May 19, 2010

macaron taste test | natasha’s mulberry & mott | leawood, kansas

Sometime during the past month, I developed a new obsession: macarons. I don’t know if I was drawn to them because of their petite size, vibrant colors or Parisian sophistication (or maybe because macarons are supposedly the new cupcakes?), but I just knew that I wanted to try these little French treats.

A macaron (pronounced mack-ah-rohn—oh how one less “o” makes a big difference) is a traditional French sandwich-like pastry made of egg whites, almond powder, icing sugar and sugar. It’s filled with cream or ganache and comes in several flavors and colors. Macarons’ claim to fame came at the beginning of the 20th  century, when Pierre Desfontaines, second cousin of Louis Ernest Ladurée of Paris’ famed Ladurée, had the idea to join two meringues and fill them with ganache.

Sometimes the simplest ideas turn into the most brilliant creations.

laduree macarons

{Macarons to covet: the magnificent Ladurée macarons, a Paris original. Photo By Louis Beche/Courtesy Flickr.}

Without any experience with macarons (I’ve never been to France!), it took a little research to understand what I should look for and taste with my first macaron adventure. One of my favorite foodie blogs, Serious Eats, was one of my first sources for macaronducation.

right and wrong macarons

{The perfect amount of filling and a light, crisp shell make the perfect macaron. Photo Courtesy Serious Eats.}

I knew that I was supposed to look for a smooth, thin, light crust that has a bit of a crunch to it, revealing a soft, moist filling. Easy enough. But where could I find macarons in the Midwest?

Because Lawrence lacks many restaurants and bakeries with French influence, I began searching for Kansas City-area bakeries to begin my pastry hunt. Natasha’s Mulberry & Mott caught my eye.

Owned by mother-daughter team Vicki and Natasha Goellner, Natasha’s Mulberry & Mott (named after the parallel streets in New York City) is a beautiful bakery in Leawood’s new, luxurious Mission Farms development. Natasha received her pastry arts education at the French Culinary Institute in New York City and, to my benefit, brought her love for baked goods to my backyard. While I would have preferred to see Natasha’s Mulberry & Mott in a less suburban area (Westport? Plaza?), its pricey pastries fit the area clientele—and I would easily drive back to Mission Farms for more of Natasha’s amazing, well-worth-the-price macarons.

natasha's macarons

{Colorful macarons line the display at Natasha's Mulberry & Mott in Leawood, Kansas. Photo Courtesy Natasha's Mulberry & Mott.}

The atmosphere at Natasha’s was warm, cozy and deliciously perfumed with the sweet scent of sugar. I scooped up a baker’s dozen of strawberry macarons at $1.95 a pop (gotta be able to test those babies all weekend, right?), and was only charged for 12 (great incentive to keep buying them by the baker’s dozen!).  The clerk boxed up my goodies in a baby-pink box and advised me on how to care for my new best friends: keep them cool and move them to an airtight container so the filling doesn’t dry out; consume them within two days for freshest taste (like that was difficult!).

I tried the bonus macaron at Natasha’s, and it was just as Serious Eats told me it should be—light, airy shell with a creamy, semi-sweet filling. Until I go to Ladurée, all macarons I try will have to live up to Natasha’s standard—and she set the bar high.

I brought home the dozen macarons for my mom for mother’s day (we had a French-themed celebration) and got her opinion on the sandwich cookies; she loved how light and dainty they were, and they reminded her of the French dinner dates she had with my father in Saigon when they were courting more than 30 years ago. It’s amazing how the taste of a sweet little treat can bring back such beloved memories.

I hope to keep making memories with macarons. Natasha has an amazing flavor lineup, and I have a whole summer to make weekend trips to Kansas City-area bakeries to perform scientific macaron taste tests with my girlfriends. :)

Where in Kansas City should I go next?

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