ARTICLE

The macarons of Paris — 2008 review

Ladies and gentlemen, meringue aliens and hypoglycaemics, here is the second of two macaron review articles. It's time we visited the home of the macaron de Paris, alas frequently called 'French macaroons'. The macarons de Paris de Paris are plentiful and pricey, and not always superdooper (but mostly miles better than those currently found in Melbourne).

If all goes to plan, this will be my last article about macarons for a while. I can hear some of you sigh with relief! And there are others in Melbourne who are honing their skills as we speak…

To the review!

I ventured forth with Harry, my Parisian correspondent. We had a list of seven establishments to visit in one day.

First stop, Fauchon on Rue Saint-Antoine, near the Bastille. Shock! Fauchon had morphed into Lenôtre. A notch or two more stylish. The array of cakes was as tempting as a Brazilian gigolo on a dancefloor, but we maintained our discipline and only dribbled on the macaron cabinet.

Discipline was also needed in the number of macarons to be purchased per shop. With seven venues plotted on our macaron-crawl map, the danger of billiousness was considerable.

Three. So restrained.

lenotre_caramel_a.jpg
lenotre_violette_a.jpg lenotre_coquelicot_a.jpg

Coquelicot – poppy, stunning colour but little discernible flavour, sweet
Chocolat à la violette – pleasant chocolate with a herbal note from the violet
Caramel fleur de sel – salted caramel, heavy and rich

They were quite dense. EUR 72/kg or 1.30 each. Large macarons: 3.50, crinkly surface.

Stop number two. Gerard Mulot's newish shop near the Place des Vosges.

mulot_macarons_a.jpg

Mûre – blackberry with tea, pleasant, hollow shell
Passion – passionfruit, delightfully fruity
Pêche-abricot – peach-apricot, unexciting, crunchy
Chocolat – light, rich chocolate ganache, unexciting

EUR 68/kg or 0.85 each. Large macarons: 3.15, rough surface.

Next stop, Pain de Sucre, one of Paris's most impressive small patisserie-boulangeries (I wrote about them last year). We resisted the wild strawberry tarts, the lime curd, the bread, the marshmallows…

paindesucre_macarons_a.jpg
paindesucre_krac_a.jpg
paindesucre_menthe_a.jpg

In a break from tradition, Harry was permitted to choose a special, elongated macaron. The rather green, onomatopoeically named Krac-Krac (EUR 4.50) was about 15cm long, contained a green tea butter cream, a long sliver of white chocolate, and… pop-rocks. Lots of fun, but no flavour was particular assertive. Rather expensive.

Cassis – blackcurrant, discreet
Griotte-pistache – cherry shells with pistachio filling, interesting and complex
Menthe-chocolat – spearmint with a chocolate wafer, pleasant, delicate, but not exciting
Angélique-chèvre – angelica shell with goat's cheese cream, unusual in that it's a savoury macaron. An interesting experience, but probably not one I'd repeat.

In stark contrast to last year's visit, this round of Pain de Sucre's macarons were coarse and irregularly shaped. Disappointing. EUR 68/kg or 1.30 each.

At this point, just three stops into our research, neither of us was feeling particularly enthusiastic. Our tummies were filling with almond meringue and fatty fillings. We hadn't yet exclaimed in joy about anything. Hmmm.

Fauchon

Citron – rather mild lemon
Bubblegum – oh my sweet childhood! Mind blowing, but a bit scary
Orange-rose – mild, pleasant
Framboise-amande – attractive taste

fauchon_macarons_a.jpg

We weren't impressed with the texture of these macarons. I suspected they weren't fresh, as the shells were too soft. They also had dull surfaces and the fillings seemed too damp (perhaps contributing to the un-fresh impression).

EUR 1.60 each. Large macarons: 4.00.

Sadaharu AOKI is our fifth stop.

Pêche-canelle – peach-cinnamon, delighfully fruity, but a little delicate
Sésame – interesting sesame creation, nice sweet-savoury aspect
Violette – great appearance, but fleeting violet flavour
Umé prûne salé – salted plum, delicious (with violent disagreement from Harry)

aoki_macarons_a.jpg

Aoki's macarons were the smallest of all that we bought, but only by a few millimetres. They were also the cheapest, at EUR 0.85, despite being the most creative. These were the first macarons of the day to use a rich buttercream in all flavours.

