Licking Windows


laduree Window Paris
One of my favorite French expressions is: Lécher les Vitrines, which means to window shop, but literally translates: to lick the windows. This expression takes on a whole new meaning when a group of girls spend a week perusing pastries in Paris. The French, especially the Parisians, are fou (crazy) about macarons (two delicate dome-shaped, colorful meringue cookies with a flavor-infused cream or ganache in between).  On a recent girls trip, we couldn’t help but become equally-obsessed with the almond-based, cute-as-a-button delicacies that are as much a part of the pastry scene as tarts and croissants, so we took window licking and macaron eating matters into our own hands.

Taking in the window displays of various pastry shops in Paris is a sure fire way to gain a few pounds (spa weekend coming soon), and one sure way to fall in love with Paris’ most ubiquitous confection that has locals and visitors alike whipped into a meringue-like frenzy. From the individual boutiques of pastry Picassos to the world-renowned Ladurée, Paris' macaron shops are gourmet galleries for sugar seekers and teem with people day and night, all clamoring to take home the most edible of souvenirs. Macarons are so adored by the French, they have declared March 20, all over the country, Le Jour du Macaron—Macaron Day.  Vive La France!

Remember the opening scene in Breakfast At Tiffany’s where Audrey Hepburn ate her croissant from a bag in front of the Fifth Avenue iconic store? I am sure that’s what we looked like as we doted in front of each and every window, nibbling on the cookies my friend coined “snackaroons”.  I could almost here Henry Mancini’s “Moon River”  (or was it Macaroon River) floating through the air. We loved staring (drooling) into these windows, where the colorful macarons and their little round heads line up like obedient school children. Or stack into pyramids and Christmas trees that would make the most delicious table centerpieces. My friend (who married a Parisian) told me that while planning the wedding, her Mother-in-law insisted on macaron-encrusted wedding cake.  My friend pushed back, wanting instead the multi-tiered, iced-flower cake young girls dream of from birth.  Le divorce came seven years later.  Whether or not the macarons would have saved them, we’ll never know.

Ladurée, the famed house of the macaron, has gorgeous budoir-esque displays with a seductive palette of cookies that pop against the signature pale green boxes. I half expect to turn a giant butterfly knob and launch the colorful cookies into a sugary pas de deux as a tinny music-box version of Swan Lake blared into the street.  So popular is the Ladurée macaron, there is even a bar behind the shop on the Champs-Elysees with a menu of macaron inspired concoctions complete with a bartender that will happily package up a box of macarons for you. It’s the least he can do after a 20-euro drink. I had the cassis-violette cocktail topped with a purple macaroon speared with a plastic toothpick.  It was divine. My friend had the rose cocktail. She didn’t like it. Apparently it tasted too much like…a rose. The drinks are, admittedly, an acquired taste and can be a little like sipping on boozy bubble bath but hey...that’s how the cookie crumbles. (Sorry, I just had to pun).

Though Ladurée is frequented by hordes of tourists, and the cookies are certainly delicious, it often takes a Herculean effort (not a far off description of me given all the macarons I have been eating lately) to get in since tour busses literally pull up in fleets, and lines can be up to an hour wait. (Can you say NUTS with your macaron?) Luckily Paris is full of other outposts equally worthy of a taste. Pierre Hermé’s shop in the 6th reminded me of Cartier, with four display windows on the exterior of the building exhibiting the edible jewels. Also divine is Carette in the 16th, where you can buy colofrul macarons then sit on the outside terrace with your girlfriends, while sipping café au lait and judging the clothing choices of passers-by.  A true bonding experience, non? And Sadaharu Aoki, a posh Japanese pastry chef who has taken Paris by storm, has two shops where you can sample his edible art and marvel at the colors he creates.  When we got tired from exercising our credit cards up and down Rue Faubourg St Honoré, we stopped into the tea-room at Dalloyau, a gastronome’s paradise, where the macaron reaches new levels of decadence.  Peach Melba macarons?  Heaven!

For my friends, I decided to plan a special treat while in Paris, to break up the monotony of eating and shopping (as if), but mostly to treat my own macaron obsession. Through Paule Caillat, an entrepreneurial Parisian who plans delicious, gourmet-inspired experiences in Paris, I organized a cooking class at her home in the Marais neighborhood.  Having spent plenty of time in my grandmother’s kitchen making chocolate chip cookies, I asked myself: how hard could macarons be?  In hindsight, this was a really dumb question. Macaron making requires a lot of time, patience, and a PhD. in pastry bag manipulation. Paule solicited the help of master pastry chef Joel Morgeat who had already prepared (to help speed things along) the meringue italienne, made by beating hot melted sugar into egg whites.  Joel was kind and patient, and possessed a bizarre, almost circus-freak-show skill for handling the boiling sugar with his fingertips. This alone might be worth a degree as a pastry chef.  Once the meringue is cooled, and flavor (we made rose, chocolate and grapefruit) and color is added, the mixture is put into a pastry bag and then, somehow, perfectly round, quarter-size dollops are to be squeezed from it onto a waiting cookie sheet. My friend had the steady and trusty hands of a surgeon. Good thing she is one! In fact she was so meticulous and consistent, Joel called her “the machine”.  I was envious of the accolade, since all Joel asked me, in between chuckles, was why my cookies had tails.  The filling was a little easier. Flavored butter cream for the rose and grapefruit, and a ganache for the chocolate, but getting it on the cooked cookie shell still involved the use of a pastry bag.  Sigh.

We left Paule's house three hours later with a recipe in hand, a few dozen my macarons, including my mutants, and a couple of burnt fingertips (we just had to try the boiling sugar trick).  On the way back to the hotel,  we passed the window at Ladurée. As  we nibbled on our own creations, we decided that even we could make them at home (not likely), we’d rather come back to Paris for macarons.

They simply taste better when coming from one of the most vibrant cities on earth, and after licking a few windows with friends.

Sidebar

Paule Caillat, Promenades Gourmands

www.promenadesgourmandes.com

Laduree

www.laduree.fr

Sadahuru Aoki

www.sadaharuaoki.com

Carette

www.carette-paris.com

Dalloyau

www.dalloyau.fr

Kimberley Lovato is a freelance writer and author based in Brussels, Belgium. Her culinary travel book about the Dordogne region of France will be released by Running Press in March 2010.   www.kimberleylovato.com

Comments

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  • Nice job!   I would have liked to see more pictures of the confections and goodies but your story was great nonetheless.

    Buqo, 5 years ago | Flag
  • Nice job!   I would have liked to see more pictures of the confections and goodies but your story was great nonetheless.

    Buqo, 5 years ago | Flag

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