What are Your Best Macarons in Paris?

It has been a while; a while since I actually dug into my purse and paid for a few macarons in Paris. About time? Well, when you’re hooked on making them at home and can indulge in your own favourite flavours, there comes a point when not many macarons come in to the house from outside.

There are some exceptions. Friends sometimes pop in with a few macarons from Pierre Hermé and Ladurée, often upsettingly crushed from transporting them around Paris on a sweltering summer afternoon. Once a whole mixed box of macs merged into one crispy, gooey, melted mosaic. On other occasions, we’ve disguised bashed ex-beauties by serving them as blind tastings. This has helped to choose my personal favourites.

It’s subjective, isn’t it? You will have your own preferences and, like music, it can also depend on your mood and if you’re feeling fluffily fruity or in need of an intense chocolate pick-me-up. It’s what YOU prefer that matters.

I have a good enough excuse to do a macaron crawl: this Thursday will be my first walk as a Docent for Context Travel’s Parisian Culinary Tours. I’ll be taking chocolate and macaron-lovers around St Germain-des-Prés for the Chocolate & Pastry Walk.  As you can imagine, I won’t just be ‘covering’ chocolate…

Another reason is that people often ask, ‘So, what are your favourite macarons in Paris?’ Or, more often, ‘Are you more Ladurée or Pierre Hermé?’

Nibbling at Laduree’s macs by the Seine

Following on from tasting macs on Macaron Day in Paris a couple of months ago with talented artist, Carol (ParisBreakfasts), it was time to catch up on just some of the other Parisian macaron boutiques who were not taking part (as we already covered many of my favourite macarons here too, and I can’t mention absolutely everyone here).

For those of you like me who love light macarons, Ladurée’s macarons are slightly crispy with just enough soft, fondant centre. Some flavours are more up-front than others and I do prefer those that pack a wham-in-the-mouth tasting punch.  Their classics such as orange blossom, cassis-voilet and vanilla are definitely worth a try. Their latest from Les Incroyables seasonal collection include chocolate pure Ghana and strawberry marshmallow candy (fraises guimauve.) My daughters thought they were good, but found the strawberry candy a bit on the sweet side and were not keen on the stretchy marshmallow. But who can really value their opinion when they don’t exactly have French manicured nails?

Laduree’s latest fraises-guimauve (strawberry candy marshmallow ) macaron

Pierre Hermé’s macarons are so different to Ladurée. For the fan of the softer-meringue macaron with a filling as big as the shells, most macaronivores go for his Isaphan, the rose-raspberry-litchi invention he made while at Ladurée, inspired by the Isaphan rose that grows in Iran.

The Ispahan macaron is now out of season (since 25 March) but in his seasonal theme, Les Jardins, try the predominantly Rose with Jasmine. My latest favourites, are Infiniment Jasmin (Jasmine flower and tea) and Infiniment Vanille (try the pastry version too.) Acquired taste, perhaps, but enjoy the chocolate-foie gras with Champagne, darlings.

Signature macarons from the Cafe Pouchkine in Paris

If you’re visiting Versailles or checking out the latest fashions from Printemps in Boulevard Hausemann, then a sumptuous stop at the Café Pouchkine is a real taste of Russian luxury. Their macarons, either with shiny metallic tops or with their signature duo-coloured circles, could have you indecisive between the pistachio with a strawberry heart or the strawberry with a pistachio heart, and so on. Och, decisions – but as the price mounts up quickly as they’re placed in a bag, you can’t help wondering about your choice. One thing is for sure, our family favorite was the good old plain raspberry, which was packed with fruit and not as heavy as the other varieties. Meanwhile, it did put Hugo & Victor’s macarons in the background from the ones we tasted.

I did already mention Sadaharu Aoki on the Macaron Day post, but I couldn’t resist returning to taste his sesame, genmaicha, houjcha and wasabi macarons. Exquisite.

