The Ultimate Macaron Taste-off, Pt 3

I’ve saved the best for last. It’s my favorite flavor of them all: caramel. Not just any caramel, though, but Caramel au beurre salé. Caramel with salted butter. The contrast of salty and sweet… gaaaaaaaaaah… I don’t even know how to describe it and do it justice. But it is seriously one of the best flavor combinations in the world.

But which among the Parisian patisseries makes the caramel macaron I’m willing to travel across Paris for? Scratch that, a macaron I’m willing to travel across the WORLD for. Who made the macaron I took home from Paris to Manila, whose filling I unashamedly licked off the box? Not directly of course, I used my finger.

From top to bottom: La Grande Épicerie, Ladurée, La Maison du Chocolat and Pierre Hermé

Is this what heaven is made of? I sure hope so.

Well, not La Grande Épicerie’s. Their caramel macaron was the most disappointing of the lot. The filling was thin and runny, the flavor of which was overpowered by the cookie, which was just too sweet.

No such problems with Ladurée’s macaron, though. The opposite of thin and runny, their filling was the closest to traditional caramel: gooey, thick and sticky. I mean, look at the photo. And it tastes the closest to traditional caramel, too. Sweet and almost syrupy, but not overly so, as the French abhor anything that is saccharine-sweet. The sweet is balanced out by a hint of saltiness, but for me, not enough of it. I need more of that contrast, a heavier hand with the salt for this particular macaron to take me to gastronomic heaven. So while this macaron is a VERY good caramel macaron, it’s just not a good enough caramel AND salted butter macaron. Especially when compared to the last two on the list: Pierre Hermé and La Maison du Chocolat.

I know I said that caramel and salted butter is one of the best flavor combinations in the world. Well, La Maison du Chocolat, the same people behind my beloved Rigoletto chocolate, thought they could make it even more drool-worthy by adding another layer of flavor: bitter chocolate. And they were right. So, so, so, soooooooo right.  And unlike their vanilla-chocolate macaron, where the chocolate took the limelight from vanilla, the caramel and salted butter is still the star of the show in the Rigoletto macaron. Apart from the color of the filling, I wouldn’t have immediately guessed that it was chocolate that gave the filling that subtle hint of bitterness. If I didn’t know, I would’ve thought that they took the caramel to almost burning point, but the quality of the bitterness was different. Deep and smooth, not sharp and jarring. Bitter, sweet, and salty all complementing each other. *droooooooool* Chocolate DOES make everything better.

But as much as I would like to go on and on an on about La Maison du Chocolat (I kinda did already), there’s still one more macaron left standing: Pierre Hermé’s Infinement Caramel. And Mr. Hermé  doesn’t need the help of chocolate to make a fantastic  caramel au beurre salé macaron. With the texture of whipped butter, the filling of this macaron is absolute perfection. There’s not one thing about it I would think to change. The sweetness is just right, the saltiness is right on the money and there’s a slight creaminess to it all that I think comes from the butter. And, as with most of PH’s macarons, the filling is laid on THICK (I mean, look at that bottom macaron!), a fact that we should all be thankful for everyday.

And so who wins it? Who makes the ultimate  macaron? It was tough to choose, I even ate extra macarons to come to the decision, but in the end, I couldn’t. Pierre Hermé and La Maison du Chocolat tie for the best caramel au beurre salé in Paris.

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And so it ends, my very serious, very scientific search for the best macarons in Paris. But there will always be more patisseries and chocolatiers who will make more and more of these delicious little buttons for me to try and compare with the others. Hopefully, I’ll make it back to Paris to try them all (well, not all…).

But if I don’t,  Pierre Hermé, La Maison du Chocolat and Ladurée are only just a short flight away in Tokyo.

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The Ultimate Macaron Taste-off, Pt. 2

And so here we are, part 2 of my taste-off, where I find the best vanilla and chocolate macarons in Paris.

Like I said in part 1, I think these flavors can make or break a patisserie. If you don’t get vanilla or chocolate right, then what hope is there for other, more complicated flavors? But I’m not here to find out who among La Grande Épicerie, Ladurée, La Maison du Chocolat and Pierre Hermé got theirs right, it’s a given that their macarons would be good. I’m here to find out who among them made theirs better than everyone else’s.

Vanilla: from top to bottom: La Maison du Chocolat, Ladurée

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Ok, so I feel like I’m cheating here a little bit. I only have two contenders here, and La Maison du Chocolat’s vanilla macaron, as you can see above, is actually vanilla and chocolate. So why the too-short list? Well, La Grande Épicerie doesn’t really have a vanilla-only macaron. When I was there, the only macaron with vanilla that they had was the Kalamansi and Tahitian Vanilla one, and that obviously can’t compete in this category. On the other hand, Pierre Hermé’s Macaron a l’Huile d’ Olive et Vanille, with an actual olive in the middle of it, is not something I’m willing to go through again… and so I’m left with the two above. And if I’m being totally objective, I’d be down to one contender, because La Maison du Chocolat’s is actually, in essence, a chocolate macaron, not a vanilla one. So, by default, the best vanilla macaron in Paris can be found in Ladurée. But that’s not to say Ladurée doesn’t deserve it. Their vanille macaron is delicious, not too sweet or overpowering but still distinctly vanilla, and not some vague, sweet, creamy flavor. So who’s to say that there’s a better vanilla macaron out there?

