Ladurée v. Pierre Hermé Macaron Taste Test

Ladurée v. Pierre Hermé Macaron Taste Test on http://www.theculinarylife.com
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 Paris

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 Paris

Pierre Herme Paris

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 Paris

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? I recommend that you visit both places and decide for yourself. If you’re in the left bank area, the two shops are only like three blocks apart, so stage your own battle!

Comments

  1. arnold | inuyaki says:

    now I really can’t wait for our Paris trip. :) Hope there’s more Paris coverage to come!

    • Stephanie Stiavetti says:

      For sure! I just need to get off my arse and write the posts. There are so many from London, Barcelona, Paris, and all over Italy. For some reason I find it really hard to blog about my travels; I have like 30 posts that I could write about Thailand and never have, which was over a year ago at this point. Sigh.

      Blogging ennui?

  2. You may find this hard to fathom, but…

    I have never had a macaron.

    We should remedy that when you return to San Francisco. ;)

    • Stephanie Stiavetti says:

      I think that can be arranged! Wow, I’ll make some, and then we can take a trip to Paulette for the full experience.

  3. I <3 Laduree. While I haven't visited Pierre Herme yet, the Lily of the Valley macaron I ate last time I was in France was dynamite. Such a fun post. Thanks for sharing your culinary exploits!

  4. Heather in SF says:

    I don’t know how on earth you could possibly choose, everything in both shops looked fantastic. I would have to stay a year.

  5. Thank you for the post! I have to try both when I’m in Paris. Are there more shops that have better in SF/Paris?
    I hope to read more of your Paris trip too!

    • Stephanie Stiavetti says:

      There are many shops in SF that make macarons, but off the top of my head I’m having a tough time remember where while I’m still overseas. I know Miette at the Ferry Building makes them, and they’re very good!

  6. Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart says:

    After your server move, I can comment here, but the about your time in Rome said, “comments closed.”

  7. Those look awesome. How did you handle the concern of cross-contamination at these bakeries? Seeing everything coexisting in those cases would scare the you know what out of me. Regardless, I know that in my head I would be really wanting to forget the concern and just go for it.

    I can’t wait to see more of your Paris posts

  8. Olivia Pena says:

    Fantastic article. Really Great.

  9. Sarah Frys says:

    Hi,

    I spent a semester abroad in Paris and since I couldn’t eat gluten, macarons became my life. In my opinion, there is a better and less well-known macaron shop called Gerad Mulot. They have The light airy-ness of Laduree’s with a heaping of filling like Herme’s. And they have slightly odd flavors, but not as crazy as some from Herme. They were my favorite. I loved the rose and muguet (lily-of-the-valley for May day) flavors.

    • Stephanie Stiavetti says:

      Thanks for the tip! I will definitely have to try this place out the next time I’m in Paris. David did a post on this place – check it out:

    • I went on a mission in October 2012. Laduree, and Pierre Herme, along with various other patisseries, all in one day. The main thrust was the macarons at both Herme and Laduree. I think if you go to Herme, you do yourself a disservice if you don’t try the individual dessert size Ispahan. It was extraordinary. Rose, litchi, and fresh raspberries in a gorgeous large macaron. Having said that, I was surprised that the macarons at Laduree were more flavorful than the macarons at the Rue Bonaparte Herme. And I bought 8 from each shop. I also bought macarons at Laduree Louvre and looked them over at Laduree Versaille.
      The Louvre’s were not quite as fresh as the Rue Royale location. For creativity, there is no contest as far as Herme is concerned. He is a god. But for simple intense flavor, Laduree’s won. No one was more surprised than I. Also, oddly, the service at Herme was not as helpful or polished. And I speak french! I had heard this from a well known food writer friend, as well.
      I went to Gerard Mulot and thought his shop was a glory. I bought other pastries there and didn’t sample the macarons. I would agree that you could not go wrong at Mulot, either.

      • Stephanie Stiavetti says:

        Hi Ann,

        Thanks for your thoughtful reply! I love hearing about other people’s experiences with macarons in Paris. :) Did you perchance try the canel

  10. I’ve only tried Laduree but I like lots of filling in my macaron. Indulge the right way :)

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