Manhattan Day 4 : Laduree Heaven

I’ve been a mad devotee to macarons since I laid my paws on them about 5 and a half years ago in Paris.  Ever since my macaron escape around the city, during which I sampled more than a dozen or so incarnations, I settled upon my favourites. That list included Pierre Herme, Laduree, Dalloyau and others.  The only highly touted macaron that didn’t land highly on my list was the airport giftshop-infesting Fauchon version.  Strangely, Dalloyau was my favourite, followed by Pierre Herme and then Ladureee.   I know – a bit unconventional.

So a few weeks after that life-altering visit, I found myself back on North American soil. I had to get my hands on some macarons. I found out soon enough that Parisian-style macarons were harder to come by than a decently prepared latte this side of the Atlantic.  A few years after my newfound obsession, bakeries started churning out these sweet confections.  They had the signature ‘cute’ colours and adorable shape, but something was dreadfully wrong when I bit into them. They had the texture of either cake, a regular cookie, or worst of all- stale cardboard.  The worst thing was that they charged you an arm-and-a-leg for this subpar experience! I’m sorry, but the reason that Laduree and Pierre Herme can charge about $3-5 for a single cookie that can be consumed in two bites is because they know what they are doing. They have tried many concoctions and perfected their recipes over years. Now you’re telling me you’re going to make a meringue cookie that costs about 10 cents to make and charge me $3???? Because you call it a macaron? How dare you!

So for the next few years, I tried to venture out and sample some of these so-called ‘macarons’ from reputed bake shops around Canada, and finally the US when I emigrated.  Everybody tried to offer their own incarnation. I spent a lot of money becoming very disappointed very quickly.  Thuet was highly reputed to be the best in Toronto. How wrong they were. His pastries were dense and wet, unlike the beautiful incarnations that were light and airy in Paris.  Fast forward a few years and I had one of the funniest experiences buying a macaron (in Chicago).  Vanille patisserie features one of the greatest pastry chefs in North America. Unfortunately, he was away preparing for the prestigious title of  Meilleur Ouvrier de France, as featured on Kings of Pastry (the movie).  This is what I attribute the poor showing of his staff to as they presented their candy-coloured confections.

Me: “They look lovely. How fresh are they?”

Server: “Very fresh! I think they were just baked last week”

Me: stun-faced. silent. slowly backing away to door…

Those were her words, and since I had traveled all the way there to try their famous baked goods, I took the plunge and bought a few pastries (including one sad macaron). Cakes = good. Maracons = fail. As to be expected.


I swore off macarons after that point as I realized that North Americans didn’t quite have the attention to detail and perverse desire for perfection necessary for these treats.  I caved once when I spotted a macaron in Whole Foods for a mere 25 cents each (Now we’re talking! It tasted like a plain cookie, but they charged accordingly.  A few weeks after me buying a couple on each trip to WF, they upped their prices to $1.25 a piece. Darned Capitalists!). And then I buckled once again when I first arrived in NYC as I had macarons on my mind when I drove into the State.  I popped into Cafe M (390 5th Ave.) and bought 2 of the worst-tasting macarons I’d ever had. They were dense, dry and I felt like I was being punched in the face with sugar and flavour. It was the “Jelly Belly” of the Macaron world. I shuddered thinking that I now knew what the Americanization of the macaron fully meant. I worried that Laduree would slack off due to the lack of stiff competition.

So now I find myself at the door steps of the newly minted Laduree with anUpper East Side address in Manhattan. When I was doing my research on NYC for my bi-annual eating binge (I cycle betweenMontrealand NYC now that I reside in Boston), I stumbled upon the coveted opening of that magical store.  My first attempt was a failure, as I was defeated by a lengthy line of at least an hour long my first Saturday in NYC after an afternoon at the MET. My second attempt was on my last morning inManhattan. A blustry and wet Tuesday morning marked my second visit.

I arrived 15 minutes before the scheduled opening of the store. The drapes were still pulled and employees were still trickling in.  Strangely, there were already a half dozen or so die-hard-foodies already in line ahead of me. I was thinking of dispatching of them quickly, but I figured that they couldn’t possibly snap up every macaron in the store. I could wait.

On the very minute the store was scheduled to open, the drapes were raised to reveal a bevy of brightly coloured coins; all laid out in intricate arrangements and pretty jewel-worthy boxes.  I started to salivate. My body already knew that the golden hour was upon us.  The door was then suddenly thrown open and a gentleman with a thick French accent ushered us through the door with the ever chipper (and slightly snarky) “Charge!! Go go go !!!”. Yes – I am a crazy fool standing outside a bake shop at 9AM in the morning in the falling rain to get some cookies for $3 a piece, but I am not cattle. From the looks of the assembly-line-like set-up inside the store, I may have had to reassess my position in society – I was indeed just some cattle being corralled through the waiting pen, past the feed pen and to … the pay pen? Anyway, my analogy got lost somewhere along the way.

