I'm sorry, there's just no contest.
Yes, I'm one of those food wankers that goes cuckoo for macarons. And yes, I'm a tiresome pedant when it comes to calling them 'macarons', NOT 'macaroons'. If you found this page by googling "best macaroooooons in Melbourne", I submit the following for your consideration:
A macaron is a variety of French petit four made from two halves of almond meringue with a filling (often a ganache) in the middle.
A macaroon is most commonly a sort of chunky biscuit, often containing large quantities of desiccated coconut (or sometimes almond), popular in Scotland and the US. Click on the link to see a photo.
Although some Anglophiles like to anglicise the French spelling of 'macaron' to 'macaroon' when describing the meringue-y one, I prefer to use the French spelling because it avoids confusion with the coconutty one.
So I had to clap my hands together with glee when I recently learned that somebody in Melbourne had actually gone to the trouble of writing a zine entitled "Macarons are not Macaroons". Thanks to the kind generosity of the lovely food blogger Gem, I am now the proud owner of a copy of that zine. Linguistic pedant powers: activate!
Sorry, where was I? Like I said, I love macarons. But with a few notable exceptions (for example, the pink geranium and poppy macaron filled with a handmade fig essence jam, made by Nic Poeleart from Embrasse, that I was lucky enough to have at the media launch for the MFWF was JUST SUBLIME), none of the regularly-commercially-available macarons in Melbourne come close to the perfection of those made by Duncan (macaron maestro and author of food blog Syrup and Tang).
Duncan wrote THE definitive guide to making macarons, 'La Macaronicité'. All five chapters can be found here. Read them!
Macarons that Duncan has made in the past that I've been lucky enough to taste (at food blogger banquets). That subtle cinnamon and peach, with edible sprinkles!
What I love most about Duncan's macarons, apart from the inventive flavour combinations, is the texture. They're NOT hard and audibly crunchy (yuk!), but they're not soft and wussy either. They have a gentle crispness that gives beautifully as you bite into them (the macaron equivalent of al dente?). The shells are never hollow (see how nicely full this one is in cross-section in the photo below) and the fillings are never dried out.
Duncan is a bit of a macaron perfectionist (macarons tend to have that effect on you), and is not afraid to point you the difference between a good and a bad macaron. Click on these links to read Duncan's takes on other macarons available in Melbourne, Sydney, Paris and on Masterchef.
Each for-public-consumption Macaron by Duncan is "branded" with a small, colourful dot on one shell. Yes that's right, for a few giddy weeks in early May prior to his departure on an overseas trip, Duncan's macarons were available to the public at the fabulous EARL Canteen. I caught up with Duncan for lunch last week at Hardware Societe now that he's back in the country, and we discussed his future macaron-related plans: I can't give anything away, but he has a few ideas in development. Fingers crossed!
Some more photos of macarons. Regular readers will know that one of the surest ways to win my heart (food-wise, that is) is to give me salted caramel. It's my favourite Sugadeaux Cupcake flavour and in my favourite Cutler dessert, the ice cream sandwich. The Philippa Sibley Il Fornaio launch party on Wednesday night was overcrowded with Beautiful People, but my +1 and I stayed until we could try Philippa's signature 'Snickers' dessert (caramel parfait glacé with salted peanut caramel and milk chocolate mousse), which I loved. Oh, and salted caramel was the flavour that first introduced me to Duncan's macarons, waaaay back in November 2007.
So when I learned that Duncan would be making salted caramel macarons during his EARL stint, I was kinda excited. And wow, the two and a half year wait between Duncan salted caramel macarons was worth it. He knocked it out of the park with this one! The filling was a proper salted caramel (rather than a buttercream), punctuated occasionally with little salt crystals to get your tastebuds zinging. TOTALLY addictive.
Pretty, patriotic macarons lined up in the EARL counter. I love that each flavour was given a different name (eg Clancy, Zara, Diego).
When I first tried the green and gold macarons, I preferred the ones with fresh passionfruit in a white chocolate ganache (mmmmm, fresh passionfruit). But a follow-up finger lime and dark chocolate macaron later in the week really convinced me: the native finger lime gave the dark chocolate a fantastic peppery quality.
Subtle cinnamon and dark chocolate.
More salted caramel (scaramel?) macaron food porn.
As I said, Macarons by Duncan are not currently available to the public (sniff!), but if you're interested in trying them someday I suggest going to the Macarons by Duncan website, and signing up to receive email updates.
For it was through an email update last week that a few other existing subscribers and I were able to get our hands on free sample packs of cinnamon-choc-mandarin macarons that Duncan has been testing out in a new kitchen! It felt like an illicit drug deal: I visited a secret CBD location on Friday afternoon between 1 and 4pm, gave my name to a stranger at reception, and was handed a plastic bag containing a fix of pure macaron gold. :)
Yeah, the label said "imperfect sample". Duncan lied. I thought they were perfect!
As he noted in a subsequent email, whilst the ganache was *very* assertively cinnamony on Wednesday, by Friday it had mellowed. This made the fruitiness of the mandarin to really come through in the sample - a feature I really liked.
In this light, they look a little like cheeseburgers, but let me assure you that they're a bajillion times tastier than cheeseburgers. Many sincere thanks to you Duncan, for allowing me to be the beneficiary of one of the sample packs!
If you're looking for commercially-available macarons in Melbourne, my recommendation is to avoid the ones at Laurent and Lindt (horribly dry and crunchy, based on my past experiences). And as much as I love their croissants, the macarons I had a few months ago at Le Croissant in Burwood were also dry, crunchy and hollow.
On the other hand, I've enjoyed Baker D Chirico's macarons in the past (though the macaron nerd in me wishes they'd experiment with some more unusual flavours). EARL now stocks Macarons by Josephine, and I have high hopes for the macarons that will be made in-house at just-opening Le Traiteur.
Macaron snobs, where else do you go for macarons in Melbourne?
UPDATED 27/07/10: Macarons by Duncan are now available to the public once more! Read about it on Melbourne Gastronome here and get full details directly from Duncan's site here.