Paris really does loves its macarons, almost every patiserrie I visited sold them (although I suspect some of the smaller cheaper ones buy them in) and I also saw them at supermarkets, department stores and even fastfood places. You could also buy them as keyrings, soaps, kitchen decorations and obviously as the subject of cookbooks (of which I counted over 20 in just one store). But im only really interested in the real thing so first off were they all good? No there were clearly places that were excellent and others that simply didn’t rate as high. But where to start, where should I visit. I wanted to try a broad range from all level of producers, unfortunately I forgot to buy any at the supermarket but I did manage to try some from McDonalds and tried many of the big names. Because I cant think of a great way of doing a comparison im just going to jump in and start.
I tried to sample a basic caramel macaron where available along with something different but after a while I realised at most places the caramel was going to be disappointing so gave up on that. It turns out that caramel seems to be the hardest flavour in which to obtain the correct texture. For some reason many of the caramel macarons I tried were too dry and way too chewy. At first I thought it was poor workmanship but I think that actually the caramel reduces the water content of the shells resulting in a chewier drier shell, although there were exceptions, anyway enough of my ramblings lets get to the macarons.
I was staying right around from Pain de Sucre in the Marais district of Paris, literally in the shadow of the Pompidou Centre. After booking I was very happy to find out that not only was I staying in a great neighbourhood with some great food I was less than a minutes walk from this modern patisserie I had heard a fair bit about. After an unsuccessful trek up to Montmartre to visit Arnaud Larher, which turned out to be closed, I popped in and got my myself my first macarons of the trip, one Caramel Buerre Sale and one Cassis (blackcurrant). The blackcurrant had a great texture with a nice thin crisp outer shell with a soft, barely chewy interior. The filling could have had a stronger flavour but I was one very happy boy sat in front of the Pompidou with macarons enjoying the sun, it cant really get much better. The caramel was unfortunately the first of many disappointments. The filing was excellent, a smooth and creamy caramel with a touch of salt just how I like it but the shell was terrible, so chewy and way too crisp. I suspect if you stick to fruit flavours you will do better here, I would have happily tried more but there was more places to try.
Lenotre is famous as the creators of the opera, a chocolate and coffee cake (ill get to that another time) but first I decided to try their macarons. They have multiple shops across paris but I visited the one near the Eiffel Tower on Avenue La Motte Picquet. Unfortunately I was kept waiting by the staff but was happily compensated with 2 free macarons on top of the two I paid for. I also had my first finger wagging for taking pictures. In some patiserries they prefer that you dont take pictures so you would do well to learn the phrase “Est-ce que je peaux prendre une photo?” basically meaning can I take a picture, as it cant do any harm to ask. Lenotre’s macarons are not bad but nothing too special either. The raspberry was the best with soft insides and and an okay outer shell. The pistacho was similarly good with a nice strong pistachio flavour but the caramel suffered the same fate as Pain de Sucre’s, too chewy and too crisp. But really when your sat in the sun looking at the Eiffel Tower I could overlook the problems and just enjoy.
A while back after I heard that the Macdonalds branded McCafe had started selling macarons I knew I had to add it to my list to try. I was very intrigued as to how they would compare. I was all ready to pan them as I was expecting terrible quality, but I was very surprised by how much better they were compared to my expectations. The texture on the two I tried was pretty good, thin shell with soft inside, although there was a slight graininess (I guess from lower quality ground almonds). The only downside really was the fillings. The raspberry had very little flavour and the caramel was so sweet, like what you get in a candy bar. However if Macdonalds offered these back home I would probably buy them when I couldn’t be bothered to make them, and i’m pretty sure they were also the cheapest at only €0.90 each, although i did expect them to be called McMacaron or something along those lines. Turns out there is actually a link between Laduree and McCafe. Laduree is owned by Holde Group and the macarons sold by McCafe are made by the Holde Group, although to a recipe made specifically to Macdonalds requirements. I should say that the link is pretty tenuous because Laduree doesn’t have any affect on McCafe and vice versa, but I still thought it was an interesting point.
