"Let's meet at 9 AM."
9 AM? What the...huh? Is the sun up at that time? I can wake up before 9 AM, but the idea of being on the other side of Manhattan on a street that enters the three digit numbers wearing non-pajama attire while being semi-functioning is another matter. It may not be akin to climbing Mount Everest, but hey, it's my Everest. The Everest for pathetic lazy people.
...WHO LOVE MACARONS! 2000% macaron lover Tina suggested the 9 AM meeting time at Silver Moon Bakery to start our quest to find the best macaron in NYC. She somehow convinced her friends, Helen, Joo Hee, Giulia, Julie, and Seungmi, to join us on our gluttonous adventure. Not that convincing someone to eat at a bunch of bakeries for a day is like pulling teeth. Out of an angry hippo.
I started with a croissant because light, buttery layers of dough are the best way to jump start your body. I don't care what those cereal boxes say; it's just marketing. You don't need all those vitamins and fiber, you just need a FREAKIN' CROISSANT. Silver Moon's feathery light croissant is a beautiful representation of the croissant family and so far the best one I've had in NYC. I know Patisserie Claude's croissants are beloved, but his are mega-dense. Dense is not my style. I want something so light that it will turn into dust if I accidentally sit on it. Know what I mean? Yeeeah. I don't actually perform the "sit test" but I can predict what will happen based on sight and mouthfeel.
Helen's pain au chocolat also looked quite fluff-tastic and light. Like a really ineffective and tasty prison for a small slab of chocolate.
Tina's whole wheat raisin walnut brioche looked like no other brioche I've ever seen before, probably because I've never looked into the heart of a whole wheat brioche. My brioche experiences have all been of the white-ish yellow, light and fluffy kind. This brioche didn't fit my profile of brioche-ness, but it was good as something somewhat muffin-y and bread-y with walnuts and raisins. If that's what you want.
Yes, I'm aware that was a crappy description. MOVING ON.
It was time to eat the star of our visit: MACARONS! Silver Moon's macarons come in either almond or chocolate, both with chocolate ganache filling, and are of the large variety (perhaps 3 inches in diameter), thus making the $2.50 price tag reasonable.
2:1 cookie to filling ratio? Check. Moist cookie? Check check. My chicken scratch-esque notes read, "Not too chewy, light crisp crust, soft innaaards, not too sweet." Overall, it was a good macaron and much more enjoyable than what Tina and I had previously eaten at Bouchon Bakery (which ended up being the theme for the entire day.)
The chocolate macaron was a little fatter and smaller in diameter, I suppose because the cookies had more air in them. I didn't have a preference between the chocolate or the almond macaron. You may as well EAT BOTH!
Tina tore a baguette into seven pieces for us to munch on as we walked to our next bakery. The baguette was...pretty damn good. I would've liked chewier innards, but the crust was thick and crunchy and the innards were not completely devoid of character. I'd say it was an above-average baguette, in NYC and perhaps even in Paris. By a smidge.
Out next stop was Georgia's Bake Shop. Instead of sampling an array of goodies, I decided I had to keep my eye on the prize, and by that I mean my stomach acids would only churn dainty macarons from then on.
However, the chocolate tarts looked very Parisian. I felt a little jump in my heart at the sight of the straight crusted tarts almost overfilled with chocolate goo that threatened to splodge out and kill all the little villagers in rivers of delicious brown goo...what the hell am I talking about?
I ignored the tarts. For I NEEDED MACCIES.
At five pieces for $7 (or $1.40 each if you could buy them individually), these babies lean a bit on the pricey side. The flavors include chocolate, pistachio, strawberry and cinnamon.
The cookies were somewhat chewy with slight crusty action. And they were....very small, perhaps 1.5 inches in diameter without much height. They may have had a high filling-to-cookie ratio, but it's not surprising considering how small the cookies were. The fillings would have been better if they had stronger flavors. Pistachio was the oddest for tasting like cupcake frosting—I'm not sure I would've been able to identify the flavor without the green food coloring. Cupcake frosting-filled macarons don't taste bad, but they catch you off guard if you're used to ganache-y type fillings. I don't know why out of all the macarons the pistachio would be the only one to taste like that.
Overall, these macarons were alright, but not worth the price.
La Maison du Chocolat is where Tina and I expected to find the best macarons. Lucky for us, they had recently rolled out "MACARONS: THE NEW COLLECTION" (yes, they really did call it that, besides individually name each macaron) featuring five flavors of cookies filled with five flavors of chocolate in either the $2 baby size or the $5 monster-that-eats-babies size. For the sake of our stomachs, we stuck with the babies.
