In the life of a student, luxury is something that normally comes in small doses, so I have come to be very appreciative of the luxurious pastries that pass through my life (=mouth). The parisian macaron is of course one of those extravagant moments that I love the most, and while a few dollars seems like a lot to spend for a few bites of bliss, it certainly can fit an economical budget from time to time.
Pierre Hermé, my favorite macaron provider in Paris, is closed for another four days for their summer revamp (not that I'm counting or anything), so meanwhile I have explored a few other options. The macarons above are found, well, at McCafé, and I believe are only 90 centimes. I tried the caramel au beurre salé, and it really wasn't bad! I have had much worse from patisseries in Paris, and it turns out that McCafé gets their macarons from the same provider that Ladurée does, albeit of a slightly lower quality (more on Ladurée later). Quite the affordable, speedy, and widely available option.
The McCafé at the Louvre food court
I also did a bit of research into cooking classes here; thanks to David Lebovitz and Clotilde Dusoulier's fabulous sites/books, I was introduced to the affordable Atelier des Chefs. Some of their lessons are as low as 15 Euros for a class that can be taken at lunchtime, which includes the food that you make so that you can eat it for lunch. They have many locations and different classes in Paris - and other cities in France - so you can choose one at a convenient place and with a menu that you find interesting. I chose a class for 36 Euros at the BHV store on the rue de Rivoli which featured financiers and caramel macarons. Predictable, perhaps, but given the opportunity to take a class on macarons in Paris, I had to take it!
In the end I learned some valuable techniques from the class, and will definitely use the pistachio-confit orange financier recipe (and will post it in English; click here for a demo video and the recipe in French). The final product of the macaron shells, however, was quite disappointing - they were crunchy, and not as smooth on the surface as I would have liked. So, I will take what I learned and supplement it with the other recipes and techniques I have read.
The Atelier des Chefs kitchen at BHV rue de Rivoli
I finally succeeded in making it to fine chocolatier Pierre Marcolini's store at a time when they weren't closed for their long daily lunch break - this is the third trip to Paris when I've tried to buy their chocolate-covered marshmallows/guimauves.
Pierre Marcolini rue de Seine boutique
Some of the best gourmet marshmallows I've had, and of course the chocolate was excellent! I love that the French for these is "Vanille enrobée de Chocolat" - as if the marshmallow is clothed in the chocolate.
Of course, other beautiful things popped out at me once I entered the PM shop, so I returned another day to buy these macarons, which were not quite delicate enough, but well flavored and very pretty.
Mojito and Limoncello Macarons
And this bouchée of nougat and chocolate cream topped with crisp cookie wafers had me intrigued, so I had to try it:
I also made a stop at the nearby Patrick Roger shop, where I bought this caramel dome for a ridiculous 4 Euros, which I assume pays for the fact that it comes in its own box like a piece of jewelry (like I said, moments of luxury):
liquid caramel with a touch of citrus encased in chocolate
And my final moment de luxe this week was my first trip to Ladurée, the classic and classy tea shop that invented parisian macarons. As I have confirmed with my trial of their macarons and conversations with Parisians, these are good macarons, but not the best. The flavors were good, but the texture was lacking the magic of the Pierre Hermé macarons. Their shells were slightly too thick, and the filling in the middle not quite plentiful enough, so that the result was less delicate and less fondant in the middle. All the same, good, just not mind-blowing.
Ladurée to-go bakery at the Champs-Elysée location
I did very much enjoy the other pastries I got at Ladurée, which included a millefeuille praliné (praline napoleon) and an Ispahan macaron, which is actually a flavor creation of Pierre Hermé's: rose, raspberry, and lychee all together (which I had in croissant form back in June, amazing).
Ispahan and millefeuille praliné from Ladurée
But Paris on a daily basis for me has been typified by the wonderfully fresh foods that are all around the city in outdoor markets and even neighborhood supermarkets. My generous hosts even picked up pastries from a local shop for one breakfast:
And I have enjoyed this lunch on a number of days: whole grain cracker with goat cheese and fresh peach slices (see the caramel macarons in the background from my cooking class?). No complaints here! Gotta balance the rich pastries somehow.
Thank goodness for gorgeous weather to go running through the Parc des Buttes Chaumont!