Fridays in France: a macaron tour of Paris!

Time for another installment of Fridays in France! As you (probably?) know, Mom, Em and I went to Paris for ten days last May, and I, being a shamefully delinquent blogger, am just now getting around to recapping it. There will be a France-themed post every Friday from last week until I finish sharing the stories and photos from our trip! 

Like any basic-bitch female with a penchant for Instagram, I (along with Em and my mom) am obsessed with macarons. The fixation far predates their recent trendiness, however; I've been a fan since Sofia Coppola's gorgeous "Marie Antoinette" hit theaters in 2006, featuring heaps of the pastel treat scattered all over what felt like every set. Needless to say, our time in Paris last May was macaron-heavy! 

In my post about where we ate in Paris, I mentioned that we hit up Ladurée on the Rue Bonaparte, of course. Ladurée is arguably the most internationally-known producer of macarons, along with gorgeous pastries and treats to make one's head spin, and they did all the confectionery and pâtisserie work for the Coppola film. I mean, look at this insanity: 

Heaps and piles of macarons, and the prettiest pastries, at Ladurée! I couldn't get enough of the beautiful jewel box of a café...the pretty mint-green walls, the silver-gilt everywhere, and the classic, stereotypically French awnings and window boxes. What a dreamy setting! 

Simply visiting a macaron shop, however, was the tip of the iceberg. We also signed up for a macaron- and chocolate-making tour at famous pâtisserie Gerard Mulot through a tour company called Meeting the French! We spent a morning of our trip learning way more than I ever thought I'd know about macarons and artisanal chocolate...and I loved every minute of it. 

Gerard Mulot in Saint-Germain des Prés is one of the most famous macaron shops in Paris, right up there with Pierre Herme and Ladurée, and they offer small-group tours every morning. We robed up in sanitary booties, aprons and hair nets and headed into the hot, close, crowded back kitchens, where we met legendary chef Patrick Leclercq. Chef Patrick has been Gerard Mulot's chief macaron-maker for 35 years, and is personally responsible for producing over 10,000 macarons in 18 different flavors every week. 

When we walked back, Chef Patrick and his sous-chefs were piping filling into the middle of classic almond macarons. He quickly switched gears, though, to mix up a batch of framboise (raspberry) while we looked on! 

A macaron is basically a sweet and flaky almond cookie sandwich with jam, ganache or buttercream filling. Chef Patrick explained to us that there are actually two different styles of macaron-making: the Italian method and the French. The vast majority of macarons are made in the Italian style, which uses hot sugar syrup to make the batter more durable. Chef Patrick, naturellement, scorns the Italian method and is all about the more complex, finicky French method, which uses room-temperature sugar along with a blend of dried, pasteurized and fresh egg whites. He also mixes each individual batch by hand, submerging his arm up to the elbow in the batter, because he has the ability to tell when each batch is perfectly mixed solely by its texture. Impressive! 

The macaron batter was then poured into the macaron machine. Due to the volume of macarons produced every day, the machine is necessary to keep production flowing. It was hilarious and wonderful to witness how idealistically Chef Patrick talked (all in French, of course!) about wishing he could hand-mold each individual macaron! I enjoyed being able to understand him directly, as our tour guide definitely had to stick to the basics in translating. Even I lost a lot in translation, though...there wasn't a unit on macaronage or French culinary terms in my ten years of study! 

After being plopped out onto parchment-lined sheets, the macarons rest for ten minutes before being rotated into the ovens, and then quickly out again! Just look at that...only a fraction of the total production for the day, and so delicious! Per Chef Patrick, the cooling racks are constantly filled, sorted by flavor to prevent any filling mix-ups! 

Once they're cooled enough, it's time to fill them! We saw two flavors...almond, which is filled with almond paste...

...and fresh-out-of-the-oven framboise, with a delish raspberry jam center. We got to taste-test the raspberry, and it was absolutely out of this world to taste a macaron that had been made five minutes ago. The texture wasn't brittle like many macarons I've had, but almost cakey and so incredibly light. It truly melted in my mouth. 

Our next stop was the chocolate kitchen, where Gerard Mulot's sexy head chocolatier, Johan Giacchetti, showed us how Mulot chocolates are produced! 

We tasted two kinds of chocolate: a salted-caramel-filled chocolate and a classic poured "wafer" style chocolate. Above, Johan filled the molds for the filled chocolates with the thinnest layer of rich, dark chocolate ganache. The molds are then left to harden, filled, and topped...

...then they're decorated with all kinds of beautiful chocolate art! Johan showed us edible logo decals, delicate sugar-painting, and even tiny, perfect appliqués of flowers or hearts that get pressed onto the chocolates. Look at how perfect the finished product is! 

To demonstrate poured chocolate, which is a much more time-consuming process that uses sheet molds and requires overnight setting, Johan did possibly the most ridiculously delicious thing ever: 

Those are macarons. Being covered. IN CHOCOLATE GANACHE. Excuse me while I die, s'il vous plaît. We also got a look at some of Johan's chocolate artistry, which earned him gold at the 2014 Jean-Claude Léchaudé chocolatier exhibition. His specialty? Chocolate sculptures based on bandes-déssinées, or, en Anglais, cartoons. Look at this cutie guy, for an example: 

100% chocolate. You can see more of his amazing work here. I was completely overawed (both by his adorableness and mad, mad skills), and fascinated to hear that he wanted to compete in the "Grand Prix of Chocolate" next spring! 

(The photo above, obviously, is Emily's work. I love the depth her lens imparts! 

Having tasted macarons and chocolates, we loaded up on a few flavors we had to try, including salted caramel, cherry almond, and...lily of the valley? We were in France over their Labor Day (Fête du Travail), which is celebrated by giving lilies of the valley to loved ones, much like a Valentine. There were sprigs of it in every buttonhole and people selling stalks on so many corners!

Turns out that macaron-makers commemorate the day by making lily-flavored macarons (the green-and-white, muguet, above!) I had to try soon as we got to the Luxembourg Gardens and parked ourselves with sandwiches and wine for a lunch al fresco! 

Turns out I was the only fan of the unorthodox flavor. Mom's favorite was lemon, while Em preferred the much more classic pistachio (again, that depth of field kills me): 

For those with upcoming trips to Paris planned (LUCKY!), I highly, highly recommend the "Meeting the French" tours. For just 22€, we had such a wonderful, behind-the-scenes look at production of true French pastry and chocolate. Both Chef Patrick and Johan were incredibly friendly and proud to show off their craft, and I feel like I gained such an appreciation for what an art form each truly had perfected! 

Chef Patrick was adamant that Mulot macarons are intended to be eaten the day they're purchased, but had no such qualms about Laduré we stocked up on our visit to Rue Bonaparte! I saved my box and keep bracelets in it now...along with the darling pagoda-box I splurged on at Charles de Gaulle before we left! What a luxurious way to fly, munching macarons on and off the whole way home! 


To check out other posts about Paris, click on the tag to the will take you to everything I've written so far! Thanks for tuning into the second installment of Fridays in France, and check back next week for more of our time in the City of Light!