Almost a decade after cup-cakes conquered New York City, the delicately delicious macaron is emerging as Gotham’s newest gourmet indulgence.
Of all the New York legacies wrought by Carrie Bradshaw and the Sex and the City girls, none has proven longer-lasting than the humble cupcake. Introduced to television viewers during the show’s third season, the simple, childhood goodie set off the near decade-long “cupcake wars” that still reverberate throughout the island of Manhattan.
Now, from across the Atlantic, the elegant, disk-like, feather-light macaron is finally supplanting the lowly cupcake as Gotham’s newest sweet-treat obsession. Arriving from both France and America’s East Coast, macarons were all over this past weekend’s New York Chocolate Show. They’re also all over Manhattan itself – from Chelsea’s La Maison du Macaron to Bisous, Ciao Macaron on the Lower East Side to Pâtissier François Payard in SoHo, to the most prominent new player; Paris’s venerable Maison Ladurée, which debuted a bijoux boutique in late August on the posh Upper East Side.
Originally opened as a bakery in 1862, Ladurée is credited with actually inventing the macaron some eight decades later. In 1997, new owner David Holder embarked on a global expansion and opened Ladurée shops across Europe, Japan, the Middle East and, most recently, Madison Avenue. Elisabeth Holder, David’s sister and partner, says Ladurée has been looking for an ideal New York outpost for more than five years. By the time the duo finally secured their Ladurée site in heart of Madison Avenue’s retail row, Holder says New York had become much more of a “foodie” kind of town – an ideal market for their US debut.
Indeed, New York’s long-time macaron leaders confirm that business has never been…well…sweeter. Sales, says Maison du Macaron owner Pascal Goupil, are growing by some 20 per cent each year – a number echoed by Florian Bellanger, former executive chef at Fauchon and co-owner of macaron-specialist MadMac in New Jersey. Bellanger opened MadMac in 2006 – back when macarons were more a banquet-hall novelty than haute quotidian snack. Now, he says that macarons are appearing everywhere – not just in New York, but in Chicago and Los Angeles, as well. As for the fancy French competition, Bellanger is bullish on his fellow countrymen and thinks a critical macaron mass will boost sales for all of New York’s premium players.
Still, when it comes to the macarons themselves, New Yorkers – despite their supposed sophistication – are surprisingly conservative consumers, particularly compared to more adventurous Parisians. Whereas French bakers are toying with savoury macarons flavoured with truffle or foie gras, Manhattanites are sticking with taste-tested classics such as vanilla, chocolate, raspberry and pistachio. Open-minded types might consider a caramel with fleur de sel. But for now sweet and fruity – though not too sweet or too fruity – is New York’s macaron mantra. “We’ve only had one real flop here – piña colada flavour,” says Goupil, whose shop sells some 10,000 macarons each week. “But I really liked it,” he adds. “It was like a cocktail in a macaron.”
With New York’s macaron moment still in its infancy, it’s too soon to gauge whether the trend will evolve – much like cupcakes – into an entire lifestyle. Or, like 2009′s posh pizza boom, fizzle out as consumers grow weary of cookie-cutter copycats. Either way, with old-fashioned “heritage” chocolates also big at last week’s Chocolate Fair, France’s colourful little cookie is already facing some home-grown competition.