Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Bouchon Bakery Macarons (New York, NY)

10 Columbus Circle, Third Floor
New York, NY 10019

Clearly, I've been on a macaron kick recently. Ever since Mitchell whetted my appetite with his delicious gift from La Maison du Macaron, I've been having wet, drool-filled dreams about macarons. This evening, I happened to find myself near Columbus Circle and used that as an excuse to slip inside to take a peek at what Bouchon Bakery had on offer.

The first difference you'll notice about Bouchon Bakery's macarons is that they are freakin' huge. They are gargantuan by macaron standards, a whopping two inches in diameter. I think as a result of their large size, there isn't a lot of rise in the "cookie" / shell and some of the flavors I tried tended towards overdensity.

Flavors change a bit by season, but the ones that are on offer all the time include the classic (vanilla), chocolate, coffee and pistachio. Currently, they also have orange creme and peanut butter and jelly flavors.

The quality of these macarons varied a lot. I tried to conduct a relatively controlled experiment, whereby I brought all of them home, allowed them to come to room temperature, and then took one bite out of each macaron as I took notes. For greater nerd credibility, I even cleared my palate with sips of strong, Earl Grey tea in between bites.

Here are my not-very-scientific "findings" from left to right:
Classic -- For some reason, I was expecting a completely unadulterated macaron with a light, delicate almond fragrance, but this macaron tasted fairly intensely of vanilla. The shell was a perfect texture, with a crisp, though not overly brittle outer shell. When you bit through the macaron, the "cookie" had a balanced density with just enough chew. The filling was creamy, intensely vanilla-y and a little too sweet, but the ratio of filling to shell was perfect. Even though this was the most humdrum of available flavors, it was also the most technically well-executed.

Coffee -- This had only a faint coffee flavor. Again, the shell was nicely crispy on the outside, without being brittle, and the inside was soft and chewy, not overly dense. Filling ratio was good, not overwhelming. It was pleasant to eat and well-made, but not mind-blowing. 

Chocolate -- The flavor was excellent -- very rich and chocolatey, with a tinge of darkness, bitterness, which helped balance the intense sweetness of the filling. The cookie portion was fine, though a bit too flat. The filling was very dense, almost like a ganache or frosting, and completely overwhelmed the flavor and texture of the shell.

Pistachio -- In terms of flavor, the pistachio was my favorite: mellow, nutty, true to the name. I caught a whiff of coconut in there, as well. The filling was creamy and pleasantly light in texture, but very sweet. The cookie was a just a wee bit too dense.

Orange creme -- Again, I enjoyed the flavors -- lightly orange, more intensely lemony from the filling -- but the shell was very dry. The outer layer shattered when I bit into it, and there wasn't enough chew. The filling, which I think included a lemon jelly-like center with vanilla creme, was a good, creamy texture, but there was too much of it. The filling overpowered the shell in terms of both flavor and quantity.

Peanut Butter and Jelly -- This is a seasonal offering and I bet I would've liked it a lot if I actually loved peanut butter. As it was, I enjoyed the faintly grapey shell, which had a nice, crisp outside, but little rise or chew. The sticky peanut butter and grape jelly fillings were too dense and completely overwhelmed the more delicate flavor and texture of the shell.

I've read complaints somewhere that Buchon Bakery doesn't fill its macarons enough. Either things have changed or these critics really, really, really like their fillings. If anything, I thought some macarons were overfilled for the type of filling used. (The chocolate and PB&J macarons would have been more balanced and enjoyable had they had less of their very dense fillings.)

All that said, Buchon still makes a good macaron. It's not a Chowhound favorite, I've noticed, but perhaps its critics ought to give it another try.

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