Macarons from...Mister Donut?

Over the weekend, Jacob and I stayed at a friend's lane house in Shanghai's French Concession. It's a live-work space that is occupied by a web company, and all the techies is get their caffeine and sugar fixes from Paul, a French bakery that opened in the city last year. (I'm sure in Paris Paul is considered average, but in Shanghai a Western bakery can't be found on every corner.) Every morning we were in Shanghai one of us would make a Paul run, and come back with croissants, rolls, etc.

On Saturday, just as I was about to step out to meet my cousin for a soup dumpling lunch, J came through the door with two enormous bags. One was from Paul and was filled with Danishes, doughnuts, olive rolls, and a ham sandwich on baguette. The other was from Mr. Donut; it had a selection of large and mini doughnuts, and a little cardboard caddy of macarons.

"I didn't know Mister Donut made macarons," I said.

J shrugged. "They were 7 kuai. It's worth a try."

Since I was about to go out for lunch, I decided not to stuff myself. I mean, half the baguette sandwich, a pain au chocolat, a Danish, and two mini doughnuts are just appetizers. Then I tried two of the macarons, a green tea and a vanilla. For macarons that costs 25 US cents each, they weren't horrible. There was definitely a meringue taste, but also some artificial preservative aftertaste. But appearance-wise, they at least look less plastic than the ones I saw in Beijing's branch of Fauchon. While in China, I guess I'll just stick with my Comptoirs de France macarons.

The doughnuts, on the other hand, were very good and less oily than ones from Krispy Kreme or Dunkin Donuts. I can probably eat 3 or 4 without feeling like I will die from a heart attack. But for pure cheap guilty pleasure, nothing beats a Krispy Kreme Original Glazed fresh off the conveyer belt. (And now transfat-free!)

Mister Donut 1008 Huaihai Zhonglu, near Shanxi Nan Lu Shanghai

Petits Fours for a Chinese Dinner

I should have known that a packed Beijing city bus does not provide the ideal conditions for bringing home a box of petits fours. But still I was determined, because I couldn't pass by Comptoirs de France, whose macarons I had already raved about, and not bring home anything from their tempting display cases. Our friend Jack was cooking dinner tonight for Jacob and me, so I wanted to at least provide the dessert even if French pastries usually don't go with Dongbei cuisine. I picked out a mini opera cake, tarte tatin, chocolate dome, and strawberry tarlett. Surely my little cakes will be packed correctly, I thought. And it's just a 10 minute bus ride.

Of course, riding a Beijing bus on a weekend is akin to riding the New York 1 train during weekday rush hour. Everyone taller than you is breathing down your neck, you're breathing down shorter people's necks. You think no way can we fit any more people, yet more riders pile on and what little air pocket around you encloses a little more. Add that to the jerky driving and incessant stop and go traffic of Beijing's clogged roads that might as well be parking lots, and I was picturing an amorphous heap of cake parts and chocolate smears by the time I got home.

Well, the petits fours survived somewhat intact. I fixed them up a little, snapped a few photos, and hid them for until after dinner. We whipped up some mojitos to use the last of our oh-so-fragrant but quickly wilting mint, and sat down for stewed pork belly, cumin broccoli, and fried eggs with tomato stew on top. (Sino-Latino-Gallic dinners and other such confounding fusions seem to be what naturally develops for lazy Sunday nights.) When I finally brought out dessert, no one was surprised because it turned out I had accidentally left the receipt in plain sight.

But I can think of no better way to end a day than with mini bites from a bakery that knows how to use sugar correctly, unlike many other bakeries here. The strawberry tarlett's cake was rich and dense, the mini opera had a nice combo of dark chocolate and espresso, and the tarte tatin had a surprising but welcomed rum flavor. I especially loved the mousse that gushed from the chocolate dome from one small bite.

I snapped back to reality when we finally had to tackle the dishes. The next time I bring desserts back I'll probably shell out the 15 kuai for a taxi, despite guilt about taking taxis during the day.

Comptoirs de France East Lake Villas, 35 Dongzhimen Waidajie 东直门外大街35号东湖别墅大堂 6461-1525

Rm. 102, 1/F, Bldg 15, China Central Place, 89 Jianguo Lu 建国路89号华贸中心15号楼1层102室 6530-5480


Macarons in Beijing? Mais Oui!

Paris may be thousands of miles from Beijing, but that doesn't mean delectable French pastries are out of reach. I immediately fell for these macarons when I saw them at Comptoirs de France, a bakery opened by Philippe Ancelet, formerly of the Kempinski Hotel.

Macarons, especially from Pierre Hermé or Ladurée, have a cult following, and the cult only grows as more fans blog about them. These tiny rounds of meringue sandwiching a thin layer of cream look almost too good to eat, especially since patissiers often line up 10 or 12 different kinds, from pinks to greens to yellows. As adults, we may be too old to salivate over cotton candy and lollie pops, but macarons still give us a chance to indulge in something bright and colorful.

Comptoirs de France also has canneles, tarts, and petit fours, but those are the subjects of another story. Not buying every flavor of macarons was an exercise in restraint. But I did try the Vanilla Bourbon, Caramel Fleur de Sel, Green Tea, and Chocolate Sichuan Pepper.

The Caramel was the best of the bunch; the Fleur de Sel somehow made the Caramel taste a bit like Dulce de Leche. Green Tea tasted much sweeter than other desserts made with matcha powder, but was good nonetheless. And the Chocolate Sichuan Pepper indeed had a kick, and a mouthnumbing aftertaste. Now I'm also inspired to experiment with Sichuan Pepper in chocolate desserts. Stay tuned!

Comptoirs de France East Lake Villas, 35 Dongzhimen Waidajie 东直门外大街35号东湖别墅大堂 6461-1525

Rm. 102, 1/F, Bldg 15, China Central Place, 89 Jianguo Lu 建国路89号华贸中心15号楼1层102室 6530-5480