Before you ask, “Doesn’t she mean macaroon? Why use a pretentious French word?” Because the term macaron correctly—and very specifically—refers only to the gerbet, or Parisian macaroon.
In its purest form, the macaron is a confection composed of finely ground almonds, egg whites, and sugar. The word is a derivation of the Venetian macarone, meaning “fine paste.” The recipe traveled through France and varied regionally, but the ingredients and the basic construction remained consistent. A layer of buttercream, ganache, or jam was spread between two meringue disks.
The inventor of this treat was Pierre Desfontaines, a distant cousin of Louis Ernest Ladurée, founder of the eponymous pâtisserie. In the early 20th century the house of Ladurée introduced the world to what are today considered the classic macaron flavors—vanilla, chocolate, coffee, and almond.
In the mid-nineties Ladurée raised the bar with the help of a consultant, Pierre Hermé, a pastry master who added compelling flavor combinations, such as lime-basil and violet-cassis, to the shop’s offerings. Among Ladurée’s newer creations, a caramel version prepared with beurre salé has been especially esteemed. Every season Parisians fervently await the shop’s innovations.
Hermé, who now has seven boutiques in Tokyo and three in Paris, says the macarone itself is merely a medium for new flavors: rose-lychee-raspberry, say, and wasabi-grapefruit. According to Hermé, the craze began three years ago in Paris and was jump-started by Clémence Boulouque’s Au Pays des Macarones and Stéphane Glacier’s Un Amour de Macaron, now published Stateside as Macaroon Swoon. This fall Hermé released a volume of his own, and the Frenchman hopes to open his own store in America. Meanwhile, macaron shops proliferate here and abroad.
Having undertaken perhaps the most broad-ranging macaron tasting and analysis ever, I narrowed the field to 29 excellent purveyors. Those that ship and whose products arrive consistently fresh and attractively presented are noted with a star. macarones concocted with egg whites precooked, Italian style, yield a crunchier texture and are more likely to arrive intact. The French-style meringue is more temperamental and often best eaten soon after it’s made, if not on the premises. Funnily enough, quality among those selected here is fairly consistent, from Paris to San Francisco.
Made in Dumbo, Brooklyn, these confections are basic and homey-looking. The chocolate macaron has a center of rich ganache and an ever-so-slender sheet of bittersweet chocolate. The peanut butter is addictive, very American. 85 Water St.; 718-797-5026; almondinebakery.com
Thomas Keller’s dedication to precision triumphs at this Upper West Side shop. Consistency of shell—brittle bite giving way to cloudlike moistness—is reliable. Fillings are velvety and come as close to the Parisian standard as any American attempt. Standout: astringent yuzu with dark chocolate ganache. 10 Columbus Circle, New York; 212-823-9366; bouchonbakery.com
Last year this San Francisco chain added ganache to some of its cookies to create a depth of flavor. This approach works especially well with one whose middle features a dark, burned style of caramel ac-companied by white chocolate. 2325 Pine St.; 415-440-0356; laboulangebakery.com
At this Los Angeles branch of the pâtisserie, the brown sugar–infused Apple Jack flavor filled my mouth with happy memories of tarte tatins and crisp autumns past. 408 N. La Cienega Blvd.; 310-289-9977; boulela.com
One of the oldest, most beloved salons in Paris, Carette quietly serves spot-on, melt-in-your-mouth macarons. The store launches new collections every season, just like the flashier purveyors, and offers a caramel au beurre salé flavor that rivals Ladurée’s. 4 Pl. du Trocadero; 33-1/47-27-98-85
Trust the old guard to deliver a dependable macaron. This centuries-old company—run by a family whose ancestors served Louis XIV at Versailles—remains the best of its type. One of the founder’s in-house descendants accurately described the cookies as “ten seconds of pleasure” and her “first sweet emotion.” These err on the fragile side but are flavorful; the hazelnut is particularly potent. 101 Rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré, Paris; 33-1/42-99-90-00; dalloyau.fr