At this point we surrendered from exhaustion and blood sugar crises. The last two stops would have to wait til the morrow.

Ladurée is lucky number six. We arrived a little late. At 1pm the queue consisted of about fifteen people outside the shop and considerably more inside. It was raining. As luck would have it, a member of staff enticed us to another entrance, leading into the salon de thé, where we could buy some macarons away from the surging crowd in the shop.

laduree_macarons_a.jpg

Muguet – lily-of-the-valley, a new flavour for me, strongly floral, but not as assertive as rose (Harry hated it)
Rosanis – a subtle combination of rose and anise, very pleasant but could have been stronger
Citron – outstanding lemon (it was a special type, but I didn't catch its full name in either French or English)

EUR 1.50 each.

Pierre Hermé comes last. No insult intended.

The rain continued. The queue outside stretched a short distance, perhaps ten people. On many Saturdays the queue is much much much longer. Only the hardiest devotees could withstand the rain. These devotees were about 80% tourists, most of them American. After quite some time huddling under our umbrella, we could at last cross the threshold. The boutique seemed brighter than I remember it. Most interestingly, the staff were markedly more friendly than on my last visits, two and three years ago. A sign of the dominance of the tourist trade and the need to present a warm face? My first visit to Pierre Hermé was marked by stiff hauteur. What a change.

herme_macarons_a.jpg
herme_arabesque_a.jpg

Arabesque — apricot, peach and pistachio (if I remember rightly…)
Caramel salé — superbly delicious, a salted caramel butter cream
Jasmin — delicate, almost too faint

EUR 1.85 each.

We also bought an Ispahan, a tarte au citron and a tarte au café. Heaven. Pics can be found in my birthday deliciousness post.

There ends the crawl through the macaronic universe of Paris. To round up, prices ranged from EUR 0.80 to 1.85 (A$1.50-3.40) per piece — close to EUR 100 per kilo at the top end. For comparison, the typical Parisian bakery price is approximately EUR 40/kg (probably less than EUR 1.00 per piece), while an upmarket foodhall like the Grande Epicerie at Bon Marché charges EUR 60/kg.

There was absolutely no question in our minds about who does macarons worth travelling for. Ladurée and Pierre Hermé stand heads above everyone except, probably, Aoki. The three have in common that they often use rich (but not heavy) buttercreams, appear to have thought more about the success of flavours, showed product quality and consistency across their ranges and, most importantly, were the only ones which we felt we wanted to return to. The amount of filling varies from place to place, but Hermé and sometimes Ladurée clearly prefer more filling. I've even read a blogger criticise Hermé for having too much filling (I forget who, alas), but I must disagree. I definitely favour fat macs.

The crucial lesson learnt. You can joyfully make yourself ill on good ones, but

(wo)man cannot live by unremarkable macarons

Word.

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COMMENTS

21 responses to “The macarons of Paris — 2008 review”

  1. Manggy

    Gasp! I'm surprised Lenotre didn't cut the mustard. What a name will do for you! ;)

    I have to confess I've probably never had a perfect macaron. I hope you don't think I'm living half my life! :P

  2. utsi

    How is it that you are not the size of une grande maison mon ami?!

  3. Vida

    Still waiting for you to open your shop then and only then can I enjoy delicious macarons in Melbourne – there's a name for your shop Macarons in Melbourne! Vida x

  4. Thanh

    Holy smokes Batman, death by macaron. Now I've heard everything, a macaron crawl.

    Some amazing colours and flavour combos there. I can't believe no one has done a durian macaron. That's going to be my next flavour to try, along with the Ispahan.

    As for a name, I reckon Markham Macaron has a nice ring to it.

  5. nikki

    Hi Duncan :) What an exciting review! Just one question – are those the kind of spread and puffy feet you were talking about there on the PH macarons? If I compare those with Laduree's, they're quite different shell-wise, no? I'm still confused as to the perfect look on a macaron shell :(

  6. Y

    Amazing. I love all the different flavours. Don't think I could ever do a macaron crawl. I'm usually done after just one.

