French Fancies: Ladurée

I still recall the first time I ate a macaron. It was at Gordon Ramsey’s debut London restaurant Aubergine. He served tiny lemon and raspberry macarons as part of his petits fours’ selection. They were delicious, just melted on the tongue. The second time I ate them was at Ladurée on a trip to Paris with my parents.

How it all began

The history of this Parisian tea room began in 1862, when Louis Ernest Ladurée, a man from France’s southwest, opened a bakery in Paris at 16 rue Royale.

The same year, the first stone of the Garnier Opera House was laid, and the area surrounding Madeleine was rapidly developing into one of the capital’s most important and elegant business districts. The most prestigious names in French luxury goods had already taken up residence in this neighbourhood, and it’s still one of my favourite areas today.

In 1871, while Baron Haussmann was giving Paris a “new face”, a fire at the bakery prompted its transformation into a patisserie. The shop’s renovation was entrusted to Jules Cheret, a famous turn-of-the-century painter. Cheret sought inspiration from the painting techniques used on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the Garnier Opera House. By integrating them into his work, he added depth to the ceilings decorated with chubby cherubs, notably the “Pastry Angel” who was later to inspire the House’s graphic identity.

During the Second Empire, cafés became more and more luxurious and attracted Parisian high society. Along with the chic restaurants around Madeleine, they became the showcases of the capital. They were very popular with Parisian women who wanted to socialise and make new acquaintances outside of outdated literary salons and circles.

Ladurée’s wife, Jeanne Souchard, had the idea of turning the patisserie into one of the first tea rooms in town. The ”salon de thé” had a definite advantage over the cafés where women could gather in complete freedom.

Ladurée’s rise to fame came in 1930 when his grandson, Pierre Desfontaines, had the original idea of the double-decker, sticking two macaron shells together with a creamy ganache as filling. Queen Catherine de’ Medici had brought the macaron to France from Italy in the 16th century, and the recipe for the biscuit had hardly varied over the years, but the amounts of the ingredients used and the appearance of the end product were up to the individual bakers.

More recently master patissier Pierre Herme was responsible for the reinvention of Ladurée.

In one year Ladurée went from a little bakery in the eighth district of Paris to a big brand name. When I arrived, there was not a lot of organisation. I really brought the savoir-faire to the company. When I arrived, they didn’t [even] have a logo.

How do you make a macaron?

It all begins with whole blanched almonds from California that are ground and mixed with icing (confectioner’s) sugar. Egg whites are whisked until peaks form and natural food colorings are added to give the macarons their subtle, uniform colours.

The coloured egg whites turn into Italian meringue with the addition of sugar syrup heated to 120°C (248°F)  It’s this which gives the finished macarons a glossy appearance. Then the mix of ground almonds and sugar is added to the meringue, and the macaron paste (or appareil as it’s known in French) is ready.

The appareil is poured into a machine called a trémie. This is the only stage that isn’t performed by hand, because only a machine can form identical shells. The trémie pushes out small discs of appareil onto baking trays covered with greaseproof (parchment) paper. The trays are tapped lightly so that the macarons finish settling and then baked for 20-25 minutes. Once out of the oven, half the batch is removed from the trays to be covered with filling, while the other half patiently awaits the topping- off stage.

A whole room is dedicated to filling the macarons, the stage when they are given their layer of ganache or jam. Everything is done, once again, by hand – and you need a very steady hand with a piping nozzle to drop exactly the right amount onto each one. Finally, it’s time to top off or sandwich the macarons by popping a second shell on the filling. After a night in a cold room, the only thing left to do is to package the little treats in their pretty pastel-coloured boxes. Then it’s immediately off to all the shops across France.

More recent developments

Ladurée’s refined atmosphere attracted the attention of David Holder and his father Francis Holder, founder of the (private) Holder Group.

In 1993, they decided to buy this Parisian institution, and to promote and enlarge the famous “Maison”.

Four years later, encouraged by the success of the rue Royale store, the Ladurée tea room and boutique on the Champs-Elysées, decorated by Jacques Garcia, opened its doors in a blaze of glory.

Openings in other prestigious Parisian locations followed. In 2005, the House opened a store in London’s Harrods which marked the start of an international adventure and the inauguration of over one hundred sales points across the world including one in New York in 2011.

The House has also diversified by leveraging its brand and expanded into cosmetics (Les Merveilleuses de Ladurée), candles and the new chocolate line Marquis De Ladurée. 

Ladurée partners with other major brands, artists and designers to launch new creations and collections twice a year, such as the Rose Religieuse, the Rose- Raspberry Saint Honoré, the Liquorice Millefeuille and the Blackcurrant-Violet Macaron. In addition, Ladurée has recently launched a range of vegan macarons – hurrah!

All images courtesy of Ladurée

36 Comments on “French Fancies: Ladurée

  1. Parfait ! Il existe d’autres spécialités de Ladurée, comme le croissant aux amandes. Un chocolat et un croissant aux amandes, et c’est Paris ! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. A friend of mine made her daughter’s wedding cake entirely from macarons she made herself. She said it was the biggest labour of love she had ever accomplished. I think she may well be right.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I love macarons! Especially when they’re made just right… The pre-made ones at the store and not at the bakeries are too sweet…

    Side note, my European friend had to explain what an aubergine is to me and apparently my computer is telling me it does not recognize the word aubergine which I have typed into the comment. I looked up the etymology of the word and it’s quite fascinating! I may do an entry on my food blog on aubergine soon! Haha!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. From all the French fancies you wrote about, this one is one of my 3 favorites, the other 2 being Mariage Frères and Diptyque. My number 1 remains Mariage because I drink so much tea. Speaking of tea Laduree also has a home blend that is absolutely delicious, (several of them actually but this one I am referring to is the Melange Laduree in a gorgeous little box. They have changed the boxes over the years and I must have every iteration) . So happy that they have the shop Rue d’Antibes in Cannes, when I come see my parents I can shop there for the tea that I bring back (they don’t have it all the time in the boutiques in NYC). They also have a take out (two, one in each airport, the old and the new as I used to call them) at the Nice airport terminal/gates. And in NYC now in addition to the tiny shop on Madison uptown, they have the big salon de thé / restaurant etc on West Broadway, Soho in the very place the wonderful Barolo restaurant used to be (RIP Barolo). The location itself was already fantastic with an inner garden “une cour intérieure almost the French way, and we can still enjoy it fortunately, with Laduree instead of Barolo.

    Liked by 1 person

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