And, finally, I’ve been able to do it. After battling with a cold (and an impaired sense of taste) during the first few days and getting in some
preliminary taste tests (it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it), it’s done. I’ve found the best macarons in Paris.
Well, ok. I need to qualify this a little bit. As much as I would’ve loved to try every single macaron in the city and compare them all with each other, that’s obviously impossible. Every single patisserie worth mentioning, even your friendly neighborhood one, even McCafe for crying out loud, offers macarons. I’d have to spend a year in Paris, hundreds of Euros and thousands on dental care if I wanted to do that. So I’ve narrowed the sources down to four places: Ladurée, Pierre Hermé, La Grande Épicerie and La Maison du Chocolat. The last one wasn’t supposed to be in my original plan, but after sampling their macarons earlier this week, I realized it would be a travesty to not to give its caramel one a chance, hence the inclusion.
Also, I didn’t buy and try every single flavor each place offered. To be able to compare them to one another, of course I had to pick the same flavors across the stores, so my choices skewed towards the staples: Pistachio, chocolate, etc. I also have ruled out certain flavors I didn’t like (PH’s Vanilla and Olive Oil) or knew didn’t stand a chance (La Maison’s chocolate) or wasn’t adventurous enough to try (anything flower-based, licorice, etc.).
I bought them all the same day, all within about an hour of each other, so no one had a freshness advantage over the other. As you can see, I took all this very seriously. As I should, because we’re talking about roll-your-eyes-to-the-back-of-your-head-delicious here, people.
And so, here goes. Part one of my search for the best macarons in Paris, where I tackle the flavors Pistachio, Lemon and Coffee.
Pistachio: from L-R: Pierre Hermé, Ladurée, La Grande Épicerie
So just like that, it’s down to Ladurée and LGE (that name is just too long). Ladurée’s macaron filling was light and fluffy and had the most aromatic, essence-of-Pistachio (sorry, I can’t find a better way of describing it) flavor among the three. LGE’s, on the other hand, has a milder flavor, but is still very much Pistachio. Its filling is a little on the oily side though, which is never a good thing. Overall, though, I found the aftertaste of Ladurée’s a tiny bit too… pistacho-ey. I know that that’s probably the wrong thing to complain about, but it was just a smidgen too much for me. And so the winner of the Pistachio round is La Grande Épicerie.
Lemon: from L-R: Pierre Hermé, Ladurée, La Grande Épicerie (although their macaron is officially Kalamansi and Tahitian Vanilla)
Knowing Pierre Hermé’s penchant for strong, bold flavors, his Citron macaron comes as a disappointment. It’s relatively weak, compared to the hard-core lemony-ness of Ladurée and LGE’s. I honestly expected more from Mr. Hermé. But enough about the disappointing ones, let’s get on to the two remaining contenders, shall we? LGE’s combination of our very own Kalamansi (actually, I didn’t ask if it was the same kind, but I’m assuming it is) and vanilla was surprisingly good. The vanilla doesn’t overwhelm the citrus flavor at all, the Kalamansi is still center stage with this one. I guess the vanilla was added in there to balance out the bitterness that Kalamansi can have sometimes. But for sheer concentration of tart, lemon-y goodness, I’d have to give it to Ladurée. Their lemon macaron is just that. Lemon. No frills, just pure and straightforward (almost over-the-top, even) LEMOOOON. And you can’t really ask for more than that in a lemon macaron.
Coffee: from top to bottom: La Grande Épicerie, Ladurée, Pierre Hermé
I’m a wuss when it comes to the flavor of actual coffee for drinking, but when it comes to coffee- flavored food (ice cream, cake, candy, etc.) the stronger, the better. And that is why this particular flavor was an easy one to decide on for me. I just had to pick what was the strongest-tasting of them all: Pierre Hermé. The other two, particularly Ladurée, might as well have been made from instant coffee compared to PH’s.
And so at the end of part one of my taste-off, La Grande Épicerie, Ladurée and Pierre Hermé all win one flavor each. But lemon, pistachio and coffee are not the macaron flavors that will make or break a patisserie. In my opinion, the measure of how good a macaron-maker a bakery is are its vanilla, chocolate and caramel macarons, all of which I’ll tackle in part two of my taste-off.
In the meantime, whose other macarons should I have included in my very scientific and serious study? Let me know in the comments!