Amour et Macarons: Christina Ha and Simon Tung of Macaron Parlour

Behind a rainbow assortment of French confections that some people mistake as mini-hamburgers, Christina Ha and Simon Tung of the Macaron Parlour sit beneath their tent amidst the food and craft artisans gathered at the quaint Hester Street Fair. It is an unseasonably humid and sweltering Saturday, in which all but a few of their vibrant macarons are kept chilled under the table in a cooler. Yet Tung assures me that they still have full trays of every flavor ready-to-go for a much anticipated, tasty photo-op.

As I sit down with the newlyweds, it's clear that their romantic chemistry fares well for their business. With a storefront opening this summer on St. Marks, Ha and Tung’s journey to macaron success began mostly with madness. A year before they met, Ha enrolled in a week-long macaron intensive school in Paris headed by pastry chef Pierre Herme, with every conceivable odd stacked against her: she didn’t speak French, her partners didn’t speak English and she was third worst in her class. But she recalls, “It made me feel pretty good, because the other two people that were the worst were the heads of their kitchens.” Ha says she failed every day for three months, baking virtually non-stop. Low funds even forced her to grind her own almond flour, a three-day process that included spending entire nights painstakingly peeling the skin off each almond.

Armed with countless hours of practice and a perfected technique, Ha’s culinary talents (fused with Tung’s front-of-house charm) helped them snag the final vendor slot in the Hester Street Fair back in 2010. The rest is macaron history. Together they spend long days of baking in Brooklyn and return to Manhattan where they find comfort in their favorite take-out joints in Chinatown like 69 for the oxtail on rice and Sweet Spring for dumplings where the owners know them by name. Despite the long, laborious hours, Ha and Tung are fully content in what they do for a living. When it comes to sustaining a happy relationship and successful business they admit that in the beginning, fighting was simply a rite of passage.

“There was fighting in the kitchen, but I always say that the business brought us closer. We fought through it and I think it really solidified our relationship,” Tung says.

Despite their young brand they are already a charitable one, as part of their proceeds from sales go directly to Alexs Lemonade Stand, a foundation dedicated to finding a cure for children’s cancer. Ha shares, “I’ve unfortunately lost a couple of people to cancer and it’s harder when they’re younger. You lose these great people so young and you want there to be a cure.” Their signature lemon macaron is a testament to their continued pledge for the cause.

As a parting gift, I ask if they could spare one tip about how to make the perfect macaron. Without missing a beat Tung replies, “Practice; you have to. Even though she’s tried to teach me a billion times, I still don’t get it. But she’s definitely mastered it. She’s the talent in the kitchen.” A beautiful compliment for an equally talented couple.

Photos: Diana Tsuchida

Mastering the Macaron

Trends come and go in the world of pastries. For awhile, cupcakes ruled the world,  making appearances throughout pop culture and the ovens of single girls everywhere, we can thank Carrie Bradshaw for that. Whoopie Pies moonlighted for a minute and now the French Macaron seems to be the trend for the sugar-induced.

Macarons are actually Italian in origin, dating back to 1533 during the reign of the Medici family. The original macarons were simple almond cookies, with the word sharing its etymology with “macaroni”–both meaning fine dough. It wasn’t until Catherine Medici married Duc d’Orleans who would later become King Henry II of France that these meringue cookies took on status as a French treasure. For a long time macarons stayed simple and didn’t become a sandwiched treat until the 20th century when French pastry became much more sophisticated and whimsical. Other than being symbolic of Parisian Romanticism, what makes macarons so special is that they seem to be something impossible to make at home. Trust should always be placed in the pastry bag of experts, but should you moonlight in the world of macaron making be prepared for a few false starts. Fear not, because after a few failed attempts you will have worked out all the kinks and have sweet little delectable pillows of almond joy. Keep these tips in mind:

  1. A Silpat made for macarons works the best for an unsteady hand.
  2. Ground almond actually means ground almond flour
  3. The more food coloring the better as the macarons brown when cooked, the brighter the color the less browning will occur.
  4. Don’t over mix your meringue or the macarons will fall
  5. A glass of wine is necessary to retain sanity

Click here to read Ashley’s recipe for the perfect Raspberry Macaron. 

If you’re not an adventurous baker oozing with finesse, leave it to the pros. Here is a list of NYC macaron-eries:

The Ladurée on Madison Ave between 71st and 70th Bouchon Bakery at Rockefeller Center, La Maison du Chocolat, Madison Ave. between 78th and 79th streets Macaron Café on West 36th Street Bisous Ciao on Stanton between Ludlow and Orchard

Photo: Fabienne D.