Monday, March 3, 2014

YOTM, installment 2 - Macaron Battle Royale

You guys. I was lucky enough to visit Paris last week. I don't know how I ended up in this crazy life of mine,  where it's somewhat normal to hobnob with friends who are living abroad, sipping wine in a posh Parisian apartment. I'm not complaining. 

Winter storm Pax was quite the saboteur (side note: have you ever slept in an airport? It's quite unsavory. Although if you're strong, pushing two rows of airport seats together makes quite a spacious bed), but I made it to France and had an awesome time with my friends.  Can you believe it's been two and a half years since I studied at ENSP and finished my culinary internship? Yeesh. 

Anyhow, I'll cover some of the culinary high points of my journey in a later post, but of course no visit to Paris is complete without binge eating millions of macarons. Since 2014 is the year of the macaron, it seemed apropos conduct a taste test between the two of the most famous macaron producers: LaDuree and Pierre Herme. 

Disclaimer: unless you are really, really interested in macarons or cookies in general, this post is going to be a total snooze for you. I won't be offended if you skip the rest (as long as you come back later).




Pierre Herme


Taste: LaDuree
This is a tricky one. PIerre Herme features more ambitious, out-there flavors ( some of our favorites were a jasmine macaron and the passion fruit, rhubarb and strawberry macaron.  Seriously, DID YOU JUST PUT ALL OF MY FAVORITE FOODS INTO ONE COOKIE?!) but they lacked some classic flavors that I'd expect to find at a macaron shop.

LaDuree hit all of the classic flavors, but even their special seasonal flavors were pretty standard. They didn't have anything off the wall or with crazy flavor combinations, except for one flavor called the Marie Antoinette, which contained: some French word I don't know, a second French word I don't know, and honey.  Generally, their seasonal flavors are pretty tame (lemon verbena, green apple, etc). 

Reglisse (licorice) was a flavor choice in every macaron shop I stopped in. French people, get a grip. That's disgusting. I am pretty sure we've kicked licorice jellybeans out of 90% of bags here in the US. 

For the purpose of this taste test, I used chocolate and vanilla macarons so that I'd have a fair comparison between the two shops (I wanted raspberry as the third flavor, but it wasn't available at PH).  For these flavors, LaDuree killed it. Their vanilla is fantastic and has a super rich flavor.  The chocolates were both good, but Pierre Herme uses a darker chocolate that's slightly bitter - it tastes delicious, but it overwhelms the delicate flavor of the meringue. 

Visual Appeal: Pierre Herme

I'm on the fence about this one. Again, the two powerhouses had a really different approach here - it depends on your aesthetic and whether you prefer a look that is classic but flawless or a more edgy, stylish look.  LaDuree macarons are bold colors with perfectly consistant size, both in the roundness of the meringues and the thickness of the filling. As for decorations, the cookies speak for themselves. They are in assorted bright colors, but beyond that, there is little additional decoration. 

PIerre Herme is another story. Luster. Dust. Galore. Now, I'm a girl who lusts for luster dust (you should see how many bottles I crammed into my suitcase coming home from the trip). The PH macarons were definitely snazzier. Here's an example - this macaron was pale yellow with a dark pink luster dust airbrushed over the top. The bottom side of the macaron was plain, giving it a cool two toned effect.


Generally, PH had a more exciting look to the macarons, but LaDuree was more consistent. In the photo above, you'll notice that the bottom meringue is slightly smaller than the top (but the SPARKLY LUSTER DUST totally distracts you).  It was a close draw, but ultimately my love of glitter gave this round to PIerre Herme. 

 Here's the Laduree chocolate - classic and rather unadorned: 


And here's the chocolate from Pierre Herme, coated with a coarse grain sugar for a little extra chutzpah: 



Texture: LaDuree

The texture of the LaDuree macarons is what I expect from a perfect macaron: crispy on the outside, chewy and delicate on the inside.  Some of the fillings (for example the green apple) were gel-based, and some (such as the raspberry) were jam based. 

The Pierre Herme macarons were too soft. Though their deliciously pillowy texture was like eating a cloud, they were missing that crispy crunch factor of the outer shell. Additionally, they had a little too much filling for my taste. The majority of Pierre Herme fillings are buttercream, and this further impacts the texture, making it overly soft. 

Packaging: LaDuree

I mean, they both nailed it. As  someone who sells macarons, I can tell you that they spare no expense in the packaging - this stuff ain't cheap.  As I mentioned, the PIerre Herme macarons were bigger, and thus their box was larger as well. Both companies offered several selections for their boxes. 


The inside packaging was really similar. LaDuree uses a seal to fold over their parchment, while Pierre Herme does not. I found this extra touch to be the one thing that could push LaDuree over the edge here, but honestly, they were pretty similar. 



Price: LaDuree
For six macarons, LaDuree charged just under 15E.  Pierre Herme was 18E for seven. LaDuree has a slight edge here, though you could argue that their food cost is lower, since they use less flair to decorate their macarons.

Overall: LaDuree

Shockingly, LaDuree swept 4 out of 5 categories. The mega disclaimer here is that Pierre Herme macarons are also awesome! If you give me a box of either of these for my birthday, I will be thrilled. 

This macaron taste test was really fun! I've already decided that on my next trip to Paris I'm going to do a battle royale of chocolate. Who's in? 


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