Paris: the city of love, lights, and macarons. When you think of lush Parisian delicacies, a brightly coloured macaron undoubtedly come to mind. These elegant and delicate confectionary can be found all over Paris. However, the most notorious variety hail from two big names: La Durée and Pierre Hermé.
I was recently in Paris and decided that it would be the perfect opportunity to go on a wild macaron witch hunt (with pitch forks and torches of course!). Ok, it wasn’t much of a witch hunt since both boutiques are conveniently located on the Champs Elysées. Nevertheless, in the name of food, I set out with the goal of trying a selection of macarons from each boutique. It was a foodie experiment, a culinary expedition, a taste test of sorts. So here are all the juicy details of my macaron mission.
In a prime location on the Champs Elysées, La Durée has a boutique and tea room famously tinted in pastel green and gold. If you’re just looking to get macarons for the road (like I was), there is an eye-catching dessert counter inside the tea room that will make you want everything. You will be tempted by chocolates, pain au chocolat, éclairs, flans, millefeuille, meringues, and gâteaux. While you wait in line, you can ogle at this eye candy, and don’t worry, the service is quick and efficient so the line moves quickly.
Despite this delicious collection of treats, the macarons undeniably steal the show. They are bright, they are colourful, and they are plentiful. All of my nearby patrons were there just for the macarons too. They are – after all – the main event. So the macarons – let’s get to them!
At the boutique there were at least 14 flavours available. The range included coffee, salted butter caramel, chocolate, lemon, orange blossom, rose petal, pistachio, liquorice, vanilla, and raspberry, to name a few. A little bit of research online showed me that there are additional seasonal flavours throughout the year like blackcurrant, mint, and chestnut.
To get a good feel for La Durée’s macarons, I opted for 4 flavours: salted butter caramel, pistachio, coffee, and raspberry.
The first thing you’ll notice about these macarons is that they are light and airy. The meringue shells are soft with a slight crunch, and they are incredibly fragile. One wrong move and you’ll crack the smooth shell before you get a chance to take some photos… And what a tragedy that would be! The flavours are pure and vivaciously true to life. The coffee macaron tasted like a newly brewed and sweetened latte. The raspberry macaron, with its rich and fruity jam-like filling, emulated the taste of freshly-picked berries. The pistachio macaron was like eating a pistachio cream, while the salted caramel macaron charmingly danced on my taste buds in a way that only caramel can.
The defining characteristic of La Durée macarons is that they melt in your mouth like nothing else has ever melted in your mouth before. With your first bite, you can feel the meringue shell fusing with the ganache and slowly melting onto your tongue. With each lavish bite, you appreciate the skill of the patissier who crafted these delicate macarons.
The only downside is that these beautiful bite-sized treats disappear so quickly. You’ll want the melt-in-your-mouth experience to last forever and ever. But don’t despair! La Durée also makes larger macarons (in a few select flavours), which are ideal for giving you the satisfaction of more than two bites. During my next visit to La Durée, I’ll invest in a selection of the larger macarons to give my sweet tooth the reward it deserves. And don’t worry, I’ll tell you that tale too.
Further up the Champs Elysées in the direction of the Arc de Triomphe, there is a Pierre Hermé boutique inside a Publicis Drugstore. The vibe at Pierre Hermé is very different from that at La Durée. Each macaron boutique has established a distinct identity and character through their appearance, branding, and flavours. While La Durée is regal and light-hearted, Pierre Hermé is modern and edgy.
At this Pierre Hermé location, boxes and bars of chocolate accompany the macaron selection. On the day of my visit, 12 macaron flavours were available. I chose five:
- Macaron Infiniment Chocolat Paineiras (chocolate);
- Macaron Frivolité (salted butter caramel and apple);
- Céleste (passion fruit, rhubarb, and strawberry);
- Macaron Arabesque (apricot and crunchy pistachio);
- Macaron Infiniment Café Iapar Rouge du Brésil (coffee).
The other flavours which decorated the display counter were:
- Indulgence (fresh mint and peas);
- Jasmine, Néroli et Immortelle;
- Macaron Mogador (milk chocolate and passion fruit);
- Macaron Infiniment Caramel (salted butter caramel);
- Jardin d’Olympe (vanilla and saffron);
- Reine des Prés et Miel du Maquis Corse (meadowsweet and honey);
- Macaron Infiniment Rose (rose and rose petal).
As is easily evident by the flavour list, Pierre Hermé dabbles in more eccentric ingredient combinations. Never before have I seen a macaron made with saffron! I opted for a balance of classic (e.g. chocolate and coffee) and unconventional flavours (e.g. apricot pistachio) to get a well-rounded taste experience.
The appearance of Pierre Hermé macarons is different to those at La Durée. Whereas La Durée macarons have a smooth, slightly glimmering outer shell, many of the Pierre Hermé macarons have a textured surface. For instance, the apricot macaron is peppered with pistachio flakes and the chocolate macaron shell is spotted with darker chocolate. The passion fruit, rhubarb, and strawberry macaron was perhaps the most visually appealing with a shell that transitioned smoothly from yellow to sparkly rose pink.
In terms of internal texture, I found the Pierre Hermé macarons to be slightly chewier and denser. They weren’t as airy and as a result, they didn’t melt on the tongue as quickly as the La Durée macarons. This being said, the flavours were still superb. The coffee macaron had a deep espresso flavour and the chocolate macaron was pure cocoa. The winning flavour for me was passion fruit, rhubarb, and strawberry. This brought together a fabulous combination of fruity aromas that encapsulated summer in a single confection. Although it’s not visible from the outside, the ganache filling also had a thin layer of sweet strawberry jam lined within. I love little surprises like that! Of all the macarons I ate in Paris, the passion fruit, rhubarb, and strawberry just might be my favourite one of all…
Having lived in France for a few years now, Lili is no stranger to macarons. After completing my macaron mission, I asked her for her input and she admitted that she’s a Pierre Hermé girl. This is what she had to say:
Ooooh Pierre Hermé, I really do think they make the best macarons around. The macaron shells are not too crunchy, but smooth and delicate. Their ganache fillings are packed with flavour, yet never too sweet. Pierre Hermé creates a unique variety of unconventional flavours that somehow work so well together. A box of Pierre Hermé macarons tends to be my go-to gift for loved ones whenever I visit Toronto or Kuala Lumpur and they’re always a big hit! My favourites are the vanilla & olive oil and the Infiniment Jasmin.
The Macaron Verdict
Clearly, La Durée and Pierre Hermé have earned their reputable status based on the quality, taste, and aesthetic of their macarons. Both brands produce colourful, visually pleasing, and vibrant edible gems. These macarons – so exquisite and refined – will make you feel like Marie Antoinette indulging in desserts as though there weren’t a revolution on her door step.
If I really had to choose just one macaron brand to eat for the rest of my life, it would have to be La Durée. There’s something magical about the lightness of these treats. But for Lili, Pierre Hermé’s macarons are unparalleled in terms of flavour and texture. So here you have two major foodies who both love macarons choosing to side with opposing camps. We sure don’t make things easy for you, eh? There’s only one solution: you’ll have to take on the Macaron Mission yourself to decide if you’ll fight for La Durée or Pierre Hermé when a winner-takes-all macaron battle breaks out. Bonne chance!
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