Chocolate: from left to right: Pierre Hermé and Ladureé (note: I didn’t include La Maison du Chocolat and La Grande Épicerie anymore because I knew they couldn’t stand up to these two anyway)

This was tough. Really. I had to take multiple bites of the macarons because I really couldn’t decide which was better, and no, that’s not just an excuse to eat even more macarons. Like I need an excuse. In my opinion, these two are very similar. They even look the same, apart from the sprinkling of cocoa on the Pierre Hermé one. Both have fillings based on dark chocolate, not milk chocolate, so they’re less sweet, more chocolate-y. But one has a slight edge over the other, in that its flavor is slightly more intense, slightly richer and slightly more bitter. The differences are, in my opinion, very slight, but when you’re looking for the best of the best, the smallest differences matter. So who won this round by the slightest of margins? Pierre Hermé.

And so, the grand dame and the bad boy of the Parisian patisserie scene each win one round in this battle. As it stands, it’s Pierre Hermé-2,  Ladureé-2, La Grande Épicerie-1 and La Maison du Chocolat-0.

But it’s not over yet. In the final part of this series, I saved the best flavor for last: Caramel and Salted Butter. Yuuuummmm.

The Ultimate Macaron Taste-off, Pt. 1

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


Right off the bat, I found Pierre Hermé’s too sweet. Too much vanilla, I think. If I tasted it with my eyes closed, not knowing what it was, I probably wouldn’t guess pistachio right away.

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!

If it’s good enough for Ms. Blair Waldorf…

It should be good enough for us, no?

While this entry is mainly to further convince you of the delights of Pierre Hermé and Laduree (if my brilliant writing hasn’t done that yet already), I am also using this as an excuse to post pictures of the rightful king and queen of the UES.

Blair: Why aren’t you in Europe?

Chuck: I was in Paris I was only to get your favorite macarons from Pierre Hermé.

– From “The Goodbye Gossip Girl”, Gossip Girl Season 2 Finale

“You were right. I was a coward running away again. Everywhere I went, you caught up with me. I had to come back.”

In the Season 4 priemere, S & B go to Paris to mend their broken hearts and fill up on Laduree macarons.

See! They’re so good, S & B had to make an exception from their no-carb diets!

And I need to squeeze one more lovely picture in:

Just as everything should be

I can’t wait for the GG Season premiere!

Photos from justjared.com and bauergriffin.com

Why I’ll be going back to Paris, Part 2

Pierre Hermé

If Laduree is the grand dame of the Parisian pastry scene, then Pierre Hermé would be the new bad boy on the block, the Marc Jacobs to Laduree’s Coco Chanel. Where Laduree’s tea salons have a rich, old-world feel, Pierre Hermé’s Rue de Vaugirard store has an almost hospital-feel to it, with immaculate, gleaming white surfaces. At PH, there’s a self-service Bread Talk-type section, while at Laduree even the pastry boxes are behind glass. Pierre Hermé’s approach to pastries could not be more different, but, boy, that doesn’t make the treats any less delicious.

The famous Mogador, with the chocolate and passion fruit filling, is the standout I would buy by the dozen. Because I generally don’t care for passion fruit, I was skeptical when I read all the blogs saying this was the best flavor. But one bite into its spotted bright yellow cookie and I was a convert. I’m definitely buying more than one (Four? Six? A dozen?) on my next visit.

My Pierre Herme goodies

Despite the gorgeous Mogador, however, I have to say that I am a Laduree girl. I guess my palate is not sophisticated enough to appreciate olive oil and an actual olive in the middle of my vanilla macaron.

So if I prefer Laduree, then why the heck am I even writing about Pierre Hermé? Because Monsieur Hermé is not just about the macarons. If having a vegetable (or is an olive a fruit?) inside your dessert is not your thing, PH thankfully offers other veggie-free alternatives.

One such alternative is the Tarte Ifiniment Vanille. Loosely translated: Infinitely Vanilla Tart. And when the French say “infinitely”, they sure mean it. You can actually see the teeny-tiny vanilla pod seeds in the filling. I’ve never seen this high a concentration of the seeds, Häagen-Dazs should be ashamed of what they call “vanilla” ice cream.

Tarte Ifinement Vanille from Pierre Herme, a little damaged from my handling

The tart filling is pure vanilla goodness without being too sweet or ice cream-y. I’m not a vanilla fan, but I liked this. As I’m a sucker for coffee and anything lemon-y, I can only dream of what the Tarte Infiniment Café and the Tarte Citron Au Citron will be like. Infinitely Coffee and Lemon and Lemon, so full of citrusy goodness that they had to say “Lemon” again. Mmmmmmm…

Oh, and so the regrets begin.

But while I am hitting myself on the head for not buying the other two tarts (my hips and waistline are thanking me, though), nothing, and I mean NOTHING can compare to my heartache for not getting to Rue de Vaugirard the first thing in the morning (dutiful daughter that I was, I was running around the city looking for a cellar to buy wine for my dad. Not an easy feat on a Sunday in Paris).

My pastry holy grail: Pain Au Chocolat et Gianduja from Pierre Hermé

You see, my holy grail of all Parisian desserts is this: the Pain Au Chocolat et Gianduja (cue angels singing). I’ve never met a Pain Au Chocolat I didn’t like, and Pierre Hermé’s, according to all my pastry research, is one of the best, if not THE best in Paris. And that’s saying A LOT in the capital of this croissant-crazy country. These pockets of buttery, layered goodness are so good, the store runs out of them within the first two hours of opening. I was at the store in the afternoon, and when I asked if there were any more, the vendeuse answered me nicely, but I kind of get that in her head, she was probably thinking “Are you kidding?”

No I wasn’t. What I was was heartbroken.

So, this is why I am going back. Paris may be the most beautiful and romantic city in the world, but it is the perfect combination of flour, butter and chocolate into a perfect little pocket of flaky heaven that is going to bring me back.

I’ll be back…

And I’ll be there, 10 in the morning, opening time.

Pain Au Chocolat et Gianduja photo from pierreherme.com