They are the two big guns, the most famous, most respected macarons makers, so its time to pit them against each other. But first a bit of back story. Laduree invented the modern sandwiched and filled macaron at the start of the 20th century when Pierre Desfontaines, second cousin of Louis Ernest Ladurée decided to sandwhich two macarons together with jam. Pierre Herme also used to worked for Laduree early on in his career so there is interesting history so a comparison seems fair and useful. I chose a caramel from each plus a rose from Herme and a blackcurrant/violet from Laduree. Both are excellent at what they do but there are big differences and in the end it comes down to preference. Laduree’s have more crunch and chew with less filling whereas Herme’s are softer and more substantial. Both were very tasty but my preferences fall on the side of Pierre Herme. I prefer the softer, more indulgent macarons that he makes but Laduree produces the best of the alternative style. I have made both of the macarons I bought at Herme and I have to say mine tasted pretty damn close to the original, although my texture of the shells is still a bit off. The caramel filling for Herme is addictive, made in the traditional way but then folding the caramel into more butter making a sort of buttercream. Its rich, very creamy but oh boy is it good. Laduree’s caramel is more traditional but still a very good example of a traditional approach. My second choices were also excellent the rose from Herme was so light and creamy, rose flavour not soapy just strong enough, one of my all time favourites. The second flavour I tried from Laduree was blackcurrant with violet and it was excellent very strong fruit flavour with just a hint of violet, a great combination. The only question you need to ask is what style you prefer.
What ever patiserrie you happen to visit your likely to find japanese tourists who seem to have an obsession with French pastries so it seems only natural a Japanese pastry chef would do well in Paris. He is well known for taking french style pastries and desserts but combining them with eastern flavours. I decided that I should try something different so chose the Yuzu. The texture was good more akin to Herme’s but with a tad more crunch and chew, unfortunately the filling wasnt very flavourful. I was expecting much stronger citrus but in the end it was a little weak. When I passed by again I decided to give the shop another try and the second time round was more successful. The Matcha was nice and earthy, Im pretty sure the filling was a white chocolate ganache with matcha, due to its very smooth and creamy finish. The flavour was nice and strong and the texture was great too. The peach was even better. The flavour was so fresh and fragrant and the texture was even better here too. Aoki also sells something called Chocorons which are macarons coated in chocolate. I bought won on impulse and really thats all they should be. Macarons are meant to be little delicate things but the chocolate overpowered the shells and made for a heftier denser end result, against the whole idea really. In the end I would rate Aoki’s macarons highly, they were very good overall.
I have a post coming up about my behind the scenes tour at the kitchens of Gerard Mulot but for now ill just say I really like their macarons. I ended up with three flavours from the workshop/store out in the 13th arrondissement and sat trying them in the Luxembourg Gardens. The lemon and pistachio was excellent, the filling wasnt too sweet and had just a little acidity. The pistachio also added some texture and subtle flavour, I really loved this. The raspberry was also excellent, the shells are made with a french meringue and are surprisingly soft for this method the fillings are always very clear and often there is a textural element. On the raspberry shells there were poppy seeds which worked well and the caramel had little crunchy flakes. Mulot definitely rates highly on my list and is well worth a visit.
Hevin is better known as a chocolatier but their macarons are also excellent. I only chose one here as my stomach was beginning to beg me stop but I pressed on a purchased just one more this time a ginger and chocolate example. The ginger was the main flavour with a nice cocoa background. I really enjoyed this, the ginger was central but not overpowering and the texture was also good. I also have to stay the sales clerk at the Galleries Lafayette concession where I bought this had to be one of the friendliest sales people I dealt with the whole trip, and I always think good service goes a long way.
How do I rate the 8 places I tried? Well after thinking about it for a while heres my list
1. Pierre Herme – has always been the measure of a great macaron for me and no one managed to eclipse him/
2. Gerard Mulot – excellent fresh and vibrant flavours with great texture
3. Jean Paul Hevin – only tried one but it was excellent
4. Sadahru Aoki
6. Pain de Sucre
In the end I have to say none of the macarons I tried were terrible and apart from the poor carmel examples I tried id be happy to try all these places again but on my next trip there are a couple of places I want to try I wasnt able to this time. Arnaud Larher in Monmartre is supposed to put out an excellent version but doesn’t open mondays so I missed out. The Cadran Hotel just off Rue Cler boast a Chocolate Bar by Christophe Roussel, which is basically a chocolate and macaron shop in the lobby and the macarons do look very good but the hours were a little odd so I never managed to get here either but at least I have something new to try next time.
On my way back home I popped into Pierre Herme and decided to treat my family to a box of Macarons. I got a mix of flavours and they really were all excellent, well apart from the strawberry and wasabi. The wasabi was the dominant flavour but you didn’t get the heat of wasabi just that horseradish flavour and I didn’t really like the combination.