Friday, 25 January 2008

Almond Elevations

Macarons. The most sublime experience I've ever had with these little rounds of sugar high occurred in a small and very particular Parisian tea salon, and a spot I count till today, as one of my top 5 most authentic Paris experiences in the sort of manner that doesn't make me cringe to tell the story.

The Ladurée tea salon at 16 rue Royal (which opened its doors in 1862) is where the old world charms of the city's cafe and confectionery culture, and must-visit status, come together in a rare experience that doesn't make one feel like a touristy twit. The Royal is also the original outlet; the Champs Elysees address is for the gawking tour bus set; the Bonaparte and Printemps outlets don't do it for me either.

At Ladurée Royal, it never matters that their cup of chocolate couldn't compare to cups of more sexy chocolate to be found elsewhere in the city. Their macarons are the main attraction, and despite those who favour Pierre Herme's contribution to this dessert staple, I still maintain that it's only at
Ladurée Royal that one feels the full thrust of a sepia-stained Paris - the one in your dreams.

I found Ladurée completely by accident (okay, I was mooching around the nearby rues of such shopping highs I have never encountered in other cities) and have remained captivated as much by its picture windows and historic charisma, as I have by the matronly black tea lady outfits its waitresses wear. All the better to focus on the salon's ceiling and wall frescoes, methinks.

I don't do desserts really. Save for the occasional blancmange or made-from-scratch caramel custard, I'm not a sugar kind of girl. The damn pistachio macarons did me in. I bypassed the then "newer" oversized versions. And, the hot flavours of the hour. For me, the almond-flavoured macaron is best eaten small and simple in taste for a full explosion of its soft-but-with-bite texture and perfumed - but just so - taste. If you think in terms of what's often left in a box of assorted chocolates - it's always the fillings that have no effect on the tongue and mind at the same time.

For those who haven't had the opportunity to stuff their faces at Ladurée as yet, this is the official line:

The story of Parisian tearooms is intimately linked to the Ladurée family story. It all started in 1862, when Louis Ernest Ladurée, a man from the South West, miller by trade, created a bakery at 16 rue Royale in Paris.

In 1871, while the Baron Haussmann was giving a new aspect to Paris, a fire
led to the conversion of the bakery into a cake shop.

Jules Cheret, the famous poster designer of the end of the century was in
charge of the decoration of the cake shop. He was inspired by the pictorial techniques used for the ceilings of the Sistine Chapel and the Opera Garnier. At the time of the Second Empire, with the development of Parisians cafés, Jeanne Souchard, Ernest Ladurée’s wife, daughter of a famous hotel-keeper in Rouen, had the idea to mix styles : the café and the cake shop therefore gave birth to one of the first Parisian tearooms. They had one advantage over the cafés : women were welcome and free to come at any time. The story of the Macaron

These small, round cakes, crisp on the outside, smooth and soft in the middle, are the most famous creation of Ladurée.

The story of the Ladurée macaron starts with Pierre Desfontaines, distant cousin of Louis Ernest Ladurée, who at the beginning of the 20th century first thought of taking two macaron shells and joining them with a delicious ganache filling. The way of making them has never changed since that time.

These small, round cakes, crisp on the outside, smooth and soft in the middle, are made every morning in Ladurée’s "laboratory". The pastry chefs measure out very precisely the required amounts of almonds, eggs and sugar, before adding one final ingredient, a pinch of unique "know-how", essential to the making of such a delicacy.

Once cooked and filled, the macarons are put to one side for 2 days before going on sale, the time it takes to achieve a perfect balance between texture and flavour.

Macarons come in two sizes: the mini-macaroon or "gerbet", and full-sized.

With each new season, Ladurée pays tribute to this its most famous creation by creating a new flavour. The existing range of macarons is always the starting point when a new one is created, as the variety of colours is as important as the range of flavours and a vital part of their appeal.

Flavours that are permanently available:

Chocolate, Dark chocolate, Vanilla, Coffee, Rose petal, Pistachio, Salted butter Caramel,
Cherry amaretto, Raspberry, Orange blossom, Liquorice

Seasonal flavours :

Lemon, Praline, Ice mint, Coconut, Chestnut, Grenadine

Special & temporary creations:

Java Pepper - Apricot Ginger - Muscovado - Candyfloss - Havana - White amber - Indian Rose - Aniseed - Champagne - Orange Saffron - Lily-of-the-valley - Strawberry Poppy - Gingerbread - Rosanis

A place with such refined atmosphere and rich historical background attracted
David Holder and his father Francis Holder, founder of the Holder group. They both decided to repurchase the famous House to then upgrade it and extend it. Its chairman David Holder insisted on keeping the great classics which gave the House its reputation, and on turning it into the Mecca of Parisian pastry creation, in its shops, restaurants and various tearooms. -Ends-

And now, there’s a Ladurée beauty collection, that, if produced by any other brand would seem an utterly ridiculous next step. Instead, it’s a cunningly delicious, slow - and very particular - fleshing out of lifestyle opportunities, that first began with the inclusion of delectably perfumed candles. This is what the press release has to say for the beauty collection:

-Start- The original Ladurée beauty product collection pays homage to almonds, known for centuries for their hydrating properties as well as for having formed the basis of Ladurée’s celebrated Epicurean cuisine.
This line has a nostalgic ring to it, a scent of childhood which delights and thrills our senses. Think of it as a voyage encompassing pleasure and comfort, full of tender, starry tales of yore.

The collection comprises six products which combine to tell a shared story, woven together in sweet harmony. Each evokes sophistication and grace, with a subtle touch of humour regarding the flasks which feature a stopper in the form of a macaroon, the symbol of our company.

The boxes holding the products are, as usual, decorated with the guardian angels from the Ladurée universe. The Ladurée beauty collection draws its inspiration from elegance and sophistication. It graciously fulfils our desire for beauty and reveals our subconscious yearnings by adroitly blending a love of the good life with a welcome feeling of well-being. -Ends-

The collection has just been released at Le Bon March
é, 38 rue de Sevres

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