{pierre hermé & ladurée} the tale of two macarons

7:52 AM Sian Mei Yeoh 0 Comments

french macarons, that is. :)

in the past, when most people hear the word macaroon, they would used to think of chewy mound of lightly sweetened, shredded coconut. however, say macaron now and the the mind focuses on the colorful delicate sandwich cookies, whose popularity has skyrocketed over the past few years or lovingly known as the french macaron.


one of my missions on my tokyo trip was to taste and compare the two hugely famous french macaron makers :: the unspoken rivalry of pierre hermé paris and ladurée. since i figured if i can't go to france (yet!), i'd take whatever that comes my way first :) 


i've not tasted a lot of macarons and i think i've only had it like twice before. first time was absolutely disastrous and i probably wouldn't call what i had a french macaron because after my first bite, it also happened to be my last because it didn't taste like how others described it would be (totally not a great way to be first introduced to something new). i decided to give these cookies a second try a few months later, from the french market in chicago and thought it was a sweet and light treat.

but first, what makes a french macaron ::

1 part cookie (ground almonds + egg white + sugar)
+ 1 part filling (buttercream, ganache, jam)
+ 1 part cookie (ground almonds + egg white + sugar)
= 1 complete double-decker macaron (yummy satisfaction + happiness)

-robynn lee :: serious eats

in japan, it is called 'makaron'.  alicia millet corbett from four seasons magazine summarizes it the best ::

"its light-as-air, flaky outer shell and smooth, moist interior elevate a simple base of almond, sugar and egg white to an objet d’art. When set off with a coordinating or contrasting flavour of jam, ganache or buttercream filling—creating a gerbet—the result is a pastry passion that well deserves the international ardour it’s been inspiring in recent years. The coveted confection’s petite size makes the experience of eating it all the more precious"

let's start off with a brief history of this delicate creation.

the macaron cookie was born in italy and was introduced by chef of catherine de medicis in 1533 at the time of her marriage to the duc d'orleans who became the king of france as henry II. the english word macaroon is derived from the french word macaron that came from the italian word "maccherone" translated to "fine dough". the macaron started off as simple combination of ground almonds, egg whites and sugar with no special addition of flavors.

the original style of macaron cookies (taken from seriouseats.com)

it was not until 1930 that pierre desfontaines of ladurée came up with an original idea to create the double decker macaron (the same popular macaron that you are familiar with now) by sticking 2 macaron shells together with creamy ganache as filling. hence, it can be concluded that ladurée were the pioneers to the most coveted cookie in paris!


now here is the catch.. :: digging deep into the history of pierre hermé paris patisserie, pierre hermé was involved with the expansion of ladurée in 1997 before he opened his first own namesake pastry boutique in tokyo's new otaru hotel a year later. he only opened a place in paris after he was released from his contract with ladurée that prohibited him from doing so. pierre hermé is most famous for his macarons for the unusual flavor combinations and he was dubbed by the french vogue as " the picasso of pastry"


it probably explains the stiff but friendly competition between the two macaron giants, each with their own loyal following. knowing their history made it all the more exciting for me to discern the subtle differences in their pride and joy, if any at all. 

before i delve into my tasting session of the two, due to my inexperience, i decided to look up what might constitute a perfectly done macaron. robynn lee wrote on seriouseats her take on the perfect macaron ::

  1. cookie-to-filling ratio should be about 1:1 to 2:1. if the filling looks skimpy, squeeze in a bit more. but not too much lol.  filling shouldn't squish out of the cookie.
  2. filling should be smooth, firm (like ganache), light and not sticky  (may not apply to caramel or jams). aside from a few wayward crumbs, eating a macaron should be clean.
  3. texture and surface of the cookie should be very smooth. bumps show that the almond wasn't ground finely enough or wasn't sifted to take out the chunks. a chunky macaron might taste okay but not awesome.
  4. the crust should be thin and only provide the most useless protection against the soft cookie underneath. a dry, semi-hard crust that shatters into the soft center of the cookie is not fun.
  5. texture of the cookie under the crust should be light, just a little chewy and soft like a well made meringue. 
  6. cloyingly sweet macaron is a NO. they come in a wide variety of flavors for a reason - so you can taste the flavor.

i started off my macaron tasting mission at ladurée - mainly because i stumbled upon the shop on the third day in tokyo. ^^ located in luminee 2 in shinjuku, the petite patisserie was tastefully decorated á la "breakfast at tiffany's" in pastel colors :) for a short moment, it felt like i was transported to paris...



the pretty display of the colorful of the various flavors of macarons made it very tempting for me to get every flavor but i figured that i wouldn't be able to finish it. and a number of bloggers mentioned that ispahan is a must at ladurée!

