After the commotion over Parisian hot chocolate, I couldn't resist one more contentious topic: macarons. I sampled many in the gorgeous City of Light, but these two shops stood out. Whose macaron reigns supreme?
Drum roll please . . . The winner of the macaron smackdown is Ladurée! Either you are nodding your head and smiling in agreement right now or getting heated over this undeserving honor. Hear me out.
While Pierre Hermé had more inventive flavor pairings, Ladurée's macarons had a perfectly egg-shell texture and better singular flavors. Pierre Hermé was definitely the risk-taker and all the locals seemed to be buying up the gorgeous confections, but the texture and frosting to meringue ratio was wrong to me. They had too much chew, too much frosting and were very very sweet. I enjoyed and appreciated the imaginative flavors such as the Pistache "Arabesque," which consisted of a pistachio meringue with an apricot frosting and perfumed with rosewater, dusted in peachy sparkles. The Chocolat was nice as well, with a bittersweet chocolate ganache center.
Overall though, the macarons were a little bigger than those of Ladurée, they were a hair more expensive and they just didn't give me the overwhelming and heart-breakingly light feeling of floating on a sugar-spun cloud.
That's what a macaron should taste like.
This ephemeral, gastronomic levitation can be found only at Ladurée.
I know it's a bold statement, but Ladurée's macarons are bold. Sure there's a long line full of tourists, drooling over the menus and cute employee outfits, but it's an absolute must when visiting Paris. The flavors are pure: vanilla, pistachio, salted caramel, chocolate, cassis, etc. They aren't reinventing the wheel in that respect, but they are producing perfect cookies. The amazing aspect about them is their texture -- light as air and eggshell thin, they shatter in your mouth -- like eating nothing but happiness. The frosting is applied with a light touch and is just sweet enough.
Another enchanting characteristic of the Ladurée macaron is the amount of flavor packed into each small cookie. Like most things I ate in France, I couldn't believe just how much TASTE emanated from a morsel so petite. It was shocking, the power of each of the unique flavors -- enough to knock your socks off. This experience was a great example of the phrase 'good things come in small packages.' At the end of the afternoon it was the vanilla that did me in and I'm normally a death-by-chocolate type of person. I closed my eyes, put the whole thing in my mouth and found the meaning of life. Okay, not quite -- but close!
Related: Weekend Project: Make Macarons!
(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)