For my friend’s 24th birthday, I sent him a box of a French specialty, les macarons. When he first opened the box, he didn’t know what he had encountered: small, round, slightly squishy pastries that looked delicate yet delicious. He gave them a try, and BAM! – his life was changed. Okay, not really, but he did have a hard time not gobbling them all down at once. Macarons are a specialty of French patissiers, and despite debate over their origin, there is no debate over how delicious they are. The principal ingredient is almond paste (French people just love almond everything, it’s crazy), and the meringue-based confection is one of the most difficult French pastries to master, and I’m sure I will never have the technical expertise required to concoct these little buttons bursting with flavor.
The above macarons are from Hugo & Victor, a shop near Sciences Po whose streamlined decor and chic, minimalist presentation is a bit off-putting, but not enough to keep me from stopping in for a half-dozen on my way home from school this Friday. I don’t have much to compare them to, but they were really good. Though I shipped off several Laduree pastries to my friend, I didn’t get the chance to actually eat any, so my first introduction were these lovely little delicacies. My favorite by far was caramel, which had actual caramel in the middle and was quite obviously real caramel, no cheap stuff or caramel flavoring. I think I might actually send my friend an entire box of Hugo et Victor caramel macarons, just so she can experience something truly special. Another favorite is Gerard Mulot, on Rue de Seine, a great little pastry and lunch shop that is a bit pricier than Laduree or H&V but has some of the most artistic, delicious pastries.
According to Wikipedia, the Parisian macaron as we know it today was created by Pierre Desfontaines of Laduree, the Parisian patisserie, and is made of two almond-meringue discs with yummy filling in the middle (buttercream, ganache, whatever). Though some date the origin back to 791, many gastronomic historians believe that Catherine de Medici brought them to France via her Italian pasry chefs when she married Henry II in 1533. I’ve also heard that before that, they were actually a Middle Eastern delicacy. Wherever they came from, I’m just glad that I get to eat them whenever I want!
For your personal macaron needs, check out the following pastry shops:
- Gerard Mulot, 76 Rue de Seine, 75006, http://www.gerard-mulot.com – metro: St. Germain-des-Pres
- Laduree (the location near l’Eglise de Madeleine is the best), 16 Rue Royale, 75008, http://www.laduree.fr – metro: Madeleine
- Hugo & Victor, 40 Boulevard Raspail, 75007 (this is very new so there is not yet a website) – metro: Rue du Bac