 
 


i picked five macarons (which i think is a good number for variety) and the highly recommended ispahan. i wanted to wait till i get back but i had an urge to try at least one before we left the store. ><" guess which one got chosen? hehe.


such a delicate beauty in shades of pink and red or also known as ispahan.. :) it's a lovely combination of two almond (á la rose) macaron cookies, rose crème, lychee and fresh raspberries -  a brainchild of pierre hermé while he was working under ladurée.


the sweet rose aroma hits the nose when you first open the box. when i first bit into the two fragile meringue crispy shells - encasing the soft mids - that sandwiched the slightly tart and soft raspberries. the sweetness of the rose flavored shell is balanced by the raspberries and i was greeted by the subdued fruity sweetness of lychee as well as the subtle whispers of rose in the smooth crème completes the creation. lovely rendition with soft yet robust flavor combinations but still a tad too sweet for my liking. 

i reserved the macarons for my breakfast the next day and they provided a cold pack since i told them i was going to be out the rest of the evening in the warm weather :) it was essential to keep it cool and dry to enjoy it to the fullest!



the five flavors selected were coffee, chocolate, pistachio, lavender, dulce de leche. o the pistachio tasted like it had bits of finely chopped pistachio while the chocolate had a rich chocolate flavor. the lavender, on the other hand, had a subtle floral note and my favorite (while it was difficult to pick) was the dulce de leche.


texturally, they were what they are supposed to be. crispy shell delicately encasing the airy mid, with the perfect ratio of filling to cookie. then finally the sweetness takes over (but not in a cloying way, hence i could still taste the flavors). these managed to reset and make up for my not-so-good past experiences.


next part of my macaron tasting quest was to try pierre hermé's. since we were pressed for time, we found a boutique counter at daimaru in tokyo station, which worked out in our favor. in similar fashion as ladurée, the back of the counter was dressed in an elegant pastel green framing black and white damask pattern adorning the lit walls.


unfortunately, since it is a boutique counter, only macarons were available so i couldn't get an ispahan to compare to the one i had from ladurée. sad panda because pierre hermé himself has likened it as their "chanel suit" -- the one they sell the most. as consolation, i decided to get two extra macarons which gave me seven different flavors to try. they have a wide selection of flavor combinations - some of which were rather eccentric and interesting.



i had to search of another location to enjoy these airy cookies and decided to go to a starbuck's nearby for some nice cool drinks as well to go with these (the weather was so hot and humid!) we managed to find a table and i was somewhat reluctant to open the beautifully packaged of macarons sealed with his signature PH.




so the seven flavors that made it into the box were : lemon, pistachio, coffee, dulce de leche, vanilla, chocolate and rose. i managed to get four of the same flavors as ladurée to see if i could try to make a fair comparison. i realized i wasn't as adventurous as i should have been with the flavors considering they have some rather interesting ones.


i only managed to taste a few and thought the differences between ladurée and pierre hermé is very miniscule. similar to its counterpart, the promised flavors of each pierre hermé's macaron shone through the sweetness of these expertly made french cookie.


if insisted upon which is my favorite based on preliminary comparison, while both expressed the mastery and delicacy in making these cookies where fulfilled all the requirement of an awesome french macaron, i'd say ladurée's sweetness and texture are more suited to my palate. pierre hermé's was a tad sweeter, comparatively.

regardless of what your preference is, i think you won't go wrong with either. ladurée and pierre hermé paris are known as masters at their craft - so when you bite into either of these petite sized confections, you'd be lifted to macaron heaven. ^^

disclaimer this is written based on personal experience and opinion. experiences and taste buds may vary for others.

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