February 3, 2010
Most of the people who know me naturally associate me with cupcakes, because of my role with Cupcakes Take the Cake. But I have a little secret: cupcakes are not my personal favorite dessert. French macarons are*. I'm talking specifically about the French ones, not the mounds of coconut shreds that are so-called American macaroons. Precious, delicate, and frustratingly hard to bake without precision, they are worth the steep price tag in my opinion. To me, French macarons should be a 2-1 ratio of cake to buttercream filling, with a crispy but not crunchy exterior that maintains a little chewiness. I've tried so many in New York and still have yet to find a favorite, though I'm always on the lookout. Heck, I have a Yelp list about them!
So imagine my utter glee when a new macaron online bakery, Panna Dolce, offered to send me samples. They claimed to have perfected the French macaron, right down to the shipping of such a fragile item. I was intrigued, especially by anyone who boasts a comparison to France, which is where I remember tasting my very first macaron with no prior concept of what it was. The company began after a similar gastronomic experience 5 years ago at the infamous Parisian macaron altar, Laduree, sparked a passion that spiraled into a business and grew from there. Inspiring, no?
Words cannot describe the excitement of waiting for a special snail mail delivery, especially one that's food-related. I feel the same anticipation of a little kid looking forward to Christmas, for that joyous moment of tearing open the packaging to reach the prized center, although nowadays the risk of an "Ugly Christmas Sweater (UCS)" is much lower. Unless you're into that kind of thing, which by that measure you've come across the wrong blog.
When the moment of arrival came, I instantly dove through neat layers of pink tissue paper to discover a tube of button-cute French Macarons, and a row of cookies and brownies. There was even a helpful legend with pictures to help decipher each product's flavor. I nibbled at the first macaron. Again, to be sure. Then I pondered.
Now, I don't know if it was due to my taste buds having been spoiled by a box of French macarons my boss gave me after his recent trip to Paris, or maybe that the goods had taken some damage from the shipping period, or perhaps my judgment was impaired when I sampled them at 1A.M. in the morning, but honestly these macarons didn't quite do it for me.
Vanilla Rose French Macaron. There's a nice ratio of filling to cookie shell, but it was a tad sweet and I prefer a softer, almost chewy cake inside the crunchy exteriors. There was a myriad of fruity and creamy French macarons, from conventional flavors like Chocolate Buttercream to more adventurous ones such as Almond Butter and Strawberry Jelly. The flavor of each macaron was pronounced, though the texture was where it fell a bit short for me. But for those who prefer crunchier cookies and a strong sugary taste, I suppose there is something to be said about individual differences.
But there were still other products. The different types of "Overloaded Cookies" are Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Raisin Walnut, White Chocolate Macadamia Cranberry, and Toffee Pretzel Peanut Butter Crunch. The cookie dough part of each cookie was on the dry side, but the mix-ins really stood out. The Toffee Pretzel Peanut Butter Crunch reminded me of the Momofuku Compost Cookie and other "Trash cookies" that have been part of the recent crazily overloaded cookies trend.
Then there was the brownie, or what they call "The Brownie to End All Brownies". With a name like that, anyone would be curious to put it in the boxing ring. According to the website, they "combine the richness of flourless chocolate cake with the flavor of toasted chocolate to get (what we humbly call) THE Brownie..." It was the only product that stayed moist inside the plastic wrapper, which made the center seem even almost raw and gooey, with an intense salty chocolate flavor. Was the brownie of my dreams? Perhaps not, but I had no trouble polishing this one off.
So I guess what matters is that, whether I got a faulty batch or faulty taste buds, Panna Dolce still has a passionate story and team behind them that will keep churning out the products they believe in. There is always room to grow, as long as there is the capacity and spirit to keep doing what you love. And as for me, well, I am still on my quest to find my perfect French macaron.
*Actually, it's a toss up with Tiramisu, another dessert that I haven't found a favorite version of yet.