I bought the Rigoletto ("A milk chocolate ganache awakens the sweetness of lightly salted caramel to gently charm the palate"), the Guayaquil ("An ivory shell with a dark chocolate center, exploding the fine contrast of flavours: the dark ganache accentuates the subtle hint of vanilla") and the Quito ("A dark robust ganache with intense aromas and exceptional silkiness").
Ignoring the flowery copy written by the good people at LMDC, I'd sum up the taste of the macarons as "AWESOME." Which is why I don't work there.
Is that a 1:2 cookie to filling ratio? Sweet jesus, that is a beautiful sight. Like frolicking through a field of fragrant, blooming wildflowers with some snow capped mountains in the back. Except. Not. Each of the fillings really did have "exceptional silkiness" (the pamphlet can tell no lies) along with the perfect balance of sweetness and non-bitter chocolate flavor.
And this is where my notes really suck: for chocolate I wrote, "so much chocolaaate!" Yup, gonna give myself a hearty pat on the back for that one. I was slightly disappointed by the vanilla since the vanilla cookies were overpowered by the chocolate filling, but hey, the description did say "subtle hint of vanilla". I'd rather be punched by vanilla, honestly. Subtly punched. My favorite was the Rigoletto, for which I wrote "SALT!!! fave". Oh yes, my masterful prose is unstoppable, like a rabid squirrel twitching ever so much closer to your baby peacefully sleeping in its carriage (I need to learn how to write better similes). The hint of salt in the burnt caramel charmed the shizz out of my palate. Just the way I like it.
And then it was time to devour Tina's macarons: the Romeo ("A milk chocolate ganache gracefully compliments the complex, rich flavours of Arabica coffee from Kenya") and the Salvador ("Under a pink shell is an amazing dark ganache bursting with the flavor of fresh raspberry").
If looking at gory macaron innards all the time ever becomes off-putting, let me know. Not that I'd stop showing them to you or anything.
Although coffee and raspberry are my least favorite macaron flavors, these were hella good. The coffee wasn't full of that blech bitter taste that makes me dislike coffee (and everything else that is bitter and wrong in the world) and the raspberry just had this great "tastes like a real raspberry" flavor. Maybe that's why I don't usually like raspberry and chocolate; the raspberry part tastes too sweet or gooey or something else that takes it far away from what a raspberry actually tastes like. Or maybe I only like raspberry and chocolate when they're paired together in a macaron made by LMDC. It's possible.
One of my friends expressed SHOCK and HORROR when he realized that I actually ventured into Brooklyn. Hey, I do that! Sometimes! Rarely. Well. I'm lazy. Disturbingly enough, I had never been to Almondine before. What a fool I have been.
They have many delicious things, like cupcakes piled high with swirled frosting and GREEN SQUIGGLIES. There was also a nice selection of sandwiches, bread, and all kinds of French pastries that I would've loved to eat, except I was there for...
MACARONS! Not macaroons! They should correct the misspellling. But I'll cut them some slack because they sell a box of seven macarons for the low price of $6.
The macarons unfortunately suffered from some jostling and squishing action due to being carried around in my handbag from Almondine through our meal at Grimaldi's (which I will talk about after the macarons). For lack of anywhere else to eat, we unpacked the macarons on one of those bench thingers on the dock behind Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory.
The brown macaron looked like chocolate at first until we split it open and immediately realized...um, nope. The smell of roasted peanuts hit our nasal passages; PEANUT BUTTER! What could be so un-French (or American) as good ol' PB? This macaron won many awesome points for being a great flavor.
Next up was apricot, another unconventional flavor. Unfortunately, the level of sweetness was diabetes inducing, like apricot flavored candy...dipped in sugar.
Strawberry also suffered from being too sweet. Macaron filling shouldn't taste like candy. WHAT IS GOING ON?!
The lemon macaron luckily hadn't been injected with sugar. After the other two fruity macarons it was surprising to taste a perfect balance of sweetness and tartness. Also surprising was that the soft cookie didn't flatten or look like a fly that had smashed into a windshield. Besides the peanut butter, this was my favorite of the bunch.
The pistachio had the same odd cupcake frosting flavor/texture as the macaron from Georgia's Bake Shop. Perhaps it's just really hard to get awesome pistachio paste. Or everyone is using the same bad recipe.
Although I didn't speak highly about all the macarons, overall I thought they were really good. They were definitely the freshest that we had eaten all day, as illustrated through the soft, barely chewy, thin crusted cookies (none of which suffered from being too sweet, unlike the jammy fruit fillings). The fillings were also alarmingly soft, for better or worse. These are definitely the best macarons for the price.
