The Perfect Parisian Macaron
Vancouver is producing so many macarons that we have the option to be picky and choosy with them. I’m not talking about the dense American coconut macaroons, but I’m talking about the light Parisian macarons that are made with almond flour and not coconut.
It boggles my mind that they have only become popular in Vancouver in the last few years, since they’ve been around for centuries! They’re all over France, and Parisian macarons are almost their “chocolate chip cookies of America”. Here we seem to see them as a highly prized delicacy, although even in France the same has happened when it comes to their gourmet modern day macaron. It’s only the last decade or so when they started to get really creative with the flavours.
However there’s much more of a science behind these dainty cookies and there are specific things to look for when distinguishing a well made macaron from a poorly made one. On another note, even a poorly made one will likely taste delicious, since it is after all a sugary cookie.
The perfect Parisian Macaron can be forever debated as well as how authentic it is (origin from Italy or France), but for the average consumer it usually comes down to tastes, which is very personal. I’m not a professional pastry chef and I haven’t tried all of them out there, but to put things in perspective these are the things I personally look for when having a macaron.
What I look for in a Parisian Macaron:
1) Smooth shells with no cracks or bumps
2) Macarons that hold their shape and don’t fall apart when you pick them up
3) Feet (the rim or edges of a macaron)
4) A gap between the shell and the inside of the cookie (if no gap, should be still crisp)
5) A crisp thin shell that cracks like an egg shell
6) Moist, soft, tender and smooth inside with slight chew
7) Sweetness (flavour of ground almonds and not just sugar)
8 ) Filling (ratio, chocolate/buttercream/jam)
9) Quality of ingredients (natural, local, fresh or extracts)
10) Freshness/shelf life (best eaten 1.5-3 days after it’s made, not fresh or stale)
11) Size (authentic ones are bite sized, but I’m not picky about this)
Okay so I know I sound critical and maybe I am a little bit of a macaron snob… but it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a lot of them even if they fall short on my list of criteria. Nothing in this world is perfect, so I take what I can get, and overall the macaron scene is good in Vancouver. They are pricey, but they’re a bloody pain to make (I’ve tried – see here).
There’s nothing like a crisp macaron shell with a tender, soft and moist centre that is perfectly balanced with almonds and not just pure sugar. The more easily they melt away in your mouth, usually the more sugar they have. Sweetness in a macaron can be said to be one of the toughest challenges to balance in a macaron. I’ve always preferred chocolate ganache fillings, as opposed to buttercream, even though both are used in France. The use of jams can also aid in the flavour of a macaron. All can be good, but buttercream is the more affordable route, so when I get a chocolate one, I savour it.
I do prefer Thierry‘s use of fresh and real ingredients over Kitchening with Carly‘s natural extracts. Thierry’s macarons are larger and more affordable and Thomas Haas and Thierry do use dyes in their macarons, but so do macaron gods Pierre Hermé and Ladurée, which are both considered the institutions and models for Parisian macarons. My favourite in Vancouver so far are Soirette Macarons & Tea, but it really depends on the flavour as well as when they’re made, purchased, and eaten.
It may be seen that I’m comparing creme de la creme of macarons (which could be the case), but I encourage you to explore your options, even beyond the ones I listed.
Other (but not all) Parisian macarons in Metro Vancouver include: Stuart’s Bakery, Ganache Patisserie, Kreation Artisan Cake, Saint Germain Bakery, Bel Cafe, Meinhardt Fine Foods, La Baguette et L’Echalot, Urban Fare, French Made Baking, Paul Croteau Confections, Say See Bon Patisserie, The Urban Tea Merchant, Boulangerie Chopain, Chicco Cafe, Well Seasoned, Chef Kev, J’adore les Macarons, OrganicLives, and many others!