When I was studying abroad in Paris waaaay back in 2006, I displayed typical American gustatory behavior and devoured everything in sight in obscene (to a Frenchperson) quantities: pain, vin, fromage, pâté, tartine, jambon. Whatever it was, I ate it, and had seconds. But there was one solitary foodstuff that made the others pale in comparison: the macaron.
Soon, I was on a mission to try all the best macarons Paris had to offer. I went to Pierre Hermé (several times, my favorite), Ladurée (classic, unimpeachable), and anywhere else a French friend had a tip. Sadly, I can’t remember the names of all the places I visited, but photos from that time period show the evidence in my chipmunk-chubby cheeks.
When done right, a macaron is an ethereal, sublime sandwich cookie. The cookie, essentially an almond meringue, should be light and airy and slightly chewy, but with a firm, crunchy shell that crackles at the bite. The filling, whether it is ganache or jam or buttercream, should be smooth yet firm, able to cement the cookie together but not so stiff that it puts up a fight. Large macarons should be approximately three inches in diamtere; small macarons, one inch. The cookie to filling ratio should be such that every bite, even on an edge, should be 60-65% cookie, 35-40% filling (in my humble estimation). When done properly, the effect is a extraordinary, a stunning blend of crispy and velvety textures; pronounced true flavors (the fillings need to shine); the feeling of eating a sweet, crispy cloud.
While on my sampling tour, I had nuanced views of each cookie, all of them solid contenders, but some marginally better than others. It was easy to take for granted the uniformity in quality amongst the board. No place had a subpar macaron; some were simply shades, or swaths, better.
Of course, I did take the Parision macaron for granted, as I promptly learned when I returned to the States. Even in New York City, finding even a respectable macaron was virtually impossible. One boutique had fillings so runny that the top cookie slid off while holding it (and that was at a shop devoted to macarons); another prominent chocolatier offered macarons so small and chalky that they were practically calcified marbles. One pâtissier came close, but the cookie was underfilled. Almost no, city-made macaron escaped unscathed. (The Ladurée macarons are imported from France, cheaters.)
Since my favorite macaron thus far comes from a tea parlor (Bosie, to be exact; stay tuned for that post), I decided to give the Harney & Sons pastry counter a try while I was shopping in Soho for Christmas gifts. I selected a pleasingly green matcha macaron ($3.00) because while in a tea shop, stick to tea flavors, I say.
The proportions looked about right. Filling equivalent to the cookie, a raised shell, an appropriate fringe of “feet”. I bit in.
Instantly, a problem. My teeth met resistance in the cookie, something that should never, ever happen. I had to work, hard, to get that bite, which takes away the effortless joy of eating a macaron. This was unfortunate, since the filling was rich and buttery, but full of the grassy, vegetal notes of the matcha. Flavor-wise, it had potential.
Another travesty: the Harney & Sons macarons come from Macaron Cafe, proving that yet another macaron-centric storefront in New York really doesn’t live up to its name. Any French pâtissier would be mortified to send out so tough a cookie.
Next time, I’ll just stick to the tea.