The Hungry Wanderer: Parisian MacaronMarch 31, 2019
No trip to Paris would be complete without trying their macarons. Croissants, éclairs, and millefuilles are good, too, but you can get those anywhere in France (or almost anywhere in the world for that matter) but the macaron is distinctly and uniquely Parisian. It is as much a part of the iconography of the city as the Eiffel Tower or the glass pyramid at Louvre.
These pastel-hued cookies were first invented, and are still almost only exclusively available, in the city of Paris. The rest of the country “doesn’t really care about them,” which is the rest of France’s loss, in my humble opinion.
During my last trip to Paris, I made it my personal mission to find the best macarons in the city. Since I didn’t have the money, the time, or the metabolism to try a macaron from every patisserie and chocolatier that offered them, I narrowed my search down to four places. I picked Ladurée, of course, because the one hundred fifty year old patisserie is synonymous with the dessert, and they claim to have invented it. Pierre Hermé also made my list because their bold flavors and combinations have made his macarons famous in both positive and negative ways (ketchup macaron, anyone?). La Grande Épicerie, the food hall of the swanky department store Le Bon Marche, was my third choice, while La Maison du Chocolat became my fourth, last, and surprise candidate.
A well-made macaron is one of the best things you could ever put in your mouth.
I took my test very seriously and made sure that I bought all the macarons within an hour of each other. That way, none of them would have a freshness advantage over the others. I tasted, took notes, re-tasted. By the end of it I was able to confirm what I suspected all along, a well-made macaron (and there are some badly made ones, even in Paris), with its trademark pied (foot), a perfect cookie-to-filling ratio, a crispy outer shell, and a slightly chewy center can be one of the best things you could ever put in your mouth.
Épicerie’s vanilla-tempered Kalamansi macaron is a must-try.
Clear favorites emerged. Ladurée’s citron with its bold, in-your-face tartness, was the clear winner over Pierre Hermé’s surprisingly lackluster equivalent. Épicerie’s was a close second, with its vanilla-tempered Kalamansi (yes, Kalamansi in Paris!). On the other hand, Hermé’s was the standout coffee macaron, the other two were too sweet and milky for their own good.
Pistachio is a classic macaron flavor, and both Épicerie and Ladurée make excellent interpretations. The former’s has a milder, and more familiar pistachio flavor, although the filling was slightly oily. On the other hand, Ladurée’s filling was heady and aromatic, just bursting with pistachio-goodness.
For chocolate, I skipped the creamier and sweeter milk chocolate varieties. I opted for dark chocolate because its deep, more intense flavor played off with the sweet and nutty almond cookie much better than the sweeter alternative. Both Ladurée and Pierre Hermé make excellent dark chocolate macarons. They were so alike I could hardly tell one from the other. You won’t go wrong with either version and their thick, almost fudgy, fillings.
For chocolate with a twist, there’s Pierre Hermé’s Mogador. A macaron filled with chocolate and a generous dash of passionfruit, this was my favorite of Monsieur Hermé’s surprising combinations. His vanilla and olive oil one, with an actual olive between the cookies, was a less successful pairing.
The French have long perfected the nuanced flavors of caramel au beurre salé.
Among all the macarons flavors, though, I looked forward to the caramel au beurre salé (salted butter caramel) showdown the most. I can’t even begin to say how much I love this flavor, and the French have long perfected it, so my expectations were sky high. Thankfully, Pierre Hermé and La Maison Du Chocolat did not disappoint. I would have the former’s Infiniment Caramel and the latter’s Rigoletto macarons as part of my last meal on this earth, if I had a choice in the matter. Both had my eyes rolling to the back of my head with each bite.
Monsieur Hermé’s version’s was light, like whipped butter, and wonderfully balanced. The salt was the perfect counterpoint to the rich caramel flavor, which was juuuust on the right side of cloying. On the other hand, La Maison Du Chocolat proves that chocolate makes everything better in their Rigoletto macaron. Its filling tasted like the caramel was almost burnt, with hints of bitterness that was tempered and deepened by the dark chocolate. Both were rounded off beautifully by their respective nutty, subtly sweet cookies.
It was wonderful discovering all the different possible interpretations of one delicious thing.
Surprising, intriguing, and satisfying, the hour I spent polishing off these macarons was one of the highlights of my Paris trip. It was wonderful discovering all the different possible interpretations of one delicious thing. Not everything was mindblowingly delicious, but the ones that were made all the effort, money, and excess calories worth it. They make me even more determined to go back to the City of Lights, not just to have my fill of caramel au beurre salé macarons again, but mostly so I could have another chance to try the hundreds of other macarons Paris has to offer.
Except maybe the ones from McCafé. Or anything with ketchup.