  7. veron

    Oh My god! That is my dream macaron day! Thanks for doing the tasting for us.

  8. elra

    Duncan,
    Thanks for the great review, how do you managed not to get sick of eating them? I guess that's the term "addicted" come from? forgive my bad English!

  9. JSL@Palate

    I just found this site and thought fondly of you..

    http://bigboysoven.blogspot.com/

    Bloody jealous you got to go to Paris!

    Jen

  10. vida

    Dispair!!!!! I raced out to buy macarons at Noisette because Sticky said she got some and I got way too excited… yukky, but you it's your fault because a year ago I would have thought some of them yummy but now none stood up to the test… the pistachio was fake, fake green, fake taste, yuk, then the apricot, fake again and bitter, yuk, even the coconut was ordinary, I left the raspberry… this is your fault for introducing us to how good they can be outside of Paris that is!!! Hurry and open that shop!!! Thanh has made promises of supplies but the wait is awful so it's up to you! ! ! ! Vida x

  11. Donina

    The white truffle macarons at Pierre Hermé are too sublime for description.

  12. vida

    The last one was either strawberry or raspberry – there was no way of tell as all that was aparent was the almond essence… the only flavour I did not purchase was coffee and sticky says that was her favourite so far so maybe I missed the mark… Duncan I need you to translate whatever it was that Sticky said to me at the end – I have no idea except the last word "Vida" – that one I understood!!! Anyway this is all your fault because I would have thought them all yummy previously but now I "search" for the flavour and it just was not there… Everyone should do their own taste test though!!! Vida x

  13. M

    Wow – wow wow – I've found someone who loves macaroons as much as I do…

    In Tokyo – we pretty much did the a "macaroon crawl" and I really enjoyed the ume one from Aoki. Really loved the ones by Roubouchon and PH – but also La maison du chocolat does some fabulous chocolate with red berries. My overall favourite flavour usually involves salted caramel.

    I've never made them but your detailed posts make me want to head to the kitchen but with the humidity (I live in Hong Kong) I'm wondering if I need to wait until the rains have gone.

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful experiences with us!

    Cheers
    M

  14. harry

    And the Paris macaron trail continues… I discovered, sadly after Duncan left Paris, that the Ikea just outside Paris also sells medium-sized Macarons! I just had to try one – a raspberry one. The verdict? Let's just say they make nice furniture and leave it at that…

  15. vida

    Duncan, you may be redundant in the translating department but not in the MACARON department… when can I book in for a class??? Vida x

  16. janey beez

    Before I try my NEXT batch of macs, I have to say that I find the shells that only have food colouring without any flavour, despite the filling just leave me cold. Mmm Almond sandwich with filling…nuhh! look pretty but I want to TASTE something in the shell!
    Thanks again, I'm going to try more flavoured macs this week, and am buying a KA mixer to complement my own kenwood MAJOR(!?), that uses copious amounts of .. aghhhh ! WHEAT flour!!! as do you realise everyone???? They are GLUTEN FREE!!!A hint , if you are like me and selling yummies commercially , the equivalent of a Kosher kitchen is required to pass the muster.
    Let us get out that macs are free of WHEAT!!! That will excite all and sundry!!

  17. Anna

    I've found another backer for the 17th C beginnings at Chocolate and Zucchini here.

    Despite that slip, she does recommend this and this for a bit of scientific macaron discussion from the inimitable Herve This (in French) – although they're somewhat Gallic emphasis of discussion over conclusions.

    anna

  18. SJ

    Duncan, I'm not sure if I ever sent you the link to my "Macarons of Europe 2009" post so here it is …
    http://www.essjay.com.au/2009/10/31/travel-the-macarons-of-europe/

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TASTY PRESERVES

  • Travel 2008 — Granada (Spain)
  • Review: Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser
  • Review: The Press Club, Melbourne
  • Gânache Chocolate (Melbourne), and a hangover
  • Mint ice-cream, and ice-cream machines