Saturday, March 25, 2017

Barcelona and Beyond - Spain (Part 2)

I am excited about my trip to Barcelona since my friends have been recommending the city for me. As there are a lot of places that I was recommended to visit, I decided to stay in this city for three days, starting from the time I arrive at 22.00 on my train ride from Madrid. I decided to stay at St. Christopher’s Inn Barcelona — the same hostel franchise that I also had in Paris — since I find the location pretty strategic and that I am familiar with their facilities. Good thing they also have a bed available since I booked the hostel once I was in Madrid. So after arriving at Barcelona Sants station, I bought an R-train ticket from the station to my hostel stop in Placa de Catalunya. I took the R2 train to Passeig de Grácia. I decided to go to bed right after getting a key to my room that I shared with 7 other girls and starts dozing off without even turning my alarm on.

 I woke up pretty late after dozing off on my top bunk that I almost missed breakfast time. I finally took off from my hostel at 11 a.m. and went down to the metro station. I bought a two-day Hola! BCN pass to Barcelona’s public transportation that is priced at EUR 14 and then took a ride to one of the biggest building by one of the most prominent architects in the world: to Antonio Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia through Metro L2 from Universitas to Sagrada Familia. 

I was amazed from the time I get off the metro station and saw La Sagrada Familia standing tall under the bright sunny sky. There is a great considerable crowd but it does not take away the grandeur of the towering building. Even from the outside, you can see the intricate details of the building and how every side has its own unique charms. To enter the building you can get your ticket here with the entrance ticket priced at EUR15 and up for the tour. Check for detailed prices here, but it is encouraged to make an online reservation. Or if you’re like me, you can just observe the building exterior from the outside and take a look at the souvenir shops right behind the building — got myself a bunch of magnets for EUR 1 each. I continued the day to look at another Gaudi creation, which is the Casa Batllo. Again I took Metro L2 and took off at the Passeig de Gràcia stop. 

The Casa Batllo is a bit harder to find, it is placed wall to wall between other buildings (most of which are shops) and is notifiable only from its unique forefront display. The building used to be a house until it is renovated by Antonio Gaudi that now is open for tours. This attraction is not as crowded as La Sagrada Familia was and so you can get a better look at Gaudi creation here. Tickets for an adult is priced at EUR 20. Click here for the complete price.

After walking a few blocks I decide to go to Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, a famous open market that spreads around the La Rambla. Unfortunately, I was there on a Sunday, which is the day the market closes. Frustrated, I asked the tourism office for a recommendation of a thing to do. A very kind staff recommend me to walk through the passageway of the market and to walk around La Rambla, the famous Barcelona shopping street that connects to Plaça de Catalunya instead. Although many shops are closed since it was a Sunday and that I arrive during the siesta time slot, at least I found two pairs of espadrilles as souvenirs. There’s also an open Christmas market held in an open space nearby a church there. I almost bought half a kilo of honeycomb but I remember that I have to bring it on a plane and I don’t want to take a risk. 

I end up spending the rest of the day strolling around La Rambla. Once it got dark, I get back to the top of the bunk bed and spend the night watching Korean variety shows. I deserve the rest, I told myself. To more adventures tomorrow!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Battle of the French Macarons

In the last decade, there’s a booming macaron trend — the pretty French sandwich cookie which the main component consists of baked almond flour, sugar, meringue with a little ganache, jams, or other typically sweet fillings that are sandwiched in between. I for one is one to fell in love with macaron after the trend. I remember trying my first macaron at Bakerzin in Jakarta back in 2009. trying and failing hard to bake one for myself in 2010, I tried my first of Ladurée macaron in Singapore back in 2014. I fell in love with the cookie since my first sight of it; it was just so pretty. Turned out I really loved the flavor and texture of the cookie base. So trying out macaron in its homeland has always been a dream of mine. And so I did make it come true on my visit to Paris.

I set a specific time slot in my itinerary for a visit to Ladurée and Pierre Hermé as every debate on ‘the best French macaron’ always include both of them. I also went a bit overboard and bought macaron anytime it was upon my sight in Paris. I spent one fifth of my Paris travel budget purchasing them. I did not get every macaron I consumed to be put on this blog but trust me these ones are some of the best (and honestly, some I did remember to take pictures of) macaron I’ve tasted. And did I finally find out which is the best macaron in Paris; let alone France; let alone the world?! Well, I did come to a conclusion to finding out the best macaron I ever tried so far in my life. So here’s listing of macaron brands ranking to the best.

