Macaron Day 2010
This week, I took a break from reviewing beer for a very good reason: macarons! Not the coconut-laden drop cookies; those are macaroons. No, I’m talking about the French sandwich cookies that come in dozens upon dozens of flavors. When FeistyFoodie told me about Macaron Day, I had no choice but to visit New York City’s bakeries and try them all myself.
This year, thirteen of New York’s finest bakeries took a page from their Parisian counterparts March 20 and held their first Macaron Day. Celebrating this classic French sandwich cookie confection here were Almondine Bakery in DUMBO (with an outpost in Park Slope), Cannelle in Queens, and eleven bakeries in Manhattan: Silver Moon Bakery and Georgia’s Cafe on the Upper West Side; Bouchon Bakery at Columbus Circle; Macaron Cafe in Midtown West; Madeleine Patisserie in Chelsea; Burdick Chocolate in Flatiron; DessertTruck Works on the Lower East Side; and Mad-Mac at Bernardaud, FC Chocolate Bar, La Maison du Chocolat (the one I visited) and Butterfield Market on the Upper East Side. When I heard about this event, my OCD kicked in, and I decided it was only right that I visit them all. Sadly, Cannelle had to be scratched for transit reasons — it’s not convenient via mass transit for this city dweller. Otherwise armed with an unlimited Metrocard and a mapped plan of attack, I visited the other twelve bakeries. I collected my free macaron (or two) at most of them, and purchased more to take home and give these a taste test with a couple other interested parties. Bouchon, which makes some excellent macarons, didn’t make it into the mix as it was open for Macaron Day only in the cafe, which was going to open 90 minutes after my arrival. Even so, not counting the freebies, I returned home with over 30 different macarons for more scrutiny and this post. Without further ado, the bakeries and my impressions:
Silver Moon Bakery: my first stop at 104th and Broadway, it’s a popular neighborhood bakery with a wide variety of breads and as you can see, lots of pastries too. I picked up three large macarons for $2.75 apiece (only the first ten people to ask received a free one), sampled thusly:
- Chestnut: creamy filling, with a slight nuttiness to the cookie. Described all around as “tasty.”
- Strawberry: big burst of jam, with the “texture of what a macaron should be,” though the filling was “way too sweet” to one taster.
- Oreo: I’ll admit, I didn’t write this one’s flavor down, but it tasted just like an Oreo. Which was “fine if you’re making Oreos” but a little weird in macaron form.
Georgia’s Cafe and Bakery: a cute shop on Broadway at 89th Street, Georgia’s had some of the best-looking pastries I saw all day, and there were a lot of pastries to be seen. But I stuck to the large macarons, and chose the following ($2.50 apiece, with one free) for sampling:
- Passion Fruit: pretty straightforward, with a little cantaloupe-y goodness thrown in. Not overly sweet, which was a plus.
- Pistachio: “authentic” flavor, especially in the cookie as one taster said, while another states “it has coconut”. I liked this one for not being too sweet.
- Chestnut: The clear winner in a solid testing pool. I really got “chestnut” from this, both the cookie and the filling, without added sweetness, and without being jammy in texture.
Madeleine Patisserie: on 23rd Street between 6th and 7th, I was awestruck by the sheer volume of macarons on display. And the other pastries… geez, I’m thinking I need to let myself get fat. It wasn’t easy to choose just a few macarons to take home, but I somehow managed.
- Mocha: deep espresso goodness, with a hint of chocolate. Not the best mocha, but a very tasty macaron nonetheless.
- Salted Caramel: Okay, they used the prettier French phrase, but either way I enjoyed the saltiness of the cookie (“I can totally taste the salt” as another said) and the caramel was “drier”, not cloying. One of the best macarons of the day!
- Strawberry: This was the giveaway, a mini. Sweet and jammy, and tasted about as “real” fresh strawberry as I’ve ever tasted in a macaron.
Macaron Café: Another tiny little bakery, on West 36th Street this time. Smaller macarons, with a smaller price tag ($1.95), and the pastry chef herself, Cécile, introduced herself and Julia, a nice touch for this day. Again, just tons of flavors to choose from, a definite plus, and two free macarons to boot!
- Pistachio: This was one of the best “cookie” section macarons of the day, and it tasted like eating a handful of pistachios — very, very tasty.
- Marzipan? Jordan Almond?: I wish I’d asked what the free macaron flavors were. This was pink, but tasted like wedding almonds — a little candy sweetness, a lot of almond. I liked this one more than the others tasting it.
- Cognac: Initially, the cookie here tasted of, yes, cognac, but that kind of dissipated. As with all their macarons, the texture of the filling was spot-on perfect.
- Espresso: My favorite from here. Straight-up espresso flavor throughout; the cookies, as one person said, “hinted at sweetness” but overall, plenty of lovely coffee bean bitterness.
Burdick Chocolate: L.A. Burdick (just east of 5th Ave on 20th) clearly is more of a chocolatier than a macaron shop, but there were small macarons ($1) in a few flavors on offer for today. I want to come back here for a little chocolate and coffee action (as many people were doing Saturday) soon.
- Chocolate: I consciously avoided chocolate (and vanilla) macarons all day, if only because they’re generally boring to me. Yes, getting those everywhere would let me compare bakeries, but I am merely a glutton, not a food critic. Anyhow, this one was a bit grainy, like cocoa powder, and didn’t satisfy me. I’m sure part of that had to do with my internal bias against the flavor, but another taster chimed in with “almost tastes fake”, so maybe I’d rather stick to the chocolate confections here?
