My first memory of eating a macaron is from my college days when I visited one of my friends at her house in the evening. Her elder brother came down the stairs holding a white rectangular box with five cookie sandwiches (at least that’s what they seemed like to me). Now I must admit that these exquisite, beautiful, French, delicate cookies had always eluded me (much like any romantic interest in my life), simply because I found it absolutely ridiculous to pay 150 of our Indian currency for that tiny a cookie. Here, an opportunity arose. An opportunity to finally taste this mythical delight and judge for myself what all the fuss was about. My first bite and I thought to myself, “Interesting!” The almond based cookie with a vanilla buttercream filling was like nothing I’d ever eaten before. It was light, with an airy texture, a slight crunch on the top and chewy as you got towards the center. Did my freeloading self want to grab another one? Absolutely but as soon as I turned around to find the box, it was gone. The day progressed and I went back home soon after but the cookie had caught my attention.
The chance to eat another macaron did not arise until a few months later when yet another friend of mine offered a macaron at their house (yes, I have generous friends). The flavour this time – chocolate. A soft crack on the outer shell followed by the same chewy almond cookie only this time, the filling took my breath away. 70% dark cocoa buttercream, as smooth as velvet and as rich as an Arab Sheikh, every bit of the cream sent me into bliss. Sadly, much like the last time, a single macaron is all I got.
Adamant to have another one without breaking the bank, I started looking for recipes online to make one of those delicate creatures in the comfort of my own kitchen. Suddenly as I entered the digital world of macarons, I was introduced to a name that as a food enthusiast I should’ve been ashamed to have not heard till now. The word Laduree splashed across my screen. From the magnificent array of flavours they’ve created till date to websites claiming to provide me with the exact recipe used by Laduree to create their heavenly treats, I was in awe. I settled for a video demonstration on how to make the perfect macaron shell, gathered my ingredients and off I went!
Now with all due respect to the creator of the recipe, I discovered, much to my dismay, that the recipe is not a good one. What I ended up with were sweet flat almond cakes, more commonly known as badam barfi’s in India. Disappointed, I threw away the tray of disaster and went about watching several more videos on making a macaron cookie. There was only one problem – every video said the exact same thing, which had me wondering. Clearly there was something I was missing. Whether the stiffness to which the egg whites were to be whisked, the number of folds to be used to incorporate the almond flour into the egg whites or the ambient temperature at which they were to be made – something was amiss. Three years later and I can confidently say that I have mastered the art of making dense badam barfi’s but the elegant macaron cookie still eludes me. Since then I have had the pleasure and fortune of eating macarons from the best French patisseries in the world. From Pierre Hermes to Pierre Marcolini, each exquisite macaron has blown me away and in my personal opinion, has surpassed the bar set by the more commercial yet historic Laduree.
Two weeks ago, however, as I was enjoying a Pierre Marcolini creation, I paid extra attention to the flavors as I had wished to review them for all of you reading. There was just one problem – the master bakers had become so focused on creating delicate and exquisite flavors, somewhere along the line I feel the macarons have lost their essence completely. Barring the obvious chocolate or berry flavored cookie, certain flavors have eluded my palate completely. The watercolor illustrations in the mini booklet accompanying each box are of no help either. By trying to make every element about a macaron – including its illustration – as delicate as possible, it’s often nearly impossible to visually differentiate flavors from one another. Blame it on an untrained palate if you will, I like subtlety in my food as much as the next person, but not subtlety to the extent of practical non-existence.
Macarons in my personal opinion are an absolute treat to eat and an absolute pain to make unless you are one of the select few who have mastered the art. Are they though being made out to be more that they actually are? Every failed attempt at making a macaron shell says ‘Yes!’ and every bite of a blackcurrant macaron by Pierre Marcolini says ‘No!’. It’s a dilemma that will never have an answer for me.
In case you have not had the pleasure of biting into these delicacies yourself, I urge you to grab one on your cheat day. Instead of the commercial Laduree however, I’d ask you to drop by Le15 Patisserie by Pooja Dhingra in Mumbai, or Sugarama by Rama Chadha and Miam by Bani Nanda in Delhi for your first macaron. These guys, well, a guy and two ladies really have done a banging job of bringing the French delicacy to us here in India.
On that note, I’d love to hear your take on the classic, simple, elegant, delicious and intriguing macaron. I certainly do hope that I’ve inspired to at least try a macaron if not make it yourself.
Featured Image Courtesy: epicureandculture.com