Essence Bakery Cafe*
Eugenia Theodosopoulos’s cookies come in regular and extra-large sizes—and both are irresistible. Though based in Tempe, Arizona, Theodosopoulos learned the technique of making macarones at Lenôtre in Paris. Her fillings are intense and lavishly piped. The caramel is like the best French custard. 825 W. University Dr.; 480-966-2745; essencebakery.com
A friend raved about a perfect galette she’d found at a Chicago farmers’ market. Floriole, the source of that galette, has also mastered macarones in the Windy City. Sandra and Mathieu Holl turn out faultless caramel-apple, chocolate-orange, and pear-ginger varieties. 2119 N. Rockwell St., Chicago; 312-550-2526; floriole.com
Kristy Choo runs this secret spot in Venice, California, and she’s drawn to “anything that has a hint of sourness combined with sweetness.” Her vanilla-plum macaron hides homemade red plum compote at its core. 1202 Abbot Kinney Blvd.; 310-399-8801; jinpatisserie.com
At this SoHo chocolatier, the same ingenuity that brought sesame to a truffle puts a dark chocolate– and–sesame ganache between two black-sesame meringues, leaving intimations of almond on your tongue. Sample the peach-ginger and rose-lychee confections. 80 Thompson St., New York; 212-334-3284; keeschocolates.com
Based in New Hampshire, this operation does quite a bit of mail-order business, and its carefully packed macarones deserve praise for arriving completely intact. They are more arid than some, perhaps the downside to their being shippable. As compensation, only natural brighteners, like beet juice, are used. Bonus points go to the coffee- and pistachio-perfumed examples. 47 Main St., Walpole; 603-756-2882; burdickchocolate.com
This is the benchmark. First this Rococo-style shrine to choux pastry gave us the sweet tooth’s answer to the tea sandwich. Then Ladurée applied the laws of fashion—each season Left and Right Bank dwellers line up at the nearest hub to sample the latest in macaron style. Of-the-moment flavors impress, but the perennial lemon, raspberry, and caramel au beurre salé still rule. 75 Av. des Champs-Elysées, Paris; 33-1/42-60-21-79; laduree.fr
Cécile Cannone’s Manhattan shop uses Toblerone, foie gras, and pumpkin. Yes, all three, but not in one cookie. There’s even a Big Mac: chocolate ganache (for the burger), a strawberry slice (tomato), and a mint leaf (lettuce), and there are sesame seeds on top. 161 W. 36th St.; macaroncafe.com
Macarones et Chocolat
Arnaud Larher received a best-of-Paris award for his macarones and now has a store to tout them. Experimental ingredients (lily of the valley, for starters) vie with classic ones. The pistachio-cherry flavor is lauded by chocolate guru David Lebovitz. 57 Rue Damrémont, Paris; 33-1/42-57-68-08
Madeleine Patisserie/La Maison du Macaron
“This is like a French Fig Newton,” enthused one taster, and he was right. Pascal Goupil’s expression of fig is an intense one, as is that of the apple, red wine with black pepper, and cranberry-strawberry macarones. 132 W. 23rd St., New York; 212-243-2757
More than two years ago Paris native Florian Bellanger defected from Fauchon and cofounded an online company in America specializing in madeleines and macarones. Bellanger’s cookies are crunchy on the outside and tender inside. Flavors include U.S.-bred originals (cinnamon, for instance); the white chocolate–and–sesame creation is particularly memorable. madmacnyc.com
La Maison du Chocolat
This global stalwart uses a luxuriant chocolate blend in a ganache that, impressively, never overwhelms its casing. It harmonizes with vanilla, raspberry, coffee, or caramel. The meringue itself has more gravitas than most. 1018 Madison Ave., New York; 212-744-7117; lamaisonduchocolat.com
The selection at this Notting Hill spot is heavily edited. There are only two gerbets to choose from; both are born of beautifully bitter chocolate. The difference is in the ganache: One is for purists, the other has a touch of black currant or, depending on the proprietor’s whim, raspberry. 59 Ledbury Rd., London; 44-20/ 7727-5030; meltchocolates.com
