When my American friends come to Paris, I see it as my ambassadorial duty to show them the best the city has to offer. After seeing the usual landmarks, no visit to Paris is complete without a taste of a proper macaron.
Composed of a cream filling sandwiched between airy egg white- and- almond cookies, they come in a rainbow of flavors. Since the once Queen of France Catherine de’ Medici brought them to the empire from her native Italy, they have become a pop culture symbol of the country. Lesser known patisseries have managed to impress on occasion, but not all macarons are created equal. There are two household names that take the cake—, Ladurée and Pierre Hermé.
Ladurée is a legend in the business of sweet as well as savory. Its rococo decor is as decadent as its pastries and a landmark spot to sit, sip tea, and eat an array of photogenic and tasty treats. The macaron, however, is hands down their best seller, with an estimate of 15,000 flying out the door in pretty pastel boxes on any given day. To visit is to experience France as it may have once been, including its flavors that err on the side of tradition with raspberry, chocolate, lemon, and more.
While Ladurée is the predecessor, Pierre Hermé has a legacy of his own. The pastry chef comes from four generations of bakers and began his apprenticeship at the tender age of 14 with none other than chef pâtissier Gaston Lenôtre himself. After some time at Fauchon, luxury French caterer and boutique, Hermé he ended up at Ladurée before soon creating his own line of macarons. Surprisingly though, he began his brand in Japan, not France, as one would expect. Upon tasting them his macarons, one notices Hermé aims for such surprise, trying out uncommon combinations of flavors and incredibly original ingredients, such as foie gras, lychées, and truffles. He’s taken cues from the Japanese in his cuisine as well as décor, adopting a Zen-like simplicity for his boutiques that allow the senses to focus on taste.
If it’s a simple matter of taste for you, here’s a break down. Pierre Hermé is noticeably sweeter than Ladurée. While Hermé-interpreted treats are balanced by edgy flavors, some prefer the less daring taste of its rival. Ladurée’s fillings are often lighter jams and creams, while Hermé dishes up decadent white chocolate ganache as the base of his. As for the cookie, I find Ladurée crunchier and Pierre Hermé densely moist.
So, if “‘Ladurée or Pierre Hermé?’ ” is the question du jour, in rebuttle I ask, “‘Why should a girl have to choose?”’ Macarons are like makeup. Some days we’re in the mood for something classic and comfortable with tradition. Others days we desire surprise with something edgy and unexpected. The beauty is in the choice and to that I say bon appétit!