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The French are to pastry as Italians are to pasta: they just do it right, like no other. And when it comes to the French macaron, Ladurée just may do it best. We have all swooned over Ladurée, which first established a tea room near the Place de la Concorde in 1862. And with it’s shop on the Upper East Side, and the opening of it’s Soho tea salon on West Broadway, Ladurée has successfully brought the sophistication and the delicate, rich flavors of French baking to New York City.
This week, Ladurée will open its garden oasis just in time for spring/summer. I had the glorious opportunity to bake a French classic, mille-feuille, with Ladurée co-president Elisabeth Holder last week in her Soho loft, just steps away from the tea house which she and her husband oversee.
Ladurée evokes so many things to so many people. The Ladurée macaron: it’s really the whole package (literally), isn’t it? The soft, mint green tone of the box, the elegant gold-etched logo, the perfectly tied ribbon… It’s classic, akin to Americans opening that Tiffany blue box and ribbon, as if you’ve entered a fairy tale. And when you bite into the macaron itself, two delicate round cakes with cream filling sandwiched in between—you’re instantly under the Ladurée spell. Swoon, indeed. Being in the tea salon, you feel transported to 18th-century Paris.
For me as a designer, I almost use Ladurée as a noun in describing a particular palette that I often use for bedrooms: that, dreamy muted tone found in blushy pinks, greens, blues, and violets. The brand has mastered both the savory and sweet French culinary world, and has expanded into all things pretty and French, from teas to candles. We all want a piece of the Ladurée world, and Elisabeth Holder offers it to us.
When I arrived at Elisabeth’s modernist stainless steel kitchen, we set out to create a mille-feuille, a classic French pastry from the Ladurée cookbook. With its layers of flaky, crisp, carmelized pastry, crème and fresh raspberries, it felt like the the perfect creation to welcome the warm season—and the new Soho Ladurée garden, a rare and quiet haven complete with a trellis, fountain, an Eiffel Tower architecture.
Making a mille-feuille from scratch is a task—and we embraced it, with silly, girly fun. We made a mess, we licked the bowl, we giggled as we ate far too much of the crème and raw dough. We went through half of the raspberries before we even finished, dipping them in the crème and nibbling them as we made our way through each stage of the recipe. As Elisabeth prepared us some of her delish Ladurée tea, she shared with me her family’s history in baking.
What she remembers most as a child was being in the bakery daily with her grandmother, a flurry of flour, sugar, and butter, and the scent of sweets in a hot oven. Baking has been in her DNA for many generations, so it’s fitting that her family would acquire the Ladurée brand 25 years ago. I, too, love baking; always have. It is precise and exact, something you can always count on. I particularly love French pastries, so baking with the queen of French confection was quite the sweet treat for me.
Photography by Winnie Au