Matcha choose from Sadaharu Aoki, Paris

If you’re into chocolate, then Pierre Marcolini‘s chocolate macarons are a must – especially as the finest chocolate he uses is made by himself. Impressed? You soon will be with his variety of chocolate wonders (sorry, my photos were poor, taken at night and we attacked the whole box at an alarming rate.) Incidentally, le Figaro newspaper recently ran a chocolate macaron tasting and concluded that the best chocolate macarons in Paris were by Jean-Paul Hévin, Carette (Place des Vosges), Hermé, Aoki, Dalloyau, Lenôtre, Fauchon, Ladurée then Dominique Saibron in the 16th. As I said, it’s all a question of personal preference, time to get around them all – and ahem, budget.

Voilet lovers should try Marcolini’s powerful voilet macaron fully coated in dark chocolate. This is a technique also used by pastry chef, Sébastien Bouillet with his Maca’Lyon. Not far from Marcolini is Un Dimanche à Paris, where Pierre Cluizel’s macarons are so light and beautifully perfumed. I particularly love the vanilla and lime-ginger but I recommend tasting them all!

More macarons from Un Dimanche a Paris

Well off the tourist track, hides yet more macarons treasures.  In the 17th, off rue de Rome on rue Legendre, is Acide Macaron where the Parisians stock up on their macarons.

Service with a white glove and groovy colorful squiggly lines at Acide macaron

Pastry Chef Jonathan Blot works with 3 other associates, making all his macarons backstage.  They are smaller than all the other ones I know but I love how they’re just big enough to taste. His Yuzu was just as good as Aoki’s one: incidentally he gives all of his macarons first names. Yuzu is Jonathan; Anonyme certainly didn’t taste anonymous with punchy pistachio and orange blossom floating through. My daughter, Julie, was chuffed that the bubblegum macaron had her name written all over this vibrantly flavored gem – perfect since she wears a brace and so had been in denial. Acide even do a weekly special: this week’s riz soufflé (puffed rice) certainly was as it promised.

There are far more macarons out there to be discussed in more detail; and chocolate; and pastries – all with a dusting of history and techniques. Next time you’re in Paris, join me on the Chocolate – Macaron Walk for much more.

Remember! Now that the temperatures have soared in Paris, do yourselves a favour: use a cute cooler handbag to cart around your macarons in style; I’m getting these for my macaron friends so there will be no more macaron mosaïc mush! I’ve scouted around and found some pretty chic yet practical ones – check out this new Macaron Accessories category. It’s cool!

My wallet has had a fright and so it’s back to making macarons at home. In any case, I can’t taste as many macarons as that in one week: I have to keep up with the slender French ladies, you know!

So – what are YOUR best macarons in Paris?  Join in with your favorite macaron flavours on Facebook.

Go on, I’ve showed you mine, now show me yours!

More related links: Macaron tastings in Paris with Adam of Paris Pâtisseries.

Strawberry and Rhubarb Gratin

I’m just back from the market in St Germain-en-Laye. It’s a luxury to pop up there on a Friday morning, as today was treated as a pont. Yesterday was an official French holiday for Ascension, so Lucie’s school had the day off today to make le pont – or bridge – over the weekend. It was a lovely idea, but not all of us managed to dance on that bridge, as my eldest still had school and with hubby at work, I grabbed the opportunity to have extra helping hands and stock up on the latest culinary stars on the catwalk.

As the Cannes Film festival is underway in the South, strawberries are currently given the red carpet treatment at the market here up North. Entering the producers’ labyrinth, the gariguettes were paraded, as the mara des bois had already been cleaned out. This stand had it sussed: with their lids firmly in place, it sent a message to all French shoppers not to touch and sniff these gariguettes. Instead we stood in the queue and gaped at the prize-winning beauties behind them. What variety were they?  They didn’t have any. They were just strawberries, I was told. Quoi? Because they’re Portuguese.

Tasting one, it reminded me of picking strawberries as a child in Scotland (although the ones in Scotland were better!) It took 3 bites to finish it. Hm. ‘They’re not that sweet,’ I told the vendeur. Immediately, he knocked a couple of euros off the price, just as I was thinking how perfect they would be for a gratin.

With punnets of fraises Charlotte, gariguettes, ciflorettes (another conical sweet variety), and a tray of these oh-so-plainly-enormous strawberries, we could just about cope with balancing some rhubarb under the arm. As I have many more ideas for macarons in store for you, I need to use up some egg yolks. Don’t you love excuses like this? I love this simple dessert since it’s a quick, creamy fruity number that can be whisked together in half an hour.

