Macaron Taste Test

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of sweets, and macarons are at the top of that list. I’ve written about macarons extensively on my blog, and made hundreds of them while testing recipes for a macaron cookbook. I’ve eaten them at every location in San Francisco that I learned made them, and it’s not uncommon for me to BART over to SF just to visit Paulette.

I was in Paris this week, and the very first adventure I went on was to go find the two most famous pastry shops in town and try their macarons. That’s right — I went on a macaron pilgrimage, visiting both Pierre Hermé and Ladurée in the same day. I bought a couple in each location and put them to the test to see who had the better pastry.

Ed note: You’ll notice I used the term “pastry” instead of “cookie.” That’s because every time I called macarons “cookies” in Paris, I was corrected. According to the Parisians I talked to, macarons are most definitely not cookies. Lesson learned!

After a little digging, I learned that both Ladurée and Hermé had locations on Rue Bonaparte, not far from the Seine River. Headed to a perfectly central location on the left bank, I planned my day: I would buy a handful of macarons at each bakery, then enjoy them in the sunshine while sitting along the river. The weather was topping out at 72 degrees that day, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my afternoon than nibbling gourmet goodies in the Parisian sun.

Laduree, Paris

My first stop was Ladurée, where the scent of pure sugar wafted out the door and down the street to greet me at the corner, beckoning me to the shopfront. I was immediately swept away by an incredible assortment of pastries in all sizes and colors, including a selection of ten or so flavors of macarons and a handful of larger macarons that were three times the normal size. The decor was delightfully, classically “French,” or at least what this American girl thinks of when she dreams of French pastry from thousands of miles away in California. Think rich greens, blues and browns, pinstripes, and matching seafoam-green ribbons on every box. I felt like I was walking into a Parisian pastry fairy tale.

Laduree, Paris

Laduree, Paris

The line was out the door, but no worry; that gave me plenty of time to gawk without looking like a loafer. After staring in awe at their selection of sweets, I chose two flavors of macarons — salted caramel and chocolate orange — and headed out the door to visit Pierre Hermé’s shop down the street.

Pierre Herme

Pierre Hermé was less classically decorated than Ladurée, and was instead very sleek and stylish. The place was decked out in glass and dark teak-looking wood, rounded out with black accents. Here, the desserts provided all the color to the joint, and I suspect that was the whole point. In the dark environment, each little treat glowed like it was Louis XV’s crown jewels.

Pierre Herme

Pierre Herme

Here I selected two more macarons — passion fruit and vanilla olive oil (!!) — and made my way to the Seine River to put these little jewels of egg white and sugar to the test.

The Test
Visually, both shop’s macarons were gorgeous. Their colors were bright and they flaunted themselves, unashamed, in the Parisian spring sunshine. The first thing I noticed, though, was that Ladurée’s macarons were a little lacking in the filling department, and their shells were a little cracked, while Hermé’s macarons were literally bubbling over with filling and the shells were perfectly in-tact, with not a crack to be seen. Upon the first bite, though, it turned out that one of Hermé’s macarons — the passionfruit — had soaked up the moisture in the filling, making the shell soggy. Also, the passionfruit was really, really tart, and almost made me turn my face inside out. While I did like the flavor, it was a little shocking considering the fluffy texture of the buttercream filling.

Laduree, Paris

Pierre Herme

Here it’s important to note that both bakeries use the Italian meringue method for making macarons, since it yields a more stable batter (anyone who’s made macarons knows how volatile the process can be) and a somewhat denser finished product. While Ladurée’s macarons had less filling to boast and the shells were a little worse for wear, they both displayed consistency in quality — the shells were crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, and had a lovely little crunch when bitten into. Hermé’s on the other hand, were softer and lighter, floating on your tongue like little sugary clouds, like the very first bite of cotton candy you tried when you were four years old.

Flavor-wise, both were lovely, but I felt that while Ladurée’s macarons were more consistently better, Hermé’s flavors were more creative. The vanilla olive oil variety was particular unique, and incredibly satisfying, but the passion fruit was a little too much of a sock in the face for me to enjoy it. Ladurée’s chocolate orange was smooth and creamy, and the salted caramel divine, but they were flavors I’d expect to see in a macaron, and therefore didn’t stand out beyond their high quality of overall flavor.

The Verdict
If I had to pick a winner (and I guess I do, given the title of this post), I’d say that the Macaron Oscar goes to Pierre Hermé, with his vanilla olive oil variety. Hermé also packed in the filling, which made for a better visual experience and a more satisfying first bite, making the overall package a sheer dream. That said, Ladurée certainly held their own in the battle; their macarons were more consistently good, but the shortage of filling and the cracked shells were kind of a bummer.

My final word? Visit both. If you’re in the left bank area, the two shops are only like three blocks apart, so stage your own battle!

Pierre Hermé
72, rue Bonaparte
75006 Paris, France

Tel : +33 (1) 43 54 47 77
Near the Saint-Germain des Prés Paris Metro station

21, Rue Bonaparte
75006 Paris, France

Tel : +33 (1) 44 07 64 87 ‎
Near the Saint Sulpice Metro station

Ladurée v. Pierre Hermé Macaron Smackdown 18 April,2011Stephanie Stiavetti

  • Connie

    I did the same thing a few years back. In addition to Laduree and Pierre Herme, I also tried Sadaharu Aoki and Jean-Pierre Hevin. Pierre Herme won, hands down. His Ispahan (rose, raspberry and lychee) macaron was life changing. I also had a hazelnut white truffle macaron there… amazing!

  • You and Dorie Greenspan…great minds think alike!

  • Lily

    I tried Laduree, Herme, and Hevin in Paris last February. My favorite was by far Pierre Herme. Yesterday, again I tried Laduree and Herme’s macroons which I bought at their shops in Mitsukoshi-Isetan Department Store, Osaka, Japan. (There was also Jean-Pierre Hevin’s shop, but the line was too long to get in!) I definitely prefer Pierre Herme.

  • trap

    pierre herme’s shells are perfect. Fillings are not something special.
    Laduree’s both shell and fillings are absolutely rediculous

  • jila

    Did a side by side tasting of Laduree and Pierre Herme’s today (my life is so hard!!!). Pierre Herme wins, hands down. His shells are perfect – delicate, light and perfectly formed. Laduree whilst still wonderful were a little denser and not as perfectly formed. What’s my favorite? – Caramel with salted butter (traditional, yes, but still the best).


Stephanie Stiavetti

Stephanie is a writer and cookbook author recovering from her former tech-startup life. On the side she’s also a media consultant, specializing in all forms of digital goodness: audio, video, print, design, and social media.

After leaving the tech world nearly a decade ago, Stephanie made a career jump to her lifetime love, writing. She currently writes for the Huffington Post, KQED’s Bay Area Bites, NPR, and other select media outlets. Her first cookbook,Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, is due out in fall 2013 on Little, Brown with coauthor Garrett McCord.

Being a recovering techy leaves an indelible mark, and everything Stephanie does is infused with her deep fascination with digital technology. She has been blogging since 1999, before blog engines even existed and a great readership consisted of a handful of friends who occasionally thought to check out your site. In 2005 she started her first food blog, which she repurposed in 2007 to become The Culinary Life.

Stephanie can be called many things: food writer, essayist, professional recipe developer, cookbook author, social media consultant, videographer, documentary maker, website developer, archivist of life. Despite all of these titles, she most commonly responds to Steph.

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