Pierre Hermé

I was told that Pierre Hermé has the best option of flavors, the selection of the macarons are pretty unique with a mix between one bold flavor mixed with another. Curious, I bought Pierre Hermé macaron in one of their branches near the Paris Opéra. From the display itself it can be seen that the colors are brighter than macarons in other places and I was amazed when I first took a bite of their salted-butter caramel macaron. The flavor really kicks in and it soon overcomes your palate. I really liked all the flavors I piced that day and I wish I could’ve tried out more flavor. Price wise, the box of 7 is priced at EUR 18.00. I bought another large macaron (salted caramel flavor, my favorite from them) at EUR 5.50. Texture was very consistent!

Pierre Marcolini
Pierre Marcolini named itself as a haute chocolaterie but when I find them in their macaron display at the Carrousel du Louvre. The macarons are so pretty, the prettiest macaron I’ve ever consumed to be honest. The shell was just so smooth and shiny that I feel bad for cracking it every time I bite into it. I also get one of the warmest service here, the staff were kindly guiding me into picking some of their recommended flavors. Flavor wise, most of them were really subtle but the chocolate macaron itself was great. I would also love it more if the cookie were a bit less dry. The pack of 6 is priced at EUR 12.90.

I’m familiar with Maxim when I got their chocolate as a gift — I still kept their red egg-tins. So when I saw them after buying a pack of Pierre Marcolini macaron at Carrousel du Louvre, I decided to take a peek of their store. Bought a set of four mini canelés and tried out one of their Poppy Macaron or Macaron Coquelicot as they put it, that is a mix of poppy flower and chocolate flavor. Although pretty and the chocolatey tartness of the filling was nice I find their texture to be my least favorite; it was dry. This flavor was only available at the Carrousel du Louvre as the store exclusive. I know I’m not doing this justice by only trying out one flavor but that’s just a piece from me. The total of my purchase is EUR 10.00. And that one little piece of 'M' lettered chocolate attached to the macaron costs an extra 25 cent. Crazy, I know.

As for their canelé, I really like how they balance the sweetness of the particular eggy cake.One thing to note from Maxim’s de Paris is that they got really nice options for gifts from wine to assortment of chocolates.

Said to have the best macaron and with the most international recognition will all of its branch all over the world, Ladurée is the classic go-to for your supply of French macaron. They offer a lot of flavors, most of them are one-tone classic flavors from chocolate, vanilla, pistachio, lemon, rose and so on. You can see the list of flavors here. I visited their store in the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and bought a set of macaron in a cylindrical package (you can pick your own style of packaging and those in accordance to the number of macaron you want to buy). I got a half-dozen of their macaron in the Jewel Gift Box Green & Gold that is priced at EUR 18.20. It was certainly the most expensive out of the others I tried. Texture wise, I think that this is the best out of the others with a nice hard outer layer and chewy inside texture of the macaron. Their best flavor is certainly their signature rose. I also found their pistachio macaron to be the best compared to to others — pistachio was the basic flavor that I tried out in every shop as a basis standard. However, some of the flavors were a miss for me, such as their liquorice and orange blossom which I thought were underwhelming.

At Ladurée I also bought canelé, another favorite French-pastry of mine. I find their canelé to be a bit too strong, the smell and the flavor of rum was really strong that it overpowered the cake.

Paul is the first pastry shop that I had my first look at, as one of their shop is located within the Gare du Nord Station. Curious to try Paul in Frnace, I tried to buy one of their bigger macaron. I tried two out of the four available macaron flavors that are available in bigger cookie sizes: pistachio and chocolate, while the other two are vanilla and raspberry. I really really liked their macarons as it was big, flavorful and chewy! Although it lacks the typical crispiness of macaron outer layer, I actually liked it. It is priced at EUR 3.00 (EUR 3.50 inside the Louvre) each and honestly I think it is better than three of normal-sized macarons from some other places. This made me wanted to try out their particular macaron once I got back in Jakarta simply to compare their quality. 

P.S. I really liked Paul’s canelé, too! Second best canelé I’ve ever had.

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My favorite was Pierre Hermé! Their flavor were fantastic and the texture of the cookies were also great. The price, although not cheap, is not the most expensive out of the bunch -- I'd rather think of it as the extra expense for the quality.. My runner up would be Ladureé for its most amazing texture and great flavors. I might rank it higher if I get more time to sit down at their dining room, becuase it was just so so pretty! Hehe. But to be honest, I'm perfectly happy with PAUL's: more economical, can be more commonly found, and it has other great pastry options too. That's my two cents about the best macarons I've tried out in Paris. This totally answered my curiosity and I'm happy to get a taste of some of my favorite sweets in its capital. I hope you're also glad that I put an extra bit on canelé hehe. Now now, any ideas as to what I should try out next?