Strawberry and Rhubarb Gratin Recipe

Serves 6

Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 18 minutes

400g strawberries,
300g rhubarb (or 2-3 large sticks)
75g sugar
3 egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
5 tbsp crème fraîche, or thick cream

1. Peel the rhubarb using a sharp knife, taking off all the stringy fibres. Wash well then cut into chunks.

2. In a pan, cook the rhubarb chunks and 40g sugar with 150ml water. Cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes.

3. Leave to cool.

4. Wash and hull the strawberries. Cut the bottoms off so they can stand neatly in a dish. If the strawberries are particularly big, cut them in half. Place the strawberries around the outside of 6 gratin dishes, and pile the rhubarb in the centre.

Now for the French makeover – time to be get saucy then be grilled

5. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks with the rest of the sugar until the mixture is pale and creamy. Whisk in the crème fraîche (or thick cream) and vanilla essence.

6. Pour over the fruit then place under a hot grill for 2-3 minutes.

Rhubarb Gratin dessert - with poppy and rhubarb macarons

Enjoy with some poppy macarons (update: the recipe for Poppy and Rhubarb macarons is in my new book, Teatime in Paris!) on the side and you have a gluten-free, stress-free dessert. Voilà. Simplicity where oh-so-sweet strawberry meets acidic-but-comforting rhubarb. All it needs is some bubbly and we’re really talking red carpet treatment, n’est-ce pas?

Update!

Is your rhubarb too green like this? Why not replace steps 1-3 with my rhubarb compote recipe using hibiscus fruit tea.

Joining Together in Mac-rimony plus a Crème Caramel in a Cheesebox?

It’s already one week later and I’m still recovering. Is it the age or the mileage, perhaps? Or both?

This was no ordinary weekend. Not only was it decision time for the French to elect their President, but we also witnessed no ordinary Scottish wedding. It was my brother’s extra special day; I’m a proud sister, bowled over to gain such a precious sister-in-law and a beautiful family. My eldest daughter squeezed me tightly as I placed the lid on this box of mini macs just before leaving the house. “Mum, no wonder these are the cutest macarons you’ve made: you poured so much love into them…” That was the first lump that formed in my throat. I always become emotional at weddings and so that was a last-minute reminder to pack the extra tissues.

The happy couple asked me to make some mini curry macarons for the drinks. With some extra batter, I piped out couples stuck together (Tip: normally you shouldn’t pipe out your batter too close to each other, as they do spread on the baking sheet) and wrote on them using edible food colouring pens.

Joining together in mac-rimony

This time the fragile macs made it through Beauvais airport’s security belt in one go and the box remained upright.  Just as we sailed smilingly through to the other side, Antoine informed me that he couldn’t find a parking place at the airport. He had parked the car ‘somewhere outside’. Trop tard. There wasn’t much we could do. Either we could laugh about it or cry. I didn’t expect to use the tissues so soon, thinking of the Gendarmes clamping the car with a fine as we boarded.

The bellowing bagpipes in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile made us all feel smiles better. With a nippy easterly wind opposite Parliament Square, we gazed at the bagpiper clad in short sleeves and kilt, wondering if he was wearing his tartan the traditional way: feeling the drafty winds from the south, as it were. Braveheart, indeed. Needless to say there is a distinct lack of photographs here. In between hugging and joyful tears, Antoine and I fondly remembered our own wedding across the road nearly 15 years ago. The only differences? The sun was shining and the bagpiper had changed. So had we, but we could have done the wedding thing all over again. I wonder if Antoine would still arrive in an Irn-Bru taxi?

Made from girders… my daughters’ new Scottish tipple

Flying back next day, we were lucky to make it in time for Antoine to vote. Before François Hollande was even elected, some humourists were out and about in Paris. View of the rue de l’ancienne comédie: Impasse de Sarkozy.

A dose of French humour…

Turning the corner into Boulevard St Germain, wacky chocolatier Patrick Roger also showed off his wit in the boutique’s window: a chocolate die picturing Hollande and Sarkozy.

