For many years, I didn’t really get macarons.

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{For those who have devoted less of their waking hours to the study, acquisition, and consumption of baked goods, I would like to take a brief moment to delineate French “macarons” from “macaroons”. While it is, essentially, the same word (one is the French variant, the other the English), here in the states they mean two very different things. The former is a sandwich cookie of French origin, made from egg whites, almonds, and sugar. A multitude of flavors and colors can be added to the batter, to compliment the filling that is smooshed between the halves. (I’ve encountered such awesome macaron fillings as: Nutella, frosting, dulce de leche, homemade fruit preserves, and PURE MAGIC). The latter is cookie composed of shredded coconut, sugar, and egg whites. I’ve made coconut macaroons for Passover before, and the consensus was that they were a teeny step up from eating burnt cookies.}

Interestingly, a image search for “macaroons” yielded pictures of both. Which made creating this graphic really easy. MS PAINT 4 EVA.

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The appeal of these little confections eluded me for years; macarons seemed like snobby Oreos, frankly. I’d see them in the case at Le Panier, the French bakery in the Pike Place market, and disregarded them handily. Nothing that pretty, I decided, could taste good. And besides, the prices were obscene. $2.00 for a tiny little sandwich cookie? I can get a snickerdoodle THE SIZE OF MY FACE for that kind of cash.

These are not the size of my face, and they cost $50.

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Which was usually what I did.

The first time I can actually remember eating and enjoying a macaron was in South Africa, during our tea times at the Kloof. Since food was included in the price of our stay, I could not scoff at the cost of an individual macaron (it was, depending on how you looked at it, either free or really, really pricey). Besides, there were no snickerdoodles to speak of in South Africa.

So I decided to try one, and madness ensued almost immediately. Here is what happened:

  • I took a bite. It was both crisp and chewy, delicate and bursting flavorful all at once. I don’t know how something so insubstantial could have such a presence, but I imagined that if we could eat daydreams, they would taste like this.
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  • I declared it one of the best things that I’d ever had in my mouth. (That’s what she said.)
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  • I stared at it sadly, told Rand I couldn’t eat any more of it, and passed the cookie to him.

You are probably rereading that last point, and trying to make sense of it. And … well, there’s really no sense to be made of it. It’s just … I’d gone so long avoiding macarons, and now I had finally eaten one, and it was unbelievably delicious. And I … I just couldn’t take it. I didn’t want to admit how much time I’d squandered NOT eating macarons.

It was easier to just hand it off to Rand.

Fear not: this reaction was temporary, and by the time we got to Paris, it was gone. I understood, and had seen the light: I was ready to eat macarons. Indeed, I’d taken several weeks of French lessons so that I would know precisely how to order a box of them (in several assorted flavors).

I can barely utter two words in French, but if you saw me in a Parisian pastry shop, you’d swear I was fluent. Screw phrases like “Can you please direct me to my hotel?” and “I am in dire need of medical attention.” Who needs those when you’ve absolutely perfected, “Good day! I would like six macarons, please. Two vanilla, two chocolate, and …”?

(Note: I can do the same thing when it comes to eclairs, because I am a survivalist.)

In Paris, you’ll find a number of shops that specialize in macarons. Ladurée, which has been in operation since 1862, is arguably the most famous, and with good reason: the macaron as we know it today was born at Ladurée in the 1930s (prior to then, no one had thought of sandwiching a layer of ganache between the cookies. IT WAS BASICALLY THE DARK AGES).

I’m pretty proud to say that 80 years later, I finally caught on to what everyone else already knew.

The crowds and the prices you will have to endure are commensurate with the chain’s popularity. Here’s the line outside of the shop on the Champs-Élysées:

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They even have an outpost in Charles de Gaulle airport. The shops offer dozens of flavors, from the traditional (vanilla and chocolate) to the innovative (salted caramel, strawberry mint). My favorites proved to be the caramel (which had a dulce de leche type filling that I stared at lovingly for just long enough for it to be weird) and the rose petal, which was delicate and beautiful (and, let’s be fair, how often, as an adult, do you get to eat pink dessert? NOT OFTEN ENOUGH, PEOPLE.)

