The Best Macarons in Paris
Oh macarons. You soft little clouds of bite-sized heaven.
From the classic almond meringue versions of medieval France to the meringue-and-cream sandwich versions of today, macarons have become a worldwide phenomenon and a dessert staple. I believe that French patisserie chefs are still the grand masters of this culinary art form. Even though you can find great macarons almost everywhere in the world now, if you ever have a chance to try them in Paris, arguably the macaron capital of the world, I’d highly recommend tasting as many as you can to find your favorite. If you ever allow yourself to get sugar-high, let this be the moment.
Having worked in the luxury industry in Paris means that I’ve had many, many, many macarons. At every single marketing, PR, and sales event, a sighting of macarons is guaranteed. And whenever I had friends and families visit me, a macaron tour of Paris was always part of the visiting schedule.
Although you can find these puffy little desserts at every corner bakery nowadays, most of them are shipped from industrial bakeries pre-made and defrosted on location, you can even find them in every French supermarket chain (Monoprix and Picard for example). Since macarons contain eggs and cream, for safety reasons freezing is the best way to keep them fresh. Some of the following specialists do make them fresh daily, and nothing beats a batch of freshly-made macarons to satisfy you eyes and your taste buds.
The list of places to have macarons in Paris can go on forever, but here are some of my favorites.
Every macaron “best-of” list starts with Ladurée. They’ve mastered the art of macaron-making, that’s for sure, but they’ve most certainly mastered the art of macaron marketing. Mr. David Holder, the man behind the brand, has elevated this dessert to Hello Kitty status via great marketing. Go to a Ladurée address in Paris, you’re basically visiting a macaron theme park.
Holder Group also owns the bakery chain "Paul", and even provides the McCafé McCarons in France. Of course, for different brands, the quality of ingredients and recipes aren’t the same. Rumors have it that most Ladurée macarons in international locations are produced in a facility in Switzerland, frozen, and then shipped worldwide. But the macarons of Ladurée's Parisian stores, however, are produced in a city called Morangis, about 25 kilometers from Paris, so the macarons you eat in the Parisian boutiques are actually fresh and not defrosted, and definitely different from the other Ladurée macarons outside of Paris. You can’t blame them, with the entire world craving Ladurée macarons, frozen is the best way to bring a luxury dessert to places far, far away.
That being said, Ladurée macarons represent the “gold standard” that one would expect. The thin, crusty outer shells enclose airy, soft meringue interiors. The shells have those perfect little “ruffle skirts” around the edges. The meringue is neither too hard nor too chewy. The cream or ganache center is airy and creamy and melts in your mouth on contact, and does not have a certain chewing-gum texture, nor is it too jelly-like.
Other than macarons, Ladurée also carries other novelty food items and a plethora of branded gifts. You would get the classic flavors here to establish a base on which to construct your own macaron comparison chart. So get the classic vanilla, chocolate, coffee, rose, pistachio, and caramel flavors.
Ladurée stores in Paris are usually jam-packed with tourists (pun intended). But given the opportunity, do pop in to a store to admire their mastery of marketing, their interior decoration, and their efficient workforce. The Rue Bonaparte address on the left bank has a lovely 19th century styled tea room with mural paintings, definitely worth a visit. And for the Ladurée “Le Bar” experience, hop into the Champs-Elysées location, where you can sip a Kir Royal Ladurée made with champagne, rose syrup, and fresh strawberries. You could also get a "Cocktail Macaron", you are served a classic macaron with a cocktail inspired by it.
There is a never-ending debate on whether Ladurée or Pierre Hermé represents the perfect macaron in Paris. I like Ladurée for the experience and Pierre Hermé for the taste. Mr. Pierre Hermé is a living wizard of dessert-making, a grand chef of the French patisserie world. He creates amazing flavor associations and fashion-like seasonal limited editions. If Ladurée represents high-end prêt–à–porter, then Pierre Hermé is an independent couturier. His sense of dedication to his craft and that relentless drive to innovate and create mind-blowing desserts are absolutely admirable.
Some of Pierre Hermé most famous macaron flavors include Mogador (chocolate and passion fruit), Ispahan (lychee, rose and raspberry), Montebello (pistachio and raspberry), and the “Infiniment” series that feature sublimated versions of the classic flavors of chocolate, rose, and caramel, etc. Do try the seasonal limited editions and more surprising flavors like Huile d’olive et vanille (olive oil, vanilla and green olive) and Eglantine (fig and foie gras). Prepare to be dazzled and feel sorry for yourself when you leave a city that has Pierre Hermé boutiques.
Mr. Marcolini is one of the godfathers of the French chocolat scene. He’s known as the “haute couturier” of chocolate and creates jaw-dropping chocolate sculptures. Making chocolate macarons requires a high level of mastery to control the temperature of chocolate in the baking process. You want the chocolate to marry the egg whites and ground almond in the meringue shells, and on the other hand make filthy rich chocolate ganache for the center. If Mr. Marcolini puts a cocoa bean on his logo, it’s really a way of saying that he’s the Lord of Chocolate.
So if you’re curious to see how a chocolate wizard would make chocolate macarons, then stop by one of the Pierre Marcolini stores in Paris to try for yourself. Oh, and, don’t forget to try the chocolates.
Mr. Larher is a “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” (Best Artisans of France, extremely hard-to-get title) and is known in the circles as a passionate artisan that insists on the traditional, rigorous dessert-making methods and who takes pride in his independence. He worked at famous Parisian houses Dalloyau and Fauchon before starting out on his own with his first boutique in Montmartre. He still personally oversees the production of his chocolates and desserts, and he visits cocoa plantations in Brazil to hand-pick the beans that he’d use.
Getting macarons at Arnaud Larher is, for many Parisians, a way to show their support for independent artisans, and also a way to display their Gallic defiance to marketing, chains, and world famous hypes.
Aoki Sadaharu (青木定治)
When a Japanese artist launches a career in Paris, he’s making a bold statement, think Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo. And when a Japanese patisserie chef challenges the famous French dessert that is “le macaron” and has his own store in the gastronomic capital of the world, you bet he knows what he’s doing. Mr. Aoki Sadaharu spent three years tasting every macaron in Paris, tried countless recipes, and finally created his very own macarons with Japanese flavors to offer the world. If you’re feeling blasé about vanilla, chocolate, caramel, then definitely try his matcha, black sesame, genmaicha, and yuzu macarons to refresh your palate.
La Maison du Chocolat
Another chocolate destination, but the chocolate ganache is so saturated with chocolate flavor that the different colored meringues are basically an excuse. Visit the Faubourg Saint Honoré boutique because it is the very first “Maison du Chocolat” that’s become a tourist favorite. The chocolate ice cream in summer is also a decadent way to cool down.
Maison Gosselin - The McMacaron
Maison Gosselin on Rue Saint-Honoré was a short walk from my apartment when I lived in Paris. I really went to pick up baguettes (consistently voted best baguette of Paris), but they’ve created this perfect little prank on macarons that I couldn’t help admire the ingenuity. The McMacaron is a big macaron disguised as a hamburger. Between the meringue shell “buns” you’ll find a “burger patty” made with a thick layer of chocolate ganache, “lettuce and cheese” made of almond paste (pâte d'amande), and “sliced tomatoes” of strawberry slices. Isn’t this a Warhol-like commentary on fast food from a patisserie chef? I think so.
If you have any favorite macaron addresses from Paris or where you are in the world, I’d love to hear about it!