The jokes were flying around on Facebook and on TV. Antoine was particularly in hysterics with a picture of a round, empty box of Président camembert cheese filled with a ‘Flamby’ (a commercial crème caramel.) Hollande’s endearing nickname of Flamby is due to his wobbly ideas, apparently. My personal preference was “vote Hollande if you want a Pays Bas” (Pays Bas to non-French speakers is another word for the country, Holland.) Ah, the French and their politics.  I’ve never taken to politics but when you live in France, you have to have some sort of clue what’s going on: it’s a passionate topic that always finds itself around a French table with friends or family.

Time will tell with President Hollande. From this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…until 2017? I wonder if I should make some caramel Flamby macarons in his honour – or does that sound a bit cheesy?

 

Death by Chocolate, Macarons & Self Control on Holiday

It was time to return home to Paris. Quickly before we couldn’t fit into our jeans for the return flight. After an idyllic, lazy week in Agadir, I was virtually turning into a Moroccan Lamb Tagine by flocking to the hotel buffet three times a day and baking beautifully under the welcoming warm sunshine like a Moroccan prune.

It’s amazing we actually made it to Agadir with the right holiday gear; Antoine grabbed a suitcase filled with brioche flour and macaron ingredients – luckily I remembered its contents otherwise he would have been Monsieur In-the-Doghouse on arrival. Why macaron ingredients in a suitcase? Well if you remember our mouse friend recently, for such a wee thing she upturned our storage patterns big time. I thought we were clear and it would scarper with the scary ultrasound screechers but perhaps she was wearing ear-phones. On our return, this is what we discovered under the cooking chocolate box’s cover with a peeky hole…

Holy Chocolate!

Luckily that chocolate-loving sneaky mouse has finally left us. What a way to go. Death by Chocolate has a completely different meaning in our house after that episode.

Back to Morocco.  Oh what fun it is to spy on the other European holidaymakers’ antics; especially when we’re branded with The Bracelet showing the wonderful chef and staff of the Hotel Riu Tikida Beach that we’re on an all-inclusive deal. As much as you can eat. As much as you can drink. Eye-spy-with-my-little-eye, who’s French, British or German just by watching their mannerisms from a distance? Who’s best at self control at the buffet? Who tends to lose control at the free bar? Who prefers to be in control of the best sunbeds by the pool?

Death by Chocolate. Hm. So many macaron possibilities…

Come on now, I don’t believe in stereotyping either but – and I say but – there is a remarkable correlation (I like that word: it’s to show off I learned something at University) with certain nationalities and behaviour in this kind of holiday situation.

Self restraint. Do you have it at buffets?  Antoine is one of the French exceptions: he doesn’t have much restraint when faced with so many delicious choices and he’s proud to show off his plates piled high. Yes, plates was in the plural. Now he’s complaining he put on 3 kilos and I need to put him on a diet.  Diets? I hate them and haven’t gone on one since I came to France – I even lost my excess weight from Scotland and have been stable since my 2 kids just by eating sensibly the French way. No snacking, moderation and taking the time to enjoy food and conversation at the table. So it’s out of the question of starting a diet now; he’s booked on the tennis court three times as much over the next few weeks.

macaron stack falling

I tasted so many of their tagines – particularly the fish ones, as we were on the coast. I love how the Moroccans serve dates with their traditional chorba soup as a starter. They also use the most deceiving looking, shrivelled prunes that are so surprisingly concentrated in flavour and lend that all important flavour to lamb tagines.

The ‘dangerous’ Moroccan pâtisseries were fabulous (moderation here!) but my favourite Moroccan dessert is the ever-so-simple but refreshing plate of sliced fragrant oranges served with a hint of orange blossom. Which leads me to think of these macarons on page 79 of the book: with that added touch of Armagnac for a naughty but nice French touch and thinking of our friends at the bar.

Macarons with Maroccan Prunes, oranges & a kick from the bar…

Now it’s time to get baking macarons for my brother’s wedding in Scotland this weekend.  He wants curry macarons for the drinks so let’s give them plenty of spice to send them off as Mr & Mrs! I wonder how my self constraint will cope at the bar?  Hm. Not much time to be tempted, as already we’ll be back to vote for the 2nd round of the French Presidential Elections on Sunday. What suspense!