Walking through the streets of Paris is so like a kid in a candy store. I was drooling outside of every shop we walked past. I was especially excited by this beautiful window display with all these beautiful, colorful little confections. I only vaguely knew that they were called macarons and I was confused because they are so different from the Italian macaroons. In my pastry course at L’ Academie de Cuisine four years ago, we made a pastry identical to what you see below (ok, not as pretty and we only made one flavor), but they were smaller and our instructor called them japonaise so I was feeling pretty confused. After some time searching, I learned from M. Brown on www.cheftalk.com that japonaise (which is not even in wikipedia! gasp!) are meringue layers made with ground toasted almonds, which are apparently great with ganache and butter cream. That’s exactly what we made: two layers of almond meringue with a slathering of chocolate ganache in between. They were delicious. But then again, anything with ganache is delicious. So I’m still confused about the name thing and I don’t even know exactly how to say macaron. But it appears that a macaron and a japonaise are the same thing. And they are certainly very, very different from the Italian macaroons which are made from coconut.
The problem was that I was apparently not familiar enough with macarons to put them at the top of my list for the food we were going to eat in our 4 hours in Paris. We ate plenty of other great things, but not a single macaron. It wasn’t until our layover during our return flight from Budapest to Boston that we got one. We had a long layover and we were pacing the Charles de Gaulle looking for a good French lunch, trying to decide if we wanted to spend $25 a person for a good but not great 3 course lunch, or an overpriced sandwich. I decided that all I really cared about was that I had to get a macaron. We went to the Paul Bakery stand and each got a sandwich, Joseph ordered a chocolate bread type thing and I ordered a magnificent giant macaron. Once we got on the plane though, we kept getting food and weren’t that hungry and the macaron sat in my bag.
Once we got to Boston and had dinner, I was so exhausted that I didn’t have any interest in eating the macaron (blasphemy, I know!) so it wasn’t until the next night that we pulled it out. I forgot to mention that Joseph had shared his chocolaty bread thing with me on the plane and so I sadly now had to share the macaron with him. I ate half and then had to hand the rest of to him which required herculean strength. I think it’s one of the best sweets I’ve ever eaten. It was so light and airy but with just a hint of crunch and the inside – oh the inside!!! It reminded me of eating brownie batter when I was a kid. It was absolutely amazing and seriously, I think it was probably one of the top 10 desserts that I’ve ever had (and I have had a LOT of desserts).
This new found love meant that we had to find it in Boston. On Saturday we used the macaron search as an excuse to go to Formagio Kitchen in Cambridge to get their delicious barbecue and sample their cheeses. They did indeed have macarons as friends at Chow Hound had said, but they were small and $2.50 a pop. We bought one of each flavor (Chocolate, Pistachio, and Raspberry) and cut them in half (damn grad school budget!) and shared them. They were tasty and certainly satisfied my sweet tooth, but they paled in comparison to the one we got in France (albeit the airport). The search must go on!! Luckily, according to Salon.com and the Wall Street Journal, macarons are the new cupcake. Bring it on!
And of course I’ll also try making them if the humidity ever recedes.