Thursday, January 7, 2010

Trader Joe's Macarons: Throwing caution to the wind

“Cautious,” was the euphemism my mother used to describe me as a child.

“She’s just cautious,” She’d say when I hugged the ledge of the pool – terrified to let go lest I drown in the three feet of chlorinated water.

“Cautious,” She’d shrug when I refused to climb any higher than the first branch on the tree my brothers and I would play on at the park across the street.

“Cautious,” She’d explain to the other mothers when I sat in the sand box while the other girls my age did twirls on the bars.

Even today, twenty years later, my mom could still describe me as such. I still haven’t been on an upside down roller coaster (and have no plans to ride one either), this summer I opted to sunbathe by the river instead of bungee jumping off the Bridge to Nowhere like my more adventurous friends, and every time I get on a plane, I feel compelled to touch the outside in some weird ritual to ensure I get wherever I’m going safely.

The only area in my life where I dare walk the wild side is with food -- though I’m admittedly still “cautious” about ingesting certain internal organs and anything from a restaurant with a “C” rating from the Health Department.

When I’m in a Trader Joe’s however, I transform into a different person – a person who isn’t afraid to try the meatless meatballs, the yellow curry sauce or the suspect teriyaki-baked tofu (great in stir-fries). I find inexplicable joy out of playing Russian Roulette with the economical grocer’s products, which are notorious for either being a big “hit” like my favorite chocolate ice cream bon bons, or a big gag-inducing “miss” like the spinach lasagna and artichoke ravioli.

Two weekends ago, my “wild” side got a thrill when I spotted frozen chocolate and vanilla macarons in my local Trader Joe’s freezer case. It screamed out to me like the eyesore sushi in the prepared items section – clearly frozen macarons, like TJ’s spicy tuna rolls, couldn’t possibly be good, could they?

I snickered to myself as I tossed a box, which contains six chocolate and six macarons, in my red shopping basket. At $4.99, they were pricy for one of my risky acquisitions, but I couldn’t help myself.

I had to see how bad they were.

Given my experience noshing on some of the best macarons in the city, specifically paulette’s, XT Patisserie’s and the now closed boule’s, I was skeptical that I could find satisfaction from a version prepared by the decidedly non-French and non-artisan, Trader Joe’s. I avoided them until this past Sunday afternoon, when I finally extracted two macarons from the box in my freezer to defrost for the requisite 30 minutes before eating.

From a physical standpoint, the pristine almond cookie shells looked exactly like all the other macarons I’ve encountered in the past. The size is appropriate too – approximately the circumference of a silver dollar, instead of a supersized “Big Fat American” version that is at odds with the delicate nature of the cookie. The crust is properly crisp – though more crumbly on the vanilla flavor than the chocolate, which is more pleasantly (and appropriately) chewy. Texturally, the macarons are fairly accurate, though they lack the slightly caramelized edges that can be noted in fresh versions.

From a flavor standpoint, the macarons are less authentic. The vanilla is reminiscent of a JELLO vanilla pudding snack, and the chocolate is overwhelmed by its ganache, which tastes almost fudge-like. Both macarons lack the refinement and subtle flavor undertones that I’ve come to appreciate from the cookie, but are nonetheless, a pleasurable post-lunch treat. It’s also worth noting that at only 90 calories for two macarons, it is one of the more diet-friendly choices among the frozen desserts in Trader Joe’s freezer case.

Ultimately, TJ’s frozen macarons are a “hit” not to be avoided by “cautious” grocery shoppers. The sushi, on the other hand, is another story entirely…


bagnatic said...

there's a bunch of interesting things to pick up at trader joe's. the last time i picked up wasabi nori tempura chips...ick! anyways, sounds like these macarons are aight. i need to try those other places you've mentioned that carries tasty macarons.

Gastronomer said...

I have a soft spot in my heart and gullet for TJ's sushi. I know its horrible, but I can't help myself. Sometimes I need a quick and easy fix, ya know?

Glad to hear that the macs are mostly palatable. B-rated restos are also palatable, promise.

Esi said...

I agree with Cathy that some B restaurants can be really good..However, I don't think I will be taking a gamble with these macs.

The Duo Dishes said...

Interesting you post this. Mardi at Eat, Live, Travel, Write has been on a macaron kick for a while now! She may want to add this to the 'research.'

Alessandra said...

I totally touch the outside of the plane, too! I think we were separated at birth!!

Futile Sniffer said...

Do you think you will buy them again? :)

yutjangsah said...

I'm cautious too. If by cautious, you mean I sit always as far back on the plane as possible and I'm ready to trample women and children to save my own skin. Yup. Cautious. But those macaroons look risk worthy to me!

Jenn said...

I love paulette's macarons. I'll trust you with these. i need to make a TJ's run anyway. Maybe I'll toss a box of these into my basket.

LetMeEatCake Eat With Me! said...

as ever you are my real life TJs guru. I saw those macs and were a little scared to buy them, but I did pick up the frozen panna cotta you should try it! 3 hours to defrost is a little annyoing but the panna cotta is pretty good =)

Anna A. said...

I admit I do partake in the TJ sushi. I haven't explored their frozen desert section enough. I'll look out for these next trip to the HB TJ. Holler!

The Blonde Duck said...

I really want to go to a Trader Joes.

Diana said...

Bagnatic – Definitely check out paulette – even my French roommate approves!

Cathy – Hah, I know they are – I’ve eaten at them! Just using some poetic license, but have now changed it to “C” restos lest I sound like a hypocrite (even O Mozza’s had a B!).

Esi – No macs for you? Aww, that’s okay, more for me! ;)

Chrystal & Amir – Let her know about them – it’d be interesting to see how they compare to the others she’s trying.

Ali – I knew this when we both showed up to college with all the same clothes.

Meg – I think so! It’s nice to have macarons at my beck and call.

Sook – I’d like to see you trample women and children.

Jenn – Paulette’s are my favorite in LA now that boule has closed. The vanilla one is especially good.

Nastasshia – Tempting! Panna cotta is definitely one thing I don’t plan to make myself!

Anna – You need to explore! Soy cherry chip ice cream for the win!

Miranda – You would LOVE it.