Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Marvelous Macarons in Paris

There’s a lot to love about the French capital: temples of high art, sophisticated music haunts,
cool quartiers, and lofty landmarks that span the centuries. But beyond the Louvre’s
masterpieces, Notre Dame’s gargoyles, and the towering lights of the Eiffel Tower lies another
tiny gem that never fails to draw crowds of Parisians and tourists: the perfect macaron.

An artistic city par excellence, Paris
proffers an astonishing array of
tempting pastimes. Culture vultures
can swoop on highbrow opera and
orchestral performances, or more
bohemian attractions such as art-house cinema and
circuses. Myriad museums satisfy cravings for any and
all types of painting, photography, installations, and
sculpture, while city parks and gardens – such as the
17th-century Jardin du Luxembourg – provide the
tranquillity in which to reflect on it.

Visitors can soak up the ambience of centuries
past through the city’s astonishing architecture,
from the 12th-century Gothic masterpiece of Notre
Dame to the Renaissance buildings of the Marais or
the high-tech Pompidou Center. The shopping is just
as extraordinary; Paris is arguably the fashion capital
of the world, and an afternoon’s shopping can easily
encompass both the haute couture of rue du Faubourg
Saint-Honoré and the flea-market finds of Saint-Ouen.
And then there’s the food – reason enough for a visit
on its own. Not simply fuel, food is more fine art here,
and nowhere is that better illustrated than in Paris
patisseries. The most French of fancies – the
macaron – is a byword for pastry perfection.

Henri II’s Italian wife, Catherine de Medici, is
credited with bringing the meringue to France in 1533,
but it was a Frenchman, Pierre Desfontaines – cousin of
Paris tea-salon owner Louis Ernest Ladurée (see
right) – who first hit upon the idea, in the early 20th
century, of joining two macarons together with a blob of
chocolate ganache. Like all things painfully delicious,
this ensemble requires real finesse. The ingredients are
simple: egg whites, ground almonds, sugar, and
flavoring. But it’s the sifting, folding in, piping, letting
them sit (or not), and baking at just the right temperature
that determines whether they achieve that perfect crust
and glossy dome. And it’s the combination of chewy
meringue and velvety center that causes people to sigh
as they bite into ivory buttons oozing salted caramel,
baby-pink disks encasing rose petals, or snowy puffs
cloaking hazelnut and white truffle. Some connoisseurs
insist they taste better the day after they’re made, but
who has the steely nerve to wait that long?

The Best Places to Eat Macarons

Pierre Hermé expensive

Fourth-generation pastry-maker Pierre Hermé
is the resident macaron magician, conjuring up
creations that people cross town for. Hermé
claims he only makes “what feels right” when
it comes to these jewel-box disks, and there’s
no denying his surefire instincts. That crunchy
shell and those creamy flavors: vanilla and olive
oil, crème brûlée, wasabi and strawberry, and
quince and rose are all life-enhancing
combinations. Hermé started his career at the
age of 14, when he was apprenticed to the
famed pâtissier Gaston Lenôtre, and was head
of the pastry kitchen at esteemed patisserie
Fauchon by the time he was 24. Hermé now
has his own sweet empire with four boutiques
in Paris: those in rue Bonaparte and rue de
Vaugiraud showcase his complete range of
pastry pleasures, while those in rue Cambon
and Avenue Paul Doumer concentrate solely
on macarons and chocolates. It’s worth making
a pilgrimage to one of his two pastry shops in
summer, when raspberries are in season, just
to try “Ispahan” – two large rose-flavored
macarons sandwiching rose petal cream, whole
raspberries, and lychees. Ladurée may have
invented the macaron but Pierre Hermé, dubbed
“the Picasso of Pastry,” perfected it.
4 rue Cambon and 58 Avenue Paul Doumer, Paris;
open 10 AM–7 PM daily; www.pierreherme.com

Also in Paris

Ladurée, on rue Royale (www.laduree.fr;
expensive), draws a constant stream of
customers, lured by the unchanged, old-world
interior and the delicious, ever-changing window
displays: croquembouche made of rainbow
macarons, macaron stacks anointed with papery
butterflies, and tiers of pastel-colored macaron
boxes lashed with ribbons. While Pierre Hermé
(see above) opts for daring pairings, Ladurée
turns out timeless classics: chocolate, vanilla,
pistachio, orange blossom, lemon, and seasonal
specials. There are other Paris branches, but
this one is precious.

Also in France

Gastronomic Lyon has its own macaron masters.
Sève (www.chocolatseve.com; expensive)
dishes up to-die-for apple tatin macarons and
savory domes filled with sesame and
Gorgonzola, while Sébastian Bouillet (www.
chocolatier-bouillet.com; moderate) dreams
up fairy-floss macarons and salted caramel in
a chocolate shell flaked with gold leaf.

Around the World

Pierre Hermé’s Aoyama boutique (+81 3 5485
7766; expensive) in Tokyo was his first shop.
The first floor is devoted to display, while
upstairs in the Bar Chocolat, you can nibble
on chocolates, pastries, and macarons.

Cooking Classes

There’s no better place to learn the art of
patisserie than in Paris. There are half-day,
full-day, and multi-day courses, usually for
3–6 people. All the courses here need to be
booked ahead. At Promenades Gourmandes
(www.promenadesgourmandes.com), pastry
and macaron master Joël Morgeat imparts an
infallible technique for turning out perfect little
meringue domes of chocolate, raspberry, or
grapefruit, under the watchful eye of Parisian
gourmet Paule Caillat. Ecole Ritz Escoffier, in
the Ritz Hotel (www.ritzparis.com), runs classes
showing how to whip up macarons in many
flavors; expect to learn one flavor in 2 hours,
or several in a 4-hour class. La Cuisine Paris
(www.lacuisineparis.com) runs afternoon
macaron-making classes in both French and
English in the center of Paris.

A Day in Paris
Paris, the ultimate walking city, is teeming with sights. Skip your hotel
breakfast and instead wander the neighborhood, taking in the scene,
and grab your coffee and croissants at a café packed with locals.

MORNING Make your way to the chic Marais district and Les
Enfants Rouges, Paris’s oldest covered market, dating back to 1615.
The evocative name recalls the children of a nearby orphanage, which
closed in 1534, who uniformly wore red. Follow up with a coup sur le
zinc (a pick-me-up – coffee or something stronger) at a local café.

AFTERNOON Ramble the quais of the Seine to the Ile de la Cité,
stopping at the Square du Vert Galant to take in the grandeur of the
Louvre. At the other end of the island, enjoy the view of Notre
Dame’s flying buttresses. Scour the art galleries of St Germain.

EVENING Head for Place de la Concorde to parade up the Champs
Elysées. Look out over the city from the top of the Arc de Triomphe,
tracing the 12 radiating avenues to arches and obelisks in the east and
the contemporary La Grande Arche de la Défense to the west.

Paris has two airports: Paris-Charles de Gaulle
and Paris-Orly. The former has its own RER
metro station; at Orly a shuttle bus links to the metro line.
Hôtel Jeanne d’Arc (inexpensive) is a cozy,
family-run hotel in the history-soaked Marais
district. www.hoteljeannedarc.com
Hôtels Paris Rive Gauche (moderate) boasts
five bijou properties on the Left Bank.
Paris institution Le Meurice (expensive) has
public spaces by Philippe Starck (those chairs
sporting ladies’ shoes), while rooms channel
luxurious Louis XVI. www.lemeurice.com

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