The Loch Ness Monster,
Saddam Husain’s weapons of mass destruction, the Beast of Bodmin Moor, Sasquatch, ‘Bob’ (my imaginary friend from childhood); the
perfect macarons and subliminal messages on Judas Priest records all share one
thing in common - at one time I believed they existed but have since concluded they
are mere fantasy... with perhaps one exception,
After my recent trip to
Paris, I now believe one of them does exist and have even tracked it down to an
address in the city… I even have photographic evidence! Now, before you get too
exited, it’s not good ol’ Bob and don’t fear, it’s not the ‘WMD’. I think I may have discovered the mythical
|The Citron & Guimauve Fraise Macarons from Ladurée - the perfect macarons?|
In English ‘macaroon’ can refer to both ‘French
macarons’ (also called ‘Gerbet’ or ‘Paris Macarons”) and the more rustic ‘coconut
macaroons’ (called ‘congolais’ in French. To avoid
confusion, its quite common to use ‘macaron’ when
talking about the sweet, crispy gooey centred colourful meringue sandwiches. The term has roots in the Italian word ‘ammaccare’ meaning crush or beat.
|Macarons in Angelina - as good as Pierre Hermé and Laudrée?|
Gastronomique cites the macaron as being created in 1791 in a convent near
Cormery but other sources say that they originally came from Italy and were
brought to France by Catherine de’ Medici’s chefs who travelled with her upon
her marriage to the French King Henry II.
|Some Pierre Hermé's fabulos flavours. |
double-decker macaron we recognise today was first created in the early 20th
Century by Pierre Desfontaines of Ladurée, when he came up trumps with the idea
of sticking two macaron shells either side of a delicious ganache filling. Ladurée
are still one of the better known makers of macarons in the world; it is said
that they sell fifteen thousand macarons every day!
|Michel Cluziel - good, but are they the best?|
The original is not
always the best but the old school Ladurée along with the more modern Pierre
Hermé are generally considered the top two contenders for the ‘king of the
macaron’ crown. Everything about Ladurée is a little more classical, from the
flavours to their boutiques and tearooms; Pierre Hermé however, is considered
more ‘à la mode’ - his flavour combinations prompting the fashion magazine
Vogue to bestow the title, ‘The Picasso of Pastry.”
During my recent trip to
Paris I made it my mission to discover best macarons in Paris (and
therefore the world?) – with a dream of discovering perfection.
|Champagne & Pierre Hermé macarons|
as I meant to go on, when we arrived at our hotel, Hôtel des Academies et des
Arts (near the Jardin du Luxembourg and Montparnasse) I had arranged to be greeted
with champagne and macarons by Pierre Hermé which we enjoyed in their adjoining
Chez Charlotte ‘Le Palais des Thés’ tearoom.
|The Montebello and Chocolat macaroons from Pierre Hermé|
What makes the ‘perfect macaron’?
Made principally from
ground almonds, sugar and eggs whites (Pierre
Hermé, master pâtissier
insists that ‘old’ egg whites are better), what makes the ‘perfect macaron’ is
obviously open to some debate. I look for: a plump dome shaped surface, with no
cracks; a crisp texture to the bite (but not too dry, brittle or crumbly); a
glossy finish, with no oil stains; a smooth finish (no imperfections, ridges,
ripples or peaks); a well defined ‘pied’ or foot (pleat-like frills at the base
of each meringue); a soft gooey filling; good colour and fantastic flavour.
the morning I went for a stroll towards the Jardin du Luxembourg and passed a
boulangerie / pâtisserie called La Fournee D’Augustine (31 rue des
Batignolles.) Despite the fact that they are more well known for their
baguettes than macarons, if I was serious in my endeavours to find the best
macarons in Paris… I would need a benchmark – even if that meant leaving ‘no
stone unturned’ or more fittingly ‘no pâtisserie window passed.’
Joni Mitchell fan, one of my wife’s missions in Paris was to catch a moment to
enjoy a moment in the April sunshine ‘Sitting in a park in Paris, France’. This
gave me an opportunity to tear open the bag of meringuey delights and – appearance
wise, the ‘pied’ or foot, especially on the chocolate one was not well formed
and they lacked gloss. Texturally there not enough ‘goo’ in the centre and both
flavours were not strong enough – for me, far from the best in Paris.
next stop, Pierre Hermé has several
outlets throughout the city (and indeed the world) but I visited the store at 72 rue Bonaparte.