You will pay more for the treats at Ladurée, because you are paying for the name, and the pedigree, and the beautiful box in which they are packaged.

And while the macarons there were very, very good, I don’t know if there were better than the ones we got from a small, no-name shop somewhere in the 4th arrondissement. The woman behind the counter wrapped them in a small box with plain white paper, and she threw in one extra for me (“Citron,” she said, which was her favorite) when she saw how committed I was to ordering in French.

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And despite the simplicity of the packaging and the relative invisibility of the shop, they were perfect:

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We ate them while standing in the street in Marais, and the sky began to threaten rain.

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There’s a point, I’m sure, for every great philosopher and scientist, where things fall into place. A light bulb goes on overhead, and everything makes sense. The theory of relativity emerged for Einstein, the blueprints for the rotary engine dawned upon Barney Coopersmith.

As my achievements are not so lofty, my biggest revelations have to do with dessert. One day, not all that long ago, I ate a macaron, and understood for the first time what they could be.

This is my “I’ll cut you if you try to take my cookie from me” face. I make it all the time.

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And I haven’t looked back since.

Full list of categories:  Food
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Comments (23)

  1. 1
    Jen says:

    OMG. *drool* I know the feeling. I also sneered at their prices while my semester in Caen. It wasn’t until the end of my stay that I finally tried a macaron and I haven’t been able to get enough since. I seek them out here in the states and many of my friends and family know to get them for me as gifts. Once a bakery in Chicago gave me extra for free and it was the best day ever.

  2. 2

    They look amazing! I had some lovely macarons from Choccywoccydoodah in Brighton. Just perfect.

  3. 3
    Dawn Shepard says:

    My heart swoons right now! I’m so happy you found Macarons! I found them when I moved to Seattle and fell in love. I believe they are a perfect dessert. I recently went to Vancouver BC for a conference and after I walked to
    Thierry Patisserie, bought 2 macarons and then walked to an outdoor garden at church to quietly eat them. Because they really are a religious experience.

  4. 4

    I obviously have not yet lived. How have I almost completed my fifth decade as a human being workout ever having tasted a macaron —despite 3 trips to France? I think I was assuming they were the same thing as Passover macaroons whose awfulness you so ably and correctly described. (Eating one inevitably makes me feel like I’m choking). I intend to lose my macaron virginity asap.

  5. 5
    Roos says:

    Ahhh, yes! So happy to read that others have the same weird obsessions. And the Macarons du Marais look delicious.
    But I must let you know, now that you are in Paris, that the Macaron is getting some competition.
    I just researched it during my last trip. Go and see for yourself! http://goo.gl/Y6DOby
    Enjoy!

  6. 6
    Andrea says:

    A post dedicated to macarons? This made my afternoon. I didn’t indulge in a macaron until my 30s and the first bite was slightly life altering. Loved this piece!

  7. 7
    Nicole says:

    Stop making me drool! Laduree macarons are expensive but are worth the splurge as long as you eat them on the day. Leave them overnight and they’re horrible hard messes. BLARGH!

    Australia’s macaron king, Adriano Zumbo, is opening a new patisserie (aka: macaroon-erie… is there such word related to the production of mass macaron goodness?) down the road from my house AT THE END OF THE MONTH. *drools a little*
    It’s going to be a disaster for my waistline but my gym will love having someone coming in everyday. Gyms are made just so people can burn off all the macaron sugar, yes?

  8. 8
    Jen says:

    Ahh, macarons. If only more Americans appreciated their gloriousness. I tried them for the first time from the Laduree in Harrods London…and I frequently wish I had smuggled more home. Though I did keep the box as a souvenier…

  9. 9
    Betsy says:

    Gasp! A “My Blue Heaven” reference – I love it!

    You convinced me: I can’t wait to try my first macaron! I live vicariously through you anyway, so maybe I should try something for real!

  10. 10

    Ok, I don’t get them either but aft reading this post feel I need to get enlightened. Too bad I’m in Central Asia eating grisly meat and fat…

  11. 11
    katta. says:

    When you try to bake them on your own, then you know why they are so damn expensive. (Even when the form looks completely different, they are still delicious. But I do want to know how they get it in shape. It’s a miracle.)

