This weekend one of my oldest friends (in terms of years of spent being my friend, not years on Earth) came to visit. She is an ideal guest in that she doesn't make any demands to see tourist attractions, but prefers to mostly take in one of the best parts of New York: food. We've been eating very well the last couple of days and fully plan to continue eating well until she leaves me to go back to Texas. While we've been eating some excellent meals, one of the largest parts of our food odyssey was our celebration of Macaron Day yesterday.
"What is Macaron Day?" you ask. Well, up until two days ago I was also in ignorance of this magical holiday. Macaron Day is an annual (well, this is the second annual one anyway) day on which bakeries throughout the five boroughs give patrons one free sample of these delicious almondy cookies that delicately sandwich ganache, buttercream, or preserves. As macarons are notoriously expensive at snooty French bakeries, this is a day worth waiting for. I only found out about it because a thoughtful friend sent out an email, but I'm already marking my calendar for next year. Somewhat hilariously, after receiving the email announcing Macaron Day we made that our sole plan for the day. We drew up a carefully laid strategy including walking directions for how to hit the greatest number of bakeries in the most logical order. We invited friends. We set out fully prepared. Then we got to the first bakery, asked for our free Macaron Day macarons, and were, not unkindly, informed that it was tomorrow.
Not deterred, we revised the plan, vowed to start earlier the next day, and added three new bakeries to the roster. The following is an outline of our journey through the land of free French confections.
Stop 1: Macaron Cafe
We began in the Upper East Side at Macaron Cafe. They certainly get points for cuteness, as well as for going the extra mile and providing cookie samples as well as offering the freebies. My fellow Macaron Day celebrants and I wanted to save ours all for our planned Macaron Picnic at the conclusion of the patisserie crawl, so it was nice to have a sample to tide us over. Also, everyone in the shop seemed to be authentically French, as did many of the patrons. Overall, bravo Macaron Cafe! A lovely place to start the morning.
Stop 2: Francois Chocolate Bar in the Plaza Hotel
From Macaron Cafe, we journeyed west to the Plaza Hotel where we found the Francois Chocolate Bar. They were very organized and prepared for hoards of macaron fans with a seperate booth set up near the counter. Strangely, there never seemed to be any hoards of macaron fans. Usually trying to chase free things in New York means going elbow to elbow with people who are bigger than you, probably make more money, and yet somehow want it more. Macaron Day luckily hasn't quite gotten that same momentum and was relatively crowd free. We collected our Francois Chocolate Bar fare and, after being judged by a stuck-up hat designer, decided it was probably time to leave the Plaza. We then made a quick stop for tupperware because we realized our macarons were far too delicate for unprotected purse travel.
Stop 3: Bouchon Bakery
Continuing westward, we made it to Columbus Circle for Bouchon Bakery. I've been meaning to go to Bouchon anyway ever since I heard of the TKO or Thomas Keller Oreo (like an oreo, but bigger and 10 times more amazing). For this reason, this was the only bakery stop on the tour that led to a purchase. Although the free macarons here were a sample size that was about 1/10 the size of their regular macarons, the TKO with it's impossibly smooth white chocolate ganache and dark chocolatey cookies was enough to make me stand behind Bouchon unquestionably. Yes, the prices are steep, but they clearly put a lot of that into the ingredients they use.
Stop 4: Jacques Torres
Next, we hit up Rockefeller Center's Jacques Torres location. At this point, it was about 1:30, and they were already out of macarons. This was a blow, but I was willing forgive them this because Jacques Torres hot chocolate is the stuff that dreams are made, and I have enjoyed it on many a cold winter's day.
Stop 5: Francois Payard Bakery
After a quick break for lunch in Washington Square Park, we headed down through Greenwich Village for Francois Payard's. This isn't a terribly good picture because it was so sunny and it was too crowded inside to take a photo. I'd been meaning to get to this bakery as well because some woman in my book club who has lived in New York her whole life said they have the best croissants in the city. I didn't manage a croissant, but we did all get free macarons. At this point our macaron crawl group had swelled from the original three to a powerful five, enabling us to gather many more macarons at each location. As it turns out, the macarons at this location were the same as the ones at the Plaza. The two Francois bakeries are in fact affiliated, and incidently it was Francois himself who first started Macaron Day. Knowing we had spares, we went ahead and ate these, toasting to the first macarons of the day.
Stop 6: Cours La Reine
Eastward bound now, we headed for Soho and Cours La Reine. You might notice in this picture that the location looks less like a bakery and more like a hair salon. That's because Cours La Reine is actually a pop up patisserie that's only open Fridays and Saturdays at Eva Scrivo Salon. Apparently, there's some deal where you can get your hair done while drinking champagne and eating macarons. This is the level of decadence I hope to achieve someday, as all I get at my salon is tap water. The macarons here had the most unique flavor options (pomegranate, lavendar, grand marnier, and cassis were all featured) and also the loveliest little cookie treasures.
Stop 7: Bisous Ciao
The final stop on our tour was Bisous Ciao. They, like Jacques Torres before them, were out of macarons. Well, not out as that's all they sell, just "out of free ones." They were more than willing to sell us some though, but that hardly seemed in the Macaron Day spirit. And at this point we had plenty already.
Having gathered all our treasures we spread out the spoils in a small parkish area. The only place to sit was on some benches already occupied by a single man who looked at us warily as we unveiled several tupperware containers of macarons on the pavement.
Behold the spoils of the day! It looks kind of strange to see normally expensive pastry products strewn on cement, but rest assured this was in a park area, not just on the sidewalk. We tried to maintain some Macaron Day standards, after all.
I'm sure all New York dwelling readers who enjoy macarons are eagerly awaiting the verdict on taste. The group fairly unanimously decided that Cours La Reine had the best texture (not too chewy, very moist) but that they had a slight after taste from the liberal addition of food coloring. Francois Payard's were uniformly good and had unique flavors like passion fruit and cranberry, but they were a little drier. Bouchon's little mini macarons were as delightful to eat as they were cute to look at. Macaron Cafe's were not quite as nice texture-wise, but we did like that they used real preserves as the filling for their fruit macarons. Overall, none of these places were particularly slouches in the macaron world.
Thus ends my summary of Macaron Day 2011. I fear this is one of my longest posts, and it's entirely about frou frou cookies...