Unwrapping a designer box of imported macarons at Lincoln Road's Laduree is an experience in and of itself. The Paris-based pastry company recently launched a South Beach offshoot of its century-old operation.
Not to be confused with the coconut macaroons your grandmother passes out during Passover, these french cookies come in a variety of colors and flavors. With a little less than six months since its debut, the verdict is in: We love these artful and delectable sweets but can't stand the hefty price tag. How can two cookies sandwiched between a sweet filling cost almost as much as a diner burger? Short Order tracked down a local patisserie expert to deconstruct the multicolored madness.
Georges Berger is the pastry chef and owner of Chocolate Fashion, with locations in Coral Gables and South Miami. The French-born Berger is a multi-award-winning culinary master with a background training with bakers and pastry chefs at some of the most luxurious restaurants and hotels in France. Before starting his business in South Florida, Berger traveled the world, working in Switzerland, Egypt, and Japan. His extraordinary confectionary talents earned him a 1975 semifinalist spot at the prestigious Coup de France, and he was recently named to the list "2014 Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America" by Dessert Professionals Magazine. Short Order sat down with this paragon of French pastry to get the inside scoop on why these petite cookies pack a gustatory and monetary wallop.
New Times: Macarons have recently made waves in the States, but what's the status of the treats back in France?
Georges Berger: Every region in France has its own variety of macaron. For example, where I started in Lyon, the macarons were a little more rustic; they were very large, almost twice the size, and were always brown because we left the skin on the almonds. And we only had one flavor there, so you really tasted the almonds. The macarons that are so popular today are the Paris variety. They're smaller and come in various colors and flavors.
They're a little trickier to make. Do you think an amateur baker can give them a shot at home?
Of course. They're actually pretty simple. The three main ingredients are egg whites, finely ground almonds, and sugar. You make a meringue from the egg whites and sugar before incorporating the almonds in. Then you add the flavor or color you'd like, pipe them onto a baking sheet, and bake them for about nine to ten minutes. The tricky part is getting them just right in the oven. If you overdo it, they lose the vibrant color, and the smooth surface starts to crack.
That sounds relatively painless. How do you assemble them?
Well, that's the tricky part. What people don't know is the cookies themselves have very little flavor. Except for the rose (we chop up rose petals in the batter) and the chocolate, most of the flavor comes from the filling.
If they're that simple, why are they so expensive? Laduree charges upward of $3.50 for just one little cookie.
There are a couple of things that make macarons costly. First of all, they need to be extremely fresh. I have a three-day expiration date on all my macarons. If they don't sell by then, we throw them out. So bakers have to factor in the cost of the ones they throw away. Laduree also flies them in from Paris, so that adds to the cost. Last, since they make such great gifts, the boxes they come in are extremely expensive.
What are some of the most popular flavors you sell?
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Chocolate is by far our number one seller. We sell twice as much of it as any others. Apart from that, caramel and pistachio do very well. Rose also does very well because most people rarely have rose-flavored anything.
In your expert opinion, what's the best way to indulge in a box of macarons?
They're best when they are extremely fresh, served with some tea or coffee -- maybe some petits fours if you're very hungry.