They look, on first glance, like a morph of a shrunken, pastel-hued Mallomar and a bite-size hamburger that has been inexplicably dyed pink or mint green. I began to notice these mysterious little puffs putting in cameos at upscale bakeries around the city last summer. I didn’t know what they were, but they fascinated me — not so much because they looked tasty (I actually imagined them to be very dry and a total waste of calories) but because they were a form of junk food I had never before encountered. It didn’t seem possible.
But it was, and as the months passed, they began to taunt me from behind the glass. Finally, culinary curiosity got the better of me. It was a dreary Sunday on the Upper West Side. H and I were enjoying a hot beverage at Georgia’s, and I asked the waitress what the hell these things were.
“French macaroons,” she replied.
I would have sworn that the words “French” and “macaroons” had never, ever been uttered together. The only macaroon I’d ever known was that of the Manischewitz ilk, came in a thin cardboard canister and was eaten strictly at Passover — in desperation. (The chocolate-covered coconut specimens were adequate and were a suitable accoutrement for the ultra-savory boiled chicken often served at festive seders, but come on. They had no business wearing the badge of dessert.) I felt it was my moral obligation as a connoisseur of baked goods to try this so-called French version.
So we did, and as it turns out, French macaroons are quite “dee-licious,” as a certain furry blue monster I know would say. They came in classic flavors like vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and pistachio. They were nothing like I’d thought they’d be — and even less like the Passover macaroons I’d grown up with. Their texture was perfect — like a very moist cake, but with a hint of stickiness and a hint of bounce. They were sweet, mildly almond-y and offered just the right ratio of filling to cake. I was sold.
And a little obsessed, apparently. The next day, I happened to attend a breakfast meeting at Madeline’s on West 23rd Street. Madeline’s was actually the first place I’d noticed the French macaroons, but knowing their true identity gave me a whole new perspective. I couldn’t believe the vastness of the flavor selection! It was as if the previous day’s selection was a box of government-issued primary-colored crayons and this was the 64-pack of Crayolas. I had never seen anything like it. The macaroons were bright pink, pale pink, light turquoise, dark turquoise, buttercup yellow, mustard yellow, deep burgundy, and rich lavender. I would bet there was even a raw umber specimen in there somewhere.
As such, the bakery’s chalkboard listed fabulous flavors like Cassis, Dulce de Leche, Strawberry-Coconut, Port Wine, Mocha and my personal favorite, Champagne-Apricot. My friend K and I gazed longingly at the macaroons, trying to match up the exotic flavor to the Crayola shade. They were absolutely beautiful, each perfectly shaped and sprinkled with a light dusting of metallic gold or copper powder. We had to have them.
I bought four for us to share, not realizing at first that they were about double the size of the ones at Georgia’s. There was no choice but to eat them all; far be it from me to let a French macaroon go to waste! K and I had them after lunch and since then, my life has not been the same.
Quite simply, Madeline’s French macaroons are absolutely divine. They blow the ones at Georgia’s away (although I certainly wouldn’t kick those out of bed). They blow every cookie I have ever had away (with the possible exception of the chocolate chip masterpiece from Levain, on West 74th Street). I warn you: DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT try these macaroons if you have an addictive personality and a sweet tooth. You’d be better off just heading straight to the methadone clinic.