd flavor – and made sure to eat it right after buying it, to avoid making the same mistake I had made the first time. I sat in the parvis of the St. Sulpice church, watching the pigeons flutter around an enormous fountain. I took the macaron out of the bag, took a deep breath, and took the first bite. And it was perfect. The wafer part melted in my mouth, and the vanilla flavoring was at once understated and over-the-top. I took smaller and smaller bites of the macaron because I didn’t want it to be gone.
Now that I have the memory of that one perfect macaron, I feel gratified. I have faith in the macarons of this world (read: Ladurée) and I am content again. It takes a while to find the perfect macaron, but once you find yours, you will never forget it.
P.S. For the less astute reader – yes, this is a post about macarons, but more importantly, it is a metaphor for my experiences in Paris: my initial delusions, slowly losing faith, and then finally, discovering that I belong.