The story goes like this: in the late 19th century, when Paris was being perfected by Baron Haussmann, and café culture was for the first time in full swing, Jeanne Souchard, Louis Ernest Ladurée’s wife, decided that ladies needed a little something more for their social outings. She had the idea of mixing the styles of her husband’s elegant pastry shop with that of a classic Parisian café, thus transforming Ladurée and giving birth to one of the first salons de thé in the city.
Later, in the early 20th century, M. Ladurée’s second cousin, Pierre Desfontaines, had another brilliant idea—this one edible: Join two macaron shells with a delicious ganache filling. Voila, the macaron was born, the family’s second groundbreaking contribution.
Today’s Ladurée—with three proper salons de thé in Paris as well as other locations in posh cities such as London, Tokyo and Monaco—is best known for these sweet and sublime treats. Indeed, walking around the Paris, you’ll notice locals and tourists alike toting the pastel green shopping bags with pride and anticipation. If you’ve never sampled one, book your ticket to Paris tout de suite.
Macarons are little, round cakes made primarily of ground almonds, egg whites and sugar that manage this pitch-perfect balance of slightly crispy on the outside and soft and cakey in the middle. At Ladurée, they come in flavors that are dreamt up in a “laboratory”: lily of the valley, black currant, violet, licorice… and of course there are the classics like chocolate, vanilla and raspberry.
Once the macarons are baked and filled with creamy ganache, they’re set aside for a day or two. This allows them to achieve that sublime balance of texture and flavor.
With that whole build-up, it’s crazy that I wouldn’t sample a plate of macarons after enjoying a beautiful lunch at the Champs-Elysée location and rhapsodize here about the flavors. But, you see, I haven’t even touched on Ladurée’s pastries and cakes yet. For as wonderful as the macarons are, the desserts are really something to be savored.
Take, for example, the Religieuse Griotte Amande.
The Religieuse is an exquisite puff pastry dessert that comes in several varieties: violet, raspberry-rose and cherry. We got the cherry. Paired with heavenly whipped blanc manger and tart morello cherries, it was, in a word, sublime. Fruity and creamy, light yet decadent, it was a masterful example of how elegant a puff pastry can be.
The Savarin Chantilly was no less impressive. Made with Baba pastry and soaked through and through with dark rum, it was a potent little number, softened by beautiful Chantilly cream.
And then there was the Saint-Honoré.
Another house specialty, this one is made with two different kinds of pastry, two different kinds of cream, and, with their newest version, two different flavors: pistachio and strawberry.
Imagine the lightest confectioner’s custard and Chantilly cream, flavored with pistachio, paired with a fresh strawberry stew and enclosed in light, flakey puff pastry. It was heaven. Another deeply moving experience with each forkful.
So, I will certainly return to Ladurée and report on the macarons. But when you sample three desserts such as these, even sweets of historic importance demand just a little less attention.