Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Macaron Hunting in NYC

Bouchon Bakery.

As New Yorkers, we pride ourselves in having access to anything that we need, whenever we need it. Whatever our whim, we can have it with a few phone calls, or, at most, a trip to an outer borough. However, when I started hunting for macarons a few weeks ago, I had no idea it would be so difficult to find a good one. The macarons to which I refer are the French ones—the oh-so-light, jelly and cream filled, delicate, dainty kind.

I’d had the best in Paris, first when I lived there in 2000 and then on a trip back last year. The Parisian debate over the perfect mac is always between Ladurée, the traditionalist mac-makers who specialize in dainty flavors like rose and peach, and Pierre Hermé, the team who whip creations like cinnamon-pistachio-cherry and passion fruit. I knew there had to be an equivalent to those Parisian delicacies, and so the search began.

A team from my company, myself included, took it upon ourselves to scour the city. The first macarons that we tried were via mail order from a new company, MadMacNYC. Though without a storefront, MadMacNYC is a full service macaron supplier. They deliver via FedEx Overnight. The smallest amount that we could order was a box of nine (which were $18.50 plus about $8 to ship). It was more than we wanted, but nevertheless we ordered away, thinking of the promise that a company devoted to making French macarons would have.

Sadly, the macarons didn’t live up to their hype. They were fairly small and very crumbly. The flavors—cinnamon, peanut butter, lemon, orange, strawberry, chocolate, vanilla, coffee, and pistachio—held their flavor and proved to be a good assortment. However, the bitter taste in our mouths from the steep price tag overpowered any of the flavors.

Our second sample came from Silver Moon Bakery, where the macarons are big. They bake two kinds: almond and chocolate almond. The chocolate almond is a good treat if you want all chocolate and no almond. The exterior cookies hold their shape and don't crumble while still maintaining their crunchy-on-the-outside-chewy-on-the-inside texture. The filling is smooth and rich and has a similar consistency to a ganache. However, because of this, the macaroon tastes like a rich, truffle—not necessarily something you want in a macaron, which is supposed to be light.

At La Maison du Chocolate, we had our first taste of luck. The macs were bite sized but packed a good punch. Vanilla, chocolate, caramel, and raspberry all carried intense flavors. Caramel’s filling was gooey and velvety, while raspberry’s filling was an intense jam. The cookies didn’t crumble too easily; instead, they broke off into big pieces, which made them easier to eat. The ratio of filling to cookie was just so that the cookies could hold up to the thick fillers—thicker than we’d had thus far. The vanilla mac had a chocolate filling, which was a nice variety. The chocolate was rich and flavorful with a perfect amount of chocolate between the hard but delicate cookie. By far, caramel was the favorite of the crowd.

Tisserie sparked our fancy with lavender, coffee, pistachio, and praline. Their fillings were thicker and grainier than La Maison du Chocolat, but the flavors were subtle. The lavender tasted faintly of soap and the flavor became stronger as it stayed in your mouth. Regardless, one of the Dish girls took a strong liking to it. The praline and coffee versions did not have strong flavors; the pistachio was subtle as well but was by far the most compelling.

Payard Patisserie threw us for a loop with the buttery fillings in a few of the selections. Raspberry and cassis had the typical fruit jam filling, but coconut and pistachio were filled with buttery flavors. Still, the cookies held up nicely and had the elasticity and stickiness that the Tisserie macs and MadMacs lacked.

Bouley Bakery was the first shop we encountered to offer such playful flavors like the Pierre Hermé macs normally found Paris. We sampled raspberry-chocolate, peach-saffron, and the classic pistachio. The needed elasticity that helps the cookie break apart easily but not messily was, indeed, present. They were cake-like in a way that was substantial but not dense or heavy. The filling was not too grainy, but smooth and similarly textured to ganache without being as heavy.

The cookie to filling ratio was good, even though the macaron was more like cake than previous ones. The pistachio had the most authentic taste; the taste was strong and immediately apparent without being overwhelming. It was a little difficult to taste the peach in the peach-saffron as an individual flavor, but the combination was obviously the result of some macaron genius. In the raspberry-chocolate, the chocolate was thick, rich, not too sweet, but overpowered the raspberry; the raspberry flavor was most apparent in the cookie.

Thomas Keller’s Manhattan transplant, Bouchon Bakery, offers the most expensive, but indeed the best, macarons. The Dish gals squealed with delight as we bit into cherry, caramel, and the trusty pistachio. They were chewy and rich, but also incredibly light. The cookie was almost sponge-cake-like. The pistachio and caramel varieties had a cream filling, while cherry was filled with a tart jam. After tasting these, we realized just how important texture was to the macarons and how the ideal texture can truly carry the flavor to deliriously delicious proportions.

As an afterthought, I traveled to Georgia Bakeshop on the Upper West Side after hearing about their macarons. Georgia keeps their macs a little cold, which was delightful. Their flavors (raspberry, pistachio, cinnamon, and chocolate) were all delightful as well, which was a bit surprising, since no one had mentioned Giorgia’s to me and I’d stumbled across it almost by accident. The cookies held up well, and broke apart easily without crumbling. The interiors were all goo-based, not cream-based. The pistachio center was a bright, rich green. The cinnamon was a thick brown paste and so was the chocolate, which tasted like a light brownie. The cool raspberry jam burst with flavor and freshness. Overall, the serendipitous Georgia’s came in a close second to Bouchon. After all of that tasting, we had to go through and rate them.

Here are our results.

BEST: Bouchon Bakery
2nd BEST: Georgia’s Bakeshop
Best CARAMEL: La Maison du Chocolat
Best FRUIT FLAVORS: Payard Patisserie
Okay in a Pinch: Silver Moon
AVOID: Tisserie and MadMacNYC

– Jill Donenfeld

"When not scooping the latest for NYSD, Jill Donenfeld heads up The Dish's Dishes, a personal chef and catering company founded for those who crave delicious food without the hassle of making reservations, ordering in, or turning on the oven. For more information on how to get your first DISH, check out www.TheDishsDishes.com