So. Back to Grimaldi's.
Our macaron hunting itinerary didn't include lunch, but at some point we realized that we couldn't sustain ourselves on sweet baked goods. At least, not comfortably so. After all the sweets a part of our bodies craved something with sodium. More specifically in the form of pizza.
But it almost wasn't meant to be. While walking to Almondine we actually passed a gourmet supermarket from which the drool-inducing smell of fried chicken wafted out, taking over the entire block in a haze of invisible fat particles. Tina and I automatically lifted our noses in the air while thinking, "WTF, WHERE'S THE CHICKEN?" (or maybe that was just me; I totally think in caps), but we couldn't actually see it. Otherwise I may have required a fried chicken detour.
Oh man, humans! Yes, in case you needed proof that I actually didn't eat all this stuff by myself, here's part of our happy group of fooders (left to right: Giulia, Tina, Julia, moi, and Seungmi) while waiting in the unavoidable line to get into Grimaldi's.
After a not insanely long wait (but longer than if we hadn't been a party of 6) we were allowed to sit at the red checkered clothed table ready to receive a pizza feast.
Although we planned to get two different pies, some miscommunication resulted in getting two of the same pie: basil and garlic. Oops. Well. Whatever, it's a tasty combination.
I love this pizza. At least, I can't think of anything wrong with it. The slightly chewy crust is thin but strong enough to hold up the toppings, and the toppings aren't so heavily plopped on that they would weight down the crust. See, IT ALL BALANCES OUT (unless you order too many toppings, so...don't do that). I love love love fresh, slightly sweet mozzarella and while I tend to recoil in horror when there's too much cheese, this pizza actually tastes really awesome with extra cheese. Because the cheese is awesome. Duh.
Two pies was just enough to satisfy the stomachs of six young women. However, next time I go back I'm gonna need more.
Be sure to check out Tina's macaron-laden entry and non-macaron-laden entry about our Sunday of stomach gorging! She deserves props for doing most of the organizing and rallying up a bunch of cool friends to follow us crazy macaron lovers around as through it were a totally natural pastime to go to four bakeries in one day and then cap it all off with pizza.
But wait, there's more...alllways more...
My otherwise disgustingly wet Wednesday was saved by Lisa's invitation to trail her for the morning at Jacques Torres on King Street where she regularly performs her duties as pastry chef (or "cookie bitch", whichever term you prefer). I stepped behind the sliding glass door behind the counter and entered the world of...
...Chinese take out? For some reason when you stand near Jacque's computer all you smell is something chickeny, wafting in from an unknown source. But aside from that, the chocolate factory is full of...um, chocolate. Giant bags of chocolate, stacks of finished chocolate treats (at this time of year taking the form of armies of bunnies and eggs), gigantic machines that process and package the chocolate and brown colored floors (not caused by chocolate) remind you that you're in a chocolate factory in case the brief chicken smell threw you off. It might be ironic then that I didn't actually deal with chocolate during my few hours there.
After Lisa gave me a tour of the factory, we got working on cubing marshmallows. Marshmallows! Yes, the first thing I ate that morning was a chocolate marshmallow. They're good. JT's are made of gelatin, sugar and corn syrup, no egg white. Lisa said that she found the marshmallows too sweet, but after popping a chunk of mutated marshmallow deemed too ugly for the general public into my mouth, I decided that they weren't too sweet. And then I ate some more.
Cubing the marshmallows involved chopping a long sheet of marshmallow into smaller (but you know, still huge) squares and cutting those squares with a guitar, once to form those long log-like guimauves I had in Paris and after a 90 degree turn cut again to create the more manageable cube shape. After being cut, the cubes were tossed in a 50/50 mixture of confectioners sugar and cornstach so they wouldn't all be permanently stuck to each other.
After we finished cutting the marshmallows, it was time to make the best thing ever: MACARONS! JT's medium-small sized macarons come in chocolate, raspberry and passion fruit for $1.25 each. Lisa and I had the task of making (with some eating, naturally) passion fruit macarons.
After I mushed together egg whites, almond flour and confectioners sugar with a bit of orange and red food coloring, Lisa beat together egg whites and a hot simple syrup (or maybe it was corn syrup, I don't remember) with a few drops of lemon juice to keep it from crapping up. The resulting Italian meringue was stiff and glossy. I wanted to scoop it into my mouth. It was BEAUTIFUL.
But we needed the meringue for the macarons. Lisa effortlessly folded the meringue into the almond-y paste, ending up with a light, somewhat peach-colored batter. If I did it, there would've been sticky orange goo all over the table.
