Hello everyone! My apologies for not writing recently. We had a terrible internet connection in Paris and spent an unexpected night in the Frankfurt airport on the way home. I won't go into all the gory details about our trip back to the States, but a word of advice: if you ever have to travel through Frankfurt, Germany, don't.
Due to our lack of internet, this is going to be a rather unconventional blog post. I will quickly highlight the end of our trip and give an overall summary of our travels.
One of my main goals while traveling in France was to try as many macarons as possible. For those of you who are not aware of these gorgeous French delicacies, they are composed of two colorful almond meringue shells that surround a flavored chocolate ganache. They can be mildly and traditionally flavored like chocolate, hazelnut or pistachio, or they can be crazy like vanilla-olive oil, salted caramel and passion fruit-milk chocolate. Either way, they're delicious. I had done some research before leaving for France to see which French pâtisserie had the best macarons. I discovered that two shops, Pierre Hermé and Ladurée, were in competition for the top prize. It looked as though I was going to have to perform a taste test of my own. Oh, darn...
When we reached Paris, I immediately determined the closest Pierre Hermé shop to our hotel, which happened to be in the neighboring arrondissement located oh so conveniently around the corner from the Pasteur Metro stop. The store was smaller than I expected, but bright and beautiful. The macarons were at the end of a long case that housed some of the most decadent pastries I have ever seen. They were immaculate, but unassuming. Without having known Pierre Hermé himself (what a dream!), I can see that he creates these desserts with passion and precision. I can only hope to do the same in my shop.
I quickly selected one of each flavor of macaron (I have to test them all, obviously) before I caved and bought one of each pastry too. I so wish I could have taken pictures of their gorgeous shop, but they don't let you. Once we made our purchase, we walked to a nearby park and began to "test." One of the first macarons we tried was called Mogador. The Mogador with which I am familiar is a chocolate and raspberry cake that I frequently make at home. Pierre Hermé's Mogador is a combination of milk chocolate and passion fruit, and it is fantastic! I loved it so much that I went back and bought a whole box of the Mogador macarons too! We also tasted their rose, chocolate, raspberry and crème brûlée. All were delicious, though rather ordinary flavors. This was going to be some tough competition for Ladurée.
Later in the day the group traveled to the Place de la Concorde, where we visited the Ladurée shop nearby. The line in the pastry shop was nearly one hundred deep, but it was worth the wait, as it gave us plenty of time to choose which flavors we wanted. As we got to the counter, all that time in line didn't matter as I chose one of each macaron again. I was able to select which box I wanted and the macarons were carefully placed inside, covered in tissue and the box tied with ribbon. Their packaging is gorgeous and it was all part of the macarons purchasing experience. We waited until our return to the hotel before trying any of them. We started with Ladurée's newest flavor, Marie Antoinette. It's made of a bright teal shell and a tan ganache, flavored with their Marie Antoinette tea. It tasted of Chinese black tea, rose petals, citrus fruits and honey, and it was delicious. Note: Unfortunately, I was not able to decipher all these nuanced flavors myself. I had to look up the Marie Antoinette tea on the Ladurée website.
We also ate Ladurée's rose, chocolate coconut, raspberry, orange blossom and chocolate. I absolutely loved the orange blossom and rose. I seem to have a floral thing going on here. Both were fragrant, but not overpowering. The others were great as well, but the texture was all wrong. Pierre Hermé provided an utterly smooth macaron with a luxurious ganache filling. Ladurée had a crunchier shell and a sometimes grainy ganache, which I found to be off-putting. While both shops have experimented with flavors and textures, I feel Ladurée needs some work. They have recently developed a series of macaron that have a thin marshmallow filling, rather than the traditional chocolate ganache. While this may seem innovative, the marshmallow was hard to cut in half, and therefore hard to share. I also found the Ladurée macarons to be too sweet, particularly in those with the marshmallow filling.
It was an arduous task, but I have selected the overall winner: Pierre Hermé. Their macarons were perfect. Though I did not love every flavor I tried, the balance and texture was incredible. They had a balance of sweetness and flavor, and though some flavors were out of the ordinary, they were done extremely well. Ladurée certainly gets brownie points for effort, but no amount of pretty packaging can make their macarons taste like Pierre Hermé's.
I know it seems as though I ate my way through France, which we did, but we also stopped long enough to see some pretty amazing things. Though I had taken a five-week wine course at The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts as part of the professional pastry program, I learned so much more about how grapes are grown and harvested in the Burgundy region of France. I discovered a new way to make macarons during a pastry demonstration at L'Institut Paul Bocuse. I found a fantastic brand of mustard at the Edmund Fallot Moutarderie in Beaune. I learned the secrets of making Crème de Cassis in Epernay. I ate myself silly with macarons in Paris. I also met some amazing people in our group and would love to travel with them again. Even though I feel like I don't ever want to eat again, I know that I will always want to return to France.
I want to leave you with a quote by Pierre Hermé about how the experience of eating a macaron employs all the senses.
"The macarons, though only a few grams, agitate our senses. The eyes have already devoured them. Fingers skim their surface, the flavors are gently smelled. When their fine crunchy shell is crushed, the ears are excited by the sound. Then the mouth experiences a delicate grace..." - Pierre Hermé