Some people took issue with me, but I took a somewhat daring position and wrote that I think the shells themselves don’t have much flavor. I recounted how, when I first tried a macaron, I ate it the way I ate Oreos,: I deconstructed it and ate the cookies (the shells) separate from the filling. For me, macarons (and, okay, Oreos, too) are a sweet meant to be eaten in such a way that you get some of each of the elements with each mouthful. Do that and I think you can understand that what distinguishes a macaron is its texture — the play between the crunchy-chewy shells and the soft filling; that what gives it its taste is its filling — the flavor of the filling and the portion of filling to shell; and that what makes it such a pleasure is the ensemble.
That said, of course everything changes when you make chocolate macarons because then the cocoa powder that’s added to make the shells has a strong flavor. For the chocolate macaron recipe, I used the one I worked on for Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme, a recipe made with uncooked meringue and one that gives a softer, somewhat chewier macaron that the basic.
This isn’t the first time I’ve pondered the mystery of the same ingredients turning out different macarons. When I was traveling from Paris to St. Emilion and on to the Pays Basque, I realized I’d eaten three very different macarons, each made from almonds, sugar and egg whites. These macs, soft and chewy, are from Mme Blanchez in St. Emilion, a landmark in the charming village best known for its wines.
In experimenting with the recipes for the LA Times story, I made a mistake and produced a macaron very much like Mme. Blanchez’s and I was excited. (Who doesn’t like a mistake that turns out to be something good?) But then I was never able to replicate my mistake in the same way — aarrgh.
I hope you’ll make the recipes from The Times story and let me know what you do.
And, if you’re interested in macarons and lucky enough to be in Paris, you might want to do what I did: take the macaron class at Promenades Gourmandes. The class is given by Joel Morgeat (in English) in my friend Paule Caillat‘s beautiful teaching kitchen. On the day I was there, we made chocolate, raspberry and grapefruit macarons — lots of them — and had a very good time in the process. And after the class, one of our classmates, Jenny Ng and her husband Derek, put together a terrific album. If you can’t get to the class, their photomontage is the next best thing — take a look and enjoy.