We were presented with a succinct menu listing the day’s available flavours. There were about 13 in total.  When it came to my turn, I requested a box of 24 pieces (the maximum number of pieces in the standard box), with an assortment including everything but the chocolate.  Yes, I am ‘one of those’ that don’t particularly fancy chocolate. I find it a bit overpowering, especially for something as delicate as the macaron.

20 minutes later, I stood proudly with my first box of NYC Laduree macarons.  I quickly tore apart the delicate wrapping and indulged in a few treats.  E favoured green, so we tasted a green apple and a pistachio flavour.  They were followed up by a mutely flavoured I-Have-No-Idea-What-It-Was-But-It-Was-Good-And-Pale-In-Colour macaron.  I was once again transported back toParisso many years ago.

E is a jaded person. E claims that Laduree in Paris is so much better than Laduree in NYC.  I agree with E that the texture is indeed a bit off, probably due to the freezing or unfreezing of the delicate pastries due to the high altitudes and low flight temperatures.  I did notice that some of the boxes containing the macarons had a bit of condensation dripping off them. But they were pretty darned good! And yes, you read that right: high altitudes.  These babies were flown in daily from the other side of the Atlantic for our noshing pleasures

I quickly got back into line and bought another jewel-box full. This one was going to survive intact as it was a gift for some very special foodie friends that were having a wedding later that week. I had intended to surprise them with a box of fresh-from-Paris cookies that very evening when I drove to Toronto. These cookies were indeed pricey, but considering I don’t like huge desserts, get bored easily, and that they were flown in fromParis, I quickly rationalized the cost.


So now I’ll focus on the cookies. They were beautifully shaped.  They had the perfect little ‘foot’ under each cookie. The filling looked like it had been done by hand. Each one was slightly differently filled from the next.  None of them were over-filled and hence soggy, nor overpowering.  The colours were bright, but not neon like I had grown accustomed to inNorth America.  In short; they were just as I had remembered. Dainty. Colourful. Perfect.

What made me realize how much I missed them was their delicate flavour. They didn’t taste of sugar like so many of their American counterparts.  They tasted like essential oils and genuine flavour extractions.  The rose was beautifully perfumed. It was actually one of my favourites. It tasted better when it warmed to room temperature as the aromas were able to diffuse a bit when I bit into them.  At room temperature the creams were a bit airier and lighter as well.  They were truly just unveiled from their storage places before being placed in my greedy little hands.  Another favourite was definitely the espresso.  It tasted like a morning mug of my favourite latte.  Just the right touch of cream/milk and sugar in the cookie.  It was very concentrated and not overly sweet, nor bitter.  E particularly enjoyed the lemon with lemongrass.  It was brightly flavoured, with the citrusy punch coming to the forefront, but not cloyingly so.  The green apple was a bit sour for my tastes (and yes, my own fault since I don’t particularly enjoy the original either), and the salted caramel was a touch disappointing. The voices around me when I was in line were singing rhapsodies and praises of the salted caramel. And yes, I know that flavour is de rigueur right now. But in a macaron, I feel the caramel is a bit too sweet and the runny texture of the caramel doesn’t do any favours to the delicate cookie, nor the superb wrapping job of the staff.  My caramel macaron melted all over my box and tasted, well, like caramel. Wth salt.

My only slight complaint was that each box was not packed with a colour chart explaining each flavour.  Since I was blessed with the inability to retain information for more than 10 seconds at a time, some of the flavours escaped me when I was devouring them.  They had them on the menu at the store, but unlike everyone’s favourite box of chocolates growing up inToronto(which I state in full tongue-in-cheek manner), my Pot of Gold didn’t come with a menu.


All in all, I was in awe at the care and dedication involved in bringing us these delicate treats.  I was not surprised that Laduree would not be offering their full line-up of baked treats, as the quality control they would like to exert would be a logistical nightmare with anything more delicate than these tiny confections.  Right now,Americawants their $3 tiny angelic macarons and Laduree is delivering them via the skies.  And thank heavens for that.


I know I will be returning to Laduree on my next trip out, even though I spent nearly $200 on cookies on my first trip there.  I would highly recommend that you seek them out, especially if you’ve been disappointed time after time like me with lesser impostors.

Laduree

864 Madison Ave
(between 71st St & 70th St)
New York, NY 10021
Neighborhood: Upper East Side

Open every day except Sunday and Monday (except exceptionally – which apparently means by special circumstance. And yes, I did have to call them to find out what that meant)

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