I’ve been thinking a lot about Ladurée in the last week – mostly because I loved going there every morning, and I know I’m now only 5 months and some change from moving back to Paris and starting the 8:30am tradition anew. On my very last visit there, at the end of July, the manager and I even exchanged a, “À l’année prochaine! (Until next year!)” I know she and the others miss me in the way only an overeating, and very loyal, American can be missed. Which is to say . . . probably not that much, but they will be excited to see me when I’m back.
Later that day of my departure, when I was on my return flight to the States, one of the Air France attendants teased me and said that I should share some of the macarons in the box I was working on. I’m sure she thought I bought them at the airport, but little did she know they were my final authentic Parisian pastry experience from Ladurée Bonaparte. So I licked my finger and slid it across all the macarons, before saying, “Sure, help yourself.” Ok, not really. I actually just asked her if she’d like one, and then she was all like, “I just couldn’t. No, no, they’re yours.” And then she left me alone to have my way with the macarons as I saw fit. As I finished the last one, I started to reminisce about all the other goodies at Ladurée I had neglected to smuggle onboard. Among my favorites were the Saint-Honoré Rose, the Religieuse Rose, and really anything rose-oriented. But what about the raspberry-litchi-rose Ispahan? Well…
It was ok. The macaron/meringue halves were a bit dry. The raspberries were aesthetically pretty close to perfect, but they also weren’t entirely ripe. I found the rose crème in the middle to be delicious but in shockingly short supply. And the litchi was a bit more subdued than I would have expected. I could definitely taste it, but it was almost drowned-out. Though the biggest problem is that, in real life, it looks like it just saw a ghost . . . rather drab and pale. I turned up the vibrance/saturation in the photos, as I’m not going to punish my blog traffic by showing a pastry that looks like it just had the life sucked out of it. That said, the rose petal on top with the glucose dew drop is always pretty cool to see, and I wouldn’t refuse eating another Ispahan. Like I said, it was ok.
In my opinion, the very similar Marie-Antoinette by Carl Marletti is vastly superior. He ditches the litchi and fills the bottom macaron half with raspberry syrup. He also uses more rose crème, and he sprinkles the top with candied violets. Maybe I’ll host a pastry taste-test when I return to Paris . . . kind of like the Pepsi Challenge from back in the 80’s. I can have people taste very similar pastries to see what they really prefer. And then I’d turn on a video camera and have them eat Arnaud Larher’s Le Récif, at the conclusion, just to see how many would become physically ill.
Anyway, back to the Ispahan. You’re probably wondering, as I have, “Why does it have such an un-French name?” Good question. It’s because it’s named after a fancy rose that grows wild in Iran . . . the Ispahan! Fancier still is that the guy who invented the Ispahan pastry was none other than Pierre Hermé, from back when worked at Ladurée. Interesting fact, n’est-ce pas? And that is of course why he also sells an Ispahan at his shop, which is, just for your reference, better than the Ladurée one.
Check out this sweet aerial shot of the insides, right below. Can you see the little litchis in there? Can you just smell the perfume of those Iranian roses? Yum.
So, yeah, it’s good enough to drop some money on, but I’d recommend at least getting an Hermé one instead, if not Marletti’s re-imagining. Or, if you’re in the mood for a full-on rose experience, just snag a Religieuse Rose from the Ladurée case. That was always one of my personal favorites and among the more seemingly decadent ones in which to indulge.