Thursday, March 28, 2013

Andrea Carmona French Macarons

Valley Environs

Andrea Carmona Macarons

Hagerstown, MD

We're ranging a little far afield today, right up to the very top of the Shenandoah Valley and just across the Potomac, so let me give you a little background on what inspired this journey.

For some inexplicable reason I've found myself doing a lot of reading about France this year.  I'm not entirely sure why.  I'm not exactly a Francophile. I've never been to France, nor had much desire to go (at least not until now).  All of this armchair adventuring started by accident when I stumbled across the book Paris, in Love by Eloisa James, and from there I began following the blogs of several expats in Paris and Provence.  Now I get a vicarious daily dose of France, and I've noticed a recurring theme across blogs: macarons.

Macarons are typically made from almond flour and filled with ganache, buttercream or jam.
I'm certainly no macaron expert (they really haven't caught on here in the states and freshly-baked ones are about as hard to find as hen's teeth), but here's what I can tell you.  A macaron is a sort of little French Oreo cookie, only a good deal more colorful, more delicate, more flavorful, and more expensive.  (So nothing like an Oreo, really.)  Macarons are made from almond flour and are rumored to be quite tricky to do well.  The filling can be ganache, buttercream or even jam.  I got the impression from the salesperson at the establishment where I bought mine that ganache is preferred by discriminating macaron connoisseurs, but being a macaron neophyte, I would not presume to offer that as definitive information.

After some extensive Googling, I discovered that the nearest macaron bakery is an hour and ten minutes north of Front Royal.  Technically, there are two other sources nearly equidistant in the DC metro area, but I selected Andrea Carmona Macarons of Hagerstown, Maryland, because there seemed to be a consensus online that their macarons are superior. Macarons had become such an object of fixation in my mind that an hour and ten minutes seemed reasonable enough.  Saturday before last I checked my watch and decided that I had just enough time to get up to Hagerstown and back before a dinner engagement.  I was off like a shot up I-81, hot in pursuit of French pastry.

The Andrea Carmona macaron kiosk is located in the food court at the Hagerstown Premium Outlet Center in Hagerstown, MD.
Andrea Carmona sells their wares from a glowing little kiosk in the food court at the Hagerstown Premium.  I had not anticipated that I would be including a food court in my explorations of the Shenandoah Valley, but there you have it.  Artisanal macarons.  In a food court.  Fortunately the outlet center is easily accessible from the highway, only about two miles east from 81 on I-70.  I had budgeted precisely ten minutes to conduct my macaron business and the helpful gentlemen behind the counter made things easy for me.  He informed me that they had a limited selection on the day of my visit - only eight flavors - so I asked for two of go...quickly, please.

The Andrea Carmona website showcases a brilliant array of flavors including the deep violet Valrhona Dark Bitter Chocolate Super-Fruity Macaron, and the blinding yellow Lemon Curd Macaron.   There is an enticing duotone Mascarpone Raspberry Macaron and a pale pink confection that appears to be raspberry flavored.  (How do I know this?  It has actual raspberries sandwiched between the cookies.)  I was a little disappointed that they didn't have any of the lovely saturated berry hues, but they did have the object of my keenest desire - the almost Caribbean-turquoise Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Macaron.  Magnifique!

Elegant presentation of a quality product.  
The staff carefully arranged sixteen of the fragile little sweets in a smart black box:  two Dark Chocolate Sea Salt, a pair of Pistachio, two Coconut, a couple of Columbian Coffee, two Salted Caramel, two Triple Vanilla, two Chocolate Mint, and two Chocolate Mousse.  He tied up the package with a little gold-embossed ribbon and handed it over the counter in an elegantly monogrammed black shopping bag.  Niiiiice.  It has been my experience that you get what you pay for.  In this case I paid roughly $30.00 for sixteen cookies, fast, friendly service and top-shelf presentation.  Not cheap, but I was paying for the experience.  The macaron fantasy.  I can live with that.

As it turned out, the restaurant where my husband and I were meeting the neighbors for dinner was not serving dessert.  Happily, I happened to have a box of sixteen exotic little macarons at hand!  Much thoughtful consideration of the glossy little fold-out flavor guide ensued around the dinner table.  The neighbors agreed that they preferred the caramel and coconut varieties.  My husband liked the chocolates.  My personal favorite, as expected, was the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt.  To my surprise, although I'm not generally a fan of mint, the triple-mint chocolate was a close second.

Although I'm not usually a big fan of mint, these triple-mint chocolate flavored macarons were a close favorite, right after the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt. 
So the moral of this story is, if you find yourself in the northern part of the valley and feeling peckish for something French, head for Hagerstown and try some of these top-shelf macarons!

Incidentally…does anyone else notice that Carmona is an anagram of Macaron?

Andrea Carmona French Macarons
Hagerstown Premium Outlets
495 Premium Outlets Blvd. - Food Court
Hagerstown, MD
(240) 500-5066


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