    • 11.1

      Ha, yes, I’ve had a similar experience with trying to make sturdy kale chips and also?with picking raspberries that suddenly made the prices of each of those things seem extremely reasonable (not that fighting bees and prickers isn’t a good time).

    • 11.2
      Haus Miller says:

      I took a macaron class in Paris last summer. There is a precise amount of mixing and whipping for each ingredient to get it just right. And then the practiced technique of piping them onto the cookie sheets. In 14 months I have attempted to make these cookies twice and only succeeded the 2nd time…8 months ago. Totally worth the cost when you try to make them yourself. However, just like you said, even the strange shape ones are still delicious.

  12. 12
    Sabine says:

    Interesting, “macaroons” are called “congolais” in french.

    Macarons are really popular that’s why there are quite expensive.
    There’s also regional specialities like the “Macaron de Nancy”, the best you can taste you have the chance to.

    Standard macaron are not my favorite pastry but i like the ones from Sadaharu Aoki. (black sesame)
    Most popular are indeed Ladurée and Pierre Hermé. (i won’t forget the lime/raspberry/espelette pepper macaron amazing flavours are coming one after another)
    Other big names are lenôtre, dalloyau, Fauchon, la maison du chocolat,…

    You’ll find lots of boulangeries which sells macaron but sadly most of them are industrial bakery. (defrosted)
    I heard even Ladurée and Hermé are not really hand made.
    According to my sister, the frozen macarons from Picard, (frozen food chain stores) are a great value.

    That being said, if you have not yet, try an ice cream from Berthillon (chocolate and/or wild strawberry)

  13. 13
    Paula / Afford Anything says:

    OMG, we’re the same person (at least when it comes to macarons). I went to Paris for the first time just one month ago, and discovered heaven in the form of macarons. “I imagined that if we could eat daydreams, they would taste like this.” Yes, yes, and yes.

  14. 14
    Amy says:

    Not quite sure how, but I have never before had a macaron! I will now be obsessed with finding one (or several, on the pretext that they will make pretty Instagram photos – all those colours!) Yum.

  15. 15
    Shayla says:

    I had tried macarons a few times and been underwhelmed. This post prompted me to splash out for some macarons at La Boulange in San Francisco, and each of those tiny cookies was easily worth the dollar seventy-five. It was the first time I had tasted macarons whose almond flavor came through so clearly. The texture was perfect and the individual flavors distinct. So thank you! For inspiring another macaron revelation.

  16. 16
    SouvenirFinder says:

    I agree, when I was in Paris I did the same thing– had the macrons from a local bakery, then stood in line to try the “famous” ones from Lauduree. They were both equally good.

    Since then, they’ve opened up an outpost on the UES of Manhattan, but I can’t be bothered to go because there’s always a line, and since it’s here now, I feel no sense of urgency.

    A friend of mine, somehow unaware of the NYC branch, actually made a special trip to Lauduree in Paris just to bring these back. They arrived home crushed and stale (they have a very short shelf life). Then she was super annoyed to find out about the branch uptown!

  17. 17

    After seeing all your delicious pictures, now I need to go buy a macaron! :)

    But really, this accurately describes my new obsession with macarons! Where have I been all these years?!
    Can’t wait to try them someday in Paris.

  18. 18
    Kevin says:

    Is there a proper way to eat them? They look like you could pop the whole thing in your mouth, but is the two-bite method better?

  19. 19
    Glory Gray says:

    Oh, hell yes. Keep your candy. Give me cake and macarons.
    There’s even a novel by Vancouver author Hannah Tunicliffe called “The Colour of Tea” about a woman who opens a macaron patisserie in Macau. Fun summer read best enjoyed with a baker’s dozen.

  20. 20
    Mandy Rubin says:

    MS PAINT 4 EVA = laugh out loud. Sigh. I so enjoy your blog! Now if only I could have a macaron with it!

  21. 21
    Sylvia says:

    Next visit you’ll have to head down to St Jean de Luz where La Maison Adam has been making macarons since the 17th century. They even sent a batch to Louis XIV on his wedding day. The recipe is still the same!!!

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