We shoved the batter as neatly as we could into a plastic piping bag (not that it would stay neat for long) to form the cookies on parchment paper-lined sheets. Lisa was obviously skilled at the "making all the batter plops uniform and pretty" thing and pulling the tip of the bag away from the batter plop with a neat wrist-flick. I, on the other hand, formed plops of various sizes and had trouble getting the wrist-flick thing down without deforming the plop too much. However, I think I did a decent job for my first macaron-making experience. Not like I poisoned anyone.
I weighed out the white chocolate for the passion fruit ganache while Lisa cooked some passion fruit puree, heavy cream and sugary goo to mix with the white chocolate into macaron filling.
While we waited for the macarons to bake and ganache to cool down, I tried a chocolate macaron. It was....awesome? Yes. At least, I have no complaints. Thin crust, moist, not very chewy innards, lots of filling, not too sweet, satisfyingly rich, etc blah blah. I have no problem eating macarons, but I've gotten pretty sick of describing them.
We were probably a little too excited when we took the macarons out of the oven and they looked nearly perfect! I mean, as perfect as my malformed blobs could look!!! They rose very nicely and formed smooth crusts. Lisa wanted them to have larger feet, but I thought the feet came out good. Not that I have any idea what factors affect feet-ness.
I let Lisa fill the macarons since my skills were way below par. Besides, I was much better at finding matching cookies to complete each passion fruit macaron sandwich and may have had a little too much fun satisfying smooshing the halves together, making sure that the filling was adequately distributed over the cookies' surfaces.
OOOOH YEAAAH! (I cannot explain why I've been saying that so much lately, especially since I never drank Kool Aid growing up, but maybe all those years of being subjected to Kool-Aid advertising as a wee laddie and subsequently wondering, "Why the hell would anyone drink something made out of powder?" have finally caught up with me. 15 years later. OHHH YEAAAHHHHRAHAHRH!! [excitedly smashes through a brick wall, oddly alarming no one on the other side])
Our macarons were pretty awesome. Sure, I'm slightly biased, but ...whatever! They were good! Even after I ate a crapload of them! Lisa and I agreed that they could've used more passion fruit flavor, but besides that we deemed them a success.
Unfortunately, JT may only offer these macarons until Easter as they're mainly available for the purposes of non-wheaty Passover. Hello, CRAZY! Everyone demand these macarons so that they'll continue to make them, as they should. As everyone should. In the entire world. And even distant planets.
Although Lisa was probably happy to have some free labor on hand, I was equally (or more) overjoyed to work around delicious things and see how they were made. Lisa, feel free to use me ANYTIME, as long as I can get paid in marshmallows/chocolate/macarons/etc. One may think that working in such an environment would pack on the pounds, but dude, that stuff is hard work (at least, it's a workout for me...disturbingly enough). At one point we rolled out huge lumps of refrigerated biscotti dough into long logs, requiring us to push all our weight against the semi-solid dough that stubbornly refused to change out of "ugly lump" form. By the end I felt aches in muscles that I apparently haven't used in the past 21 years.
I kind of want to work at JT to learn how to do the whole "making food" thing instead of (or before) possibly going to culinary school. Hm. Hmm. A-humhamhem.
I dunno what I'm doing with my life.
A quick macaron run down
If you didn't want to read this whole post, I don't blame you. Here's a stripped down version of my macaron ratings (including stuff not from the macaron hunt):
Best overall: La Maison du Chocolat
Price: $2/small, $5/large
Flavors: vanilla, raspberry, coffee, chocolate, and caramel with chocolate ganache fillings
Best for the price: Almondine
Price: $6/box of 7 smalls
Flavors: Peanut butter, lemon, apricot, strawberry, pistachio
Not bad for the price: Jacques Torres
Flavors: chocolate, raspberry, passion fruit (available around Passover)
Not bad, not that interesting, but you should go at least get some croissants: Silver Moon Bakery
Flavors: Almond, chocolate
Not very good for the price: Georgia's Bake Shop
Price: $7/box of 5 smalls
Flavors: Chocolate, pistachio, strawberry, cinnamon
Also not very good for the price: Bouchon Bakery (read Tina's review)
Flavors: seasonal. I think things like vanilla, chocolate and caramel are standard.
Uh...no: Tisserie (my review)
Price: $2.50/fat smallish
Flavors: pistachio, raspberry (?), lemon (?)
Haven't been there in a while, but I'm guessing it's just ok: Financier
Price: $7/box of eight smalls, $1.50/med-large
Flavors: Pistachio, coconut, raspberry, chocolate, maybe others
We haven't tried Payard yet!