Ladurée is such a polarizing force. For everyone who thinks they have the greatest macarons in the history of the universe, there’s that other camp that says they’re too sweet, too delicate, too mass produced, too artificially flavored, too … you name it. I am, of course, in the pro-Ladurée macaron camp, feeling that at any given moment they have more good macarons than the other shops. Granted, I always think other specific pâtisseries have better individual pieces, but if only because of the sheer quantity of flavors Ladurée maintains, they’re the easiest bet for a nice assortment. But, wait, doesn’t Ladurée sell full-on pastries, too? Yes, yes they do.
One of the big reasons I got Paris Pâtisseries going was to help open people’s eyes to the world beyond macarons. Not that I don’t love macs, but kilo-for-kilo, they’re generally and by far the most expensive of anything in a pastry shop. Plus, once the chef has his system down, they’re among the least labor intensive pieces to punch out. So let’s all try and make the chefs’ days a little more arduous and challenging. Turning some of our attentions to treats like the Cupcake Fraise-Rhubarbe could be a start.
Beginning from the top, we have a nice ripe slice of strawberry – a fine entrée to the greater piece. The swirl of buttercream beneath the fraise is actually flavored with a hint of strawberry, which was certainly a pleasant surprise for me, as there was no pink coloring to hint at it. I’d give kudos, but the oh-so-very pink pâte d’amande covering actually has no flavor, despite the dye-job. The irony. Oh, Ladurée! Beneath all that flare is yet another layer of berry-tinged buttercream, ridding atop a wonderfully zippy rhubarb compote interior. Were it not for the extent to which the rhubarb bleeds into the slightly too-dry cake, it would all be quite something.
Compared to American-style cupcakes, this Fraise-Rhubarbe is still miles ahead. Make that kilometers ahead; French pastry superiority is on the metric scale. I often have flashbacks to getting a box of Georgetown Cupcakes (star of the TLC show “DC Cupcakes”) here in Washington, eating a few bites of each, almost wanting to vomit, and then throwing them in the trash. As if their abuse of sugar and flavoring wasn’t bad enough, the cakes were generally terrible. Since Americans like me generally have no taste, we still line up out the doors of these dens of pastry iniquity. Animals!
I keep hoping that, one day, our primitive U.S. sensibilities will develop into a deeper appreciation of fine pâtisserie. We’re not yet to the point of forking over $8-$10 for a world class pastry, but if people can handle $3-$4 for a horrendous cupcake, then we’re about halfway to where we need to be.
So, uh . . . maybe get a Cupcake Fraise-Rhubarbe. It’s tasty, but it’s not handled as adeptly as I might like. Plus, I think their Cupcake Pistache-Griotte is a far superior specimen of cupcakery. There’re also plenty of nice pastries in the case, which I’d rather snag – Harmonie, Divin, Saint-Honoré Rose, etc. If only all life’s decisions were so difficult.