- Lavender: The real star here. Well-defined lavender flavors, and aromas! Not overbearing either, though most everything else with lavender in it tends to be. I’ll take a box of these next time.
After Burdick and before my next macaron stop, I realized where I was walking, and just had to stop into Katz’s Deli for lunch as it was getting close to noon. And of course, my pastrami on toasted rye did not disappoint, though I had to wait quite a bit longer for my sandwich as they prefer not to toast the bread (“we don’t toast the bread normally but since there’s no line, we’ll do it this once.”) Delicious and juicy without being overly fatty, and the sour pickle was fantastic, too!
And back to the macarons…
DessertTruck Works: Now that the truck only goes out for catering events, this storefront just off Houston on Clinton showcases a few different creations a day. Normally there are two flavors of medium-sized macarons ($2), but they added three others for the Day, two of which (one free) I took home.
- Lemon Thyme: Lemons, lemons, lemons! Tasted exactly like a lemon-meringue pie. This is a very good thing.
- Salted Chocolate: I’m a sucker for salted macarons, and this didn’t disappoint, even if it was chocolate. Lots of salt baked into the cookie, a nice match to the “brownie” flavor, as one taster said.
Almondine Bakery: Almondine’s neighborhood in DUMBO is, at first plance, rather on the trendy side, but quiet and quaint. They fit in well — especially after looking in the display cases. Too much goodness going on, but choices were made among the medium-sized macarons (at $1.50 per).
- Black Currant: Not my favorite fruit, but this was straight-up perfect flavorwise, though the filling might be “a little too jammy”.
- Passion Fruit: Comments were uniformly good on this, and it was another of my favorites — “Maybe a bit sharp but I really like it”, “tart, tropical”.
Mad-Mac at Bernardaud: Though the main part is being renovated, the setup next door was perfectly lovely, and the macarons laid out nicely just inside. The chef, Ludovic, was on-hand and answering questions, while offering macarons to all and selling pre-assembled boxes, of which I bought a set of twelve in three flavors.
- Coffee: One of the free offerings, this one was bursting with fresh bean flavor. So good, such a palate wrecker, too.
- White Chocolate: The 12-pack of medium-sized macarons ($15) also offered Hazelnut and Vanilla flavors; this macaron was dusted with sesame seeds, and the sesame flavor didn’t end with those as the cookie was like one big sesame seed. The sweetness of the white chocolate filling coupled with just the right texture… so good.
FC Chocolate Bar: On the fourth floor of Mauboussin on Madison and 63rd, via a swank, leather-covered elevator car in the back of the gallery, FC caters to the neighborhood with, yes, reasonably-priced chocolate creations, from Payard, it seems. They offer several types of macarons ($2, medium-sized) that rotate frequently, judging from the inspired list already being out of date when I arrived.
- Rosewater: I admit being intrigued since I’d never seen this flavor before. I don’t think I’m a fan, since rosewater, and this macaron was spot-on for rosewater, tastes like “old lady perfume” and “lip balm”. Interesting flavors, but I couldn’t see eating an entire rosewater macaron.
- Dark Chocolate Passion Fruit: I enjoyed this passion fruit cookie as much as ever, and the bitterness of the dark chocolate warmed my heart. Together, though, the match… just wasn’t made in heaven for me. But then, I don’t like orange-plus-dark chocolate, either.
- White Chocolate – Arabica Coffee: The strong coffee flavor of the filling, plus its coarse texture… well, I loved this. My tasters, not so much. Though the white chocolate is almost completely lost, it’s a very good macaron. This was also the first location that I met anyone else was there specifically for Macaron Day, but at the remaining two stops, the numbers of those in the know increased.
La Maison du Chocolat: I chose this location because it’s so close to home. And of course my pictures got washed out by the beautiful sunny day. Definite want on the chocolate displays, but again, here for macarons, of which they had several, in small ($2.50) and large — the largest I’d seen today, but at $5 apiece, one might expect that. And for all the elegance, there’s no intimidation. I could live here.
- Coffee: As you can tell, I like coffee-flavored sweets, and for my money, the Maison version? Tops. A milder coffee blast, though it will still turn off people who don’t enjoy coffee. That’s fine with me. This one showed the care used to make it.
- Hazelnut: The seasonal flavor at Maison, and enveloped me in hazelnut. The cookie, anyway, as the filling was thick, deep, fudgy goodness. “A sugar high”, as it was put my one taster. This was also on offer as the free sample, and proved popular among the other macaron-lovers in attendance.
Butterfield Market: Sadly, the final stop on the tour, but worthy for it was the winner of the Most Unique Macaron Flavor. It’s more or less an upscale deli inside — Payard wouldn’t be sold just anywhere, after all. A little table was set up in the corner, with several medium-sized macarons ($2) available to sample and of course take home.
- Passion Fruit: Yes, the old standby, and it didn’t disappoint anyone, again. Tasty, a little tart, very tropical, and a fitting flavor, it seems, in this town.
- Yuzu: Yep. Japanese citrus fruit, I gathered. I didn’t think I’ll ever see this flavor again, so I had one as my sample and brought one back for the others to try. Tangy, citrusy (of course), just plain awesome with the weather so… well, maybe not tropical, but warm and sunny. What a perfect end to the day’s travels.
So, were there any clear winners? I hate to be a Macaron Barney (“I love you, you love me…”), but each of these stops offered something delicious and interesting. And, with these bakeries spread out far and wide, I’ll almost always be in one of these neighborhoods and have an excuse to drop by for more macarons, or to try the other baked goods they create. Macaron Day worked as a great PR move. Recognize the value of having a good, local bakery to patronize!