Last week we had the most amazing dinner at an upscale French restaurant. All the classics were there - duck a l’orange, steak tartare, onion soup - and they were sublime! Packed with flavour, executed perfectly and washed down with a glass ( or two…) of delicious wine.
And after such an amazing meal there can only be one thing to top it all off - the dessert trolley! Yes, that much anticipated climax of the meal: a sweet little delight to finish the evening on a high.
And what’s on this dessert trolley, I hear you ask? More French classics?
Of course! All the favourites were there - madeleines, berry tartlets, tantalising petits fours, and of course that most French of French desserts, the macaron.
Could we resist? Of course not! Where better to try our favourite sweet treat than at a top level French restaurant. The sense of anticipation was palpable. Smiles were on faces; sparkles were in eyes; drool was on floor.
Hands slightly trembling, we selected vividly coloured red and deep black macarons - raspberry and blueberry.
Eyes closed for maximum enjoyment we bit into the king of desserts, just waiting for the texture and flavour to spark a physical and emotional reaction. And we waited. And waited some more. Three bites in we were still waiting.
What was this? What an outrage! Here in the finest of fine French dining the most hideous sin has been committed! A flavourless, boring, poorly made macaron, tasting more of the packaging than the supposed flavour.
We couldn’t believe it! Taking a closer look we knew part of the reason immediately - buttercream. Instead of using ganache like a professional macaron-maker should do, these abhorrent creatures were made with nothing more than cheaply made, flavourless buttercream.
Why does that matter, you ask? Well the buttercream is a bit like the mortar in between bricks. It’s there to do a job - hold the shells together. It doesn’t offer much more than a bit of stability, and certainly doesn’t enhance the flavour experience.
Ganache on the other hand, lets you create a brightly bursting flavoursome centrepiece to build the taste sensation around - just what eating a macaron should be.
The other reason these macarons weren’t up to scratch was a bit more subtle - essences. Rather than using real ingredients for the key flavours, corners were cut and replacement essences were used instead.
Crying with disappointment into our coffees and Calvados, we wistfully thought ahead to when we could sample some beautiful French macarons packed with real flavour and made with real ingredients. Luckily we knew just where to find some!
So our advice to you, next time you go looking for an amazing macaron, ask them if they use buttercream or ganache for the filling, and whether the flavours are made from real ingredients or essences. If the answer is buttercream and/or essence then smile politely, back slowly away and save your tastebuds for some real quality.