Famously they (and Ladurée) do not allow photography in their shops – a fact that I
seemed to keep forgetting, until reminded. I selected: an ‘Éden’ (pêche, abricot and safran); a ‘Rose’ (Rose
and Pétale de Rose); a two tone ‘Montebello’ (beautiful
mountain - pistache et framboise); a ‘Chocolat Porcelana’ (pure origin Venezuelan dark chocolate) and ‘Infiniment Caramel’ (Salted-Butter Caramel).
|Pierre Hermé - the best macarons in Paris?|
running through my checklist list for ‘what makes the perfect
macaron’ it seemed as though the Pierre
Hermé offerings were certainly getting close. Everything I
looked for and more (there were some wonderful sounding flavour combinations
available but I selected fairly common ones to enable fairer comparisons with
other retailers). The chocolate and salted-butter caramel macarons tasted exceptional
but for me, the peach, apricot and saffron combination was otherworldly – the delicious
drupey pairing enhanced by the unique fragrant spice. The best in
Paris? They could well be!
next pâtisserie visited, with its Willy Wonka style window displays (including
a four foot macaron and chocolate Eiffel Tower) was the one belonging to the
famous Parisian chocolatier Grégory
Renard (120 rue Saint Dominque.) I sampled a salted caramel, chocolate,
lemon and raspberry macaron - for me the shells were a little too crisp and
crumbly when compared to some others. The lemon one however was great, with a
real sharp citrusy tang – this aside, overall for me, definitely not the best
next macarons sampled were the result of a happy accident. After being invited
to the press opening of the Nespresso boutique in Manchester (see here) I was keen to check out their flagship store on the venue
on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées – enjoying a coffee in their café I was
pleased to see macarons on the menu and overjoyed when I saw that they were
|Chocolate macarons from Dalloyau. |
back to 1682 (to put this into context: that’s 100 years or so before Napoléon Bonaparte was knocking about), pâtisserie Dalloyau are famed
for inventing the indulgent ‘Gateau Opéra’ (Opera Cake) featuring multilayers
of chocolate, ganache, coffee buttercream and coffee soaked almond sponge. As
such their chocolate macarons seemed the perfect accompaniment to my excellent
Nespresso ‘Ristretto’ – as expected they had a wonderful rich chocolaty flavour;
but for me did not reach the standard set by Pierre Hermé.
|Michel Cluziel macarons|
despite being a chocolatier of some repute and known as one of the few manufacturers
to actually process cocoa beans, a chocolate macaron was not available at Michel Cluizel (201 Rue St Honoré). Instead
I sampled the lemon and the mango and passion fruit varieties. They had very
good ‘goo’ and tasty sugar crystals and subtle natural fruit flavours – good, but
alas for me, not the best in Paris
next stop on my macaron trail took me to Fauchon
– a luxury gourmet store (at 24-26 place de la Madeleine) that has been selling
such delicacies as foie gras, truffles, fine cheeses, confectionaries and cakes
since 1886. Fauchon is a fabulous store – any foodie visiting Paris should go
and mooch about.
‘citron’ (lemon), ‘cassis’ (blackcurrant), ‘abricot’ (apricot) and bronzed Chocolate Praline macarons at
Fauchon all had very good flavour but the meringues were not particularly
smooth and the appearance of something as exquisite as a macaron is important –
very good, but for me, not perfection and therefore not the best in Paris.
not the best and in fact the worst of our trip were the ones that I ate in Café Angelina’s tea room (226 rue de Rivoli) – an undeniably grand
setting, once a popular haunt of Audrey Hepburn and Coco Chanel. My wife selected the
signature ‘Mont Blanc’ made from crème de marrons (chestnut cream) and whipped
cream with a meringue base – it was ridiculously sweet and just tasted of
claggy sugar paste.
My macarons looked good;
they were uniformly shaped, and had well defined ‘pieds’ but flavour wise they
were bland and did not have the desired gooey centre. A real shame – the place
seemed to be trading on reputation alone; the coffee was also the worst I had
in Paris. We quickly paid the overpriced bill, left what we hadn’t eaten (most
of it) or drunk and left the place to the throngs of seemingly undiscerning
I did not get round to visiting Jean-Paul
Hévin (on 231 Rue Saint-Honoré) especially as I it later turned out I was
unknowingly just a few doors away in Colette (on 213 Rue Saint-Honoré) and hear
that their chocolate macarons are also very good.
a pâtisserie but whilst in Paris I also sampled Alain Ducasse’s Michelin
starred macarons in Le Jules Verne (see here) – naturally
excellent but still not up to the standard set by Pierre Hermé.
|Ladurée - the original and still the best?|
I made my way to the venerable Ladurée (18 rue Royale & other locations). Alongside
my ‘benchmark flavours’ of chocolat and citron I was tempted by a ‘Guimauve
Fraise Bonbon’ (strawberry candy marshmallow) and ‘Fleur de Cerisier’ (cherry
blossom). Appearance wise, the Ladurée offerings were spot on. On to the all
important taste test: I found the cherry one to be a bit floral for my taste
and the marshmallow filling in the strawberry one, although tasty did not a
|Ladurée macarons - the best in Paris according to Hungry Hoss.|
Hopefully the chocolate
one would fare better. It certainly looked good – wonderful taste… could it be
the best in Paris? Just when I was contemplating having to go back to Pierre
Hermé for a second opinion, I remembered that I still had the lemon one to go…
you know that feeling when you slip on a pair of shoes for the first time and
they feel just right? Or when you are house shopping and find a property that
feels like home as soon as you cross the threshold? The moment I put the Ladurée lemon macaron in my mouth I
knew I had found it… the perfect macaron. Well, at least in my humble opinion –
only one way to know for sure: head to Paris and try for yourself.