Will it be a chocolate diamond, a raspberry ruby, or a lavender aquamarine? My taste buds are on alert: I might even have more than three. If there is such a thing as an epicurean gem, this is where to find it.
So, why are Ladurée macarons such a big deal? First, although versions of the treats already existed in France and elsewhere, Ladurée made them famous with a twist on tradition: a layer of chocolate cream. Then, don’t be fooled by the name: Unlike American macaroons, these are made with almonds, not coconuts. Finally, enjoying the sweet confections in their famous cradle, or in their other dazzling locations in Paris, is an experience not to be missed. Oh, and they have even changed Fashion Week everywhere: Cupcakes are out, macarons are in.
In Your Bucket Because…
- “A weakness for sweets is a noble approach to everyday living” (Ladurée).
- When in Paris why not do as Parisians do?
- For anyone who misses feeling like a kid in a candy store.
Ladurée Salon de Thé at 16, Rue Royale in Paris
Take me to a jewelry store, or take me to Ladurée Royale, where the salon de thé – and its epicurean gems – is every bit as pleasing as a jewelry store. But here the treasures are set out in rows of macarons and scrumptious pastries. I don’t know how to choose.
The colors of the treats – vanilla, pistachio, chocolate, lavender, coffee, blackcurrant and more, complement one another – as a gardener’s color wheel does for flowers. Lined up behind glass partitions with brass trim, the delicate meringue confections glisten under the light of shaded lamps.
For me, it will be three macarons (and a box to go). I opt for color contrast: lemon, pistachio, and black licorice. And I have to taste a luscious religieuse à la rose (a choux-pastry filled with rose-flavored filling). We sit at a small round table – perfect for an intimate sharing of a Mont-Blanc with its vermicelli of puréed chestnut. I look into the surrounding mirrors embedded in ornate wood-paneled walls. I can’t help thinking how the ladies of the Belle Epoque “did tea” in better style than we usually do lunch today.
Tasting Ladurée Macarons
The sweet confection holds its filling as I bite into the lightly crisp meringue, and then the flavors and textures melt together in blissful sweetness.
Once you have had Ladurée macarons, it’s hard not to downplay the others: not as round, too crusty or too chewy. As for the fillings, Ladurée’s have never been quite matched, though some come close. Pierre Hermé is another macaron master, followed by a handful of other pastry artists. Try them all and decide on your favorite macarons: Do you favor extreme sweetness? Do you like more rather than less filling? Are you adventurous with flavors?
How about making your own macarons? According to Ladurée’s recipe book it is a precise combination of almond meal, confectioner sugar, and egg whites, but… the key is a touch of je-ne-sais-quoi: A secret pinch of know-how? The choice is yours: Bake or buy.
The House of Ladurée
Ladurée didn’t become the macaron mecca overnight. In 1862, Ernest Ladurée – a miller – opens a bakery on Rue Royale in Paris. Destroyed by fire, the bakery is rebuilt as a pastry-shop. Jules Cheret (known for its Moulin-Rouge lithography) decorates the ceiling with allegoric figures including one cherub painted as a pastry-chef. It becomes Ladurée’s symbol.
Enter Ernest’s wife. At the time, luxurious cafés are replacing outmoded literary salons, but are still not appropriate venues for society women. So, what are women of leisure to do? Jeanne Ladurée blends café and pastry-shop into an elegant gathering place: a salon de thé.
Come 1930, and one of Ernest’s cousins joins two meringue rounds with a filling, called ganache. Little does he know that creamed chocolate would complete the foundation of an institution.
Yet, it’s not until 1993 that new owners – the Holder family – give the well-kept secret the recognition it deserves. The macarons take on the cheerful colors of fruit and flowers. Today, in exclusive locations worldwide they stand for Parisian elegance and gourmandise extraordinaire.
Enter David Holder – the Holder’s new generation – who commissions famous designers (Sonya Rykiel, Christan Lacroix, Christain Louboutin…) to create a special edition of macaron boxes for Ladurée’s 150th anniversary (in 2012). As for Fashion Week in Paris or New York, the trend is now to have a few “macs”: Macarons with flavors and colors to match seasonal fashion.
- Find Ladurée Royale on rue Royale. Other Paris locations (Champs Elysées, Bonaparte, Printemps Haussmann, Paris airports and Versailles) offer similar dazzling displays in sophisticated settings.
- You will likely wait in line at any of the locations.
- Macarons must be refrigerated and consumed within a few days.
- Ladurée has shops in other countries, as well. Find Ladurée locations elsewhere in France and worldwide.
- Chez Paul (in France) breads and pastries are baked under Ladurée’s control, and you can have macarons there too.