Michel Giaon’s macarones, made in Arlington, Virginia, and sold online only, were a pleasant surprise. I was skeptical of passion fruit, but the milk-chocolate ganache acts as a nice foil. Fresh mint also worked; the cream curbed any herbaceous tendencies. The biscuits’ slight dryness makes them ideal for shipping. 703-608-0255; michelpatisserie.com
This San Francisco institution started out as a stall at the farmers’ market in Berkeley and later moved to the Ferry Building. The founders like to use fresh local ingredients in specials that change seasonally. No dyes are used, so the cookies have an earthy palette and flecks of freshly ground almonds. Ferry Building Marketplace, Shop 10; 415-837-0300; miettecakes.com
The Parlour at Sketch
French chef Pierre Gagnaire runs the show at this London eatery, so the macarones in his tearoom are la vraie chose. Most of the airy—if a bit fragile—morsels have a piece of something or other tucked in the center. The lemon macaron, for example, hides a smidgen of the preserved fruit. 9 Conduit St.; 44-87/0777-4488; sketch.uk.com
Pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki Paris
The macarones here are “traditional in recipe and modern in the Japanese touch,” according to chef Sadaharu Aoki. Among the 20-plus kinds offered are salted cherry flower, yuzu, chocolate, and newcomers like sansho (Japanese pepper). 35 Rue de Vaugirard; 33-1/45-44-48-90; sadaharuaoki.com
A year ago owner Paulette Koumetz and French pastry chef Christophe Michalak opened the world’s first macaron “concept” store in Los Angeles. Most of the cookies have a white chocolate–based ganache, while the New Orleans praline relies on a paste made from grilled ground hazelnuts. 9466 Charleville Blvd., Beverly Hills; 310-275-0023; paulettemacarones.com
François Payard’s offerings here in New York are, as far as execution goes, the perfect bookend to those found at Ladurée. The classic flavors are flawless—his coffee is best—but his recent collaboration with Grand Marnier brought four Cocktail macarones worth trying. Sample the Grand Margarita, which includes lemon-lime, tequila-laced buttercream, and a hit of fleur de sel. 1032 Lexington Ave.; 212-717-5252; payard.com
When asked which of his macarones he adores most, Hermé responds, “It’s like asking me my favorite child.” The pastry master pairs white truffle with hazelnut, and vanilla with olive. One of our favorites is the caramel with fleur de sel. 72 Rue Bonaparte, Paris; 33-1/43-54-47-77; pierreherme.com
Pastry chef and co-owner of this Columbus, Ohio, oasis, Spencer Budros prefers the Italian meringue for a surface that “takes nothing to bite through.” He advocates contrasting the barely-there effect with a lingering filling. The caramel-pecan and chocolate-bergamot flavors are knockouts. 541 S. Third St.; 614-220-9070; pistaciavera.com
This two-year-old Dallas bakery makes consistently perfect coconut, Champagne, and raspberry cookies, along with other flavors that will fulfill your craving and give you a fair idea of how these snacks should be prepared. 2901 Elm St.; 214-749-4040; rushpatisserie.com
Tariq Hanna puts a New Orleans spin on his creations; take the Magnolia, which features Louisiana pecans and a hint of liqueur derived from the same nut. 3025 Magazine St., New Orleans; 504-520-8311; shopsucre.com
After sampling dim sum at this teahouse run by Alan Yau, move on to his revamped macarones. Don’t be daunted by the violet-fig option—the flower mellows the fruit’s sugar—and consider the lemon-cashew a palate cleanser. 15–17 Broadwick St., London; 44-20/7494-8888
*These stores ship their products fresh and attractively presented.
The Delectable Baker’s Dozen
1. Olive-oil vanilla macaron, Pierre Hermé
2. Caramel au beurre salé, Ladurée
3. Lavender nougat, Madeleine Patisserie
4. Coffee, Payard
5. White truffle oil, Kee’s Chocolates
6. Chocolate, Almondine
7. White-chocolate coconut, Pistacia Vera
8. Strawberry-rhubarb, macaron Café
9. Orange, Sucré
10. Mint, Michel Patisserie
11. Raspberry-chocolate, La Maison du Chocolat
12. Lemon, The Parlour at Sketch
13. Pistachio, Miette
Please note, the writer would forego the entire box in exchange for one hefty caramel macaron from Essence Bakery Cafe in Tempe, Arizona.
On Preservation and Shipping
Macarones are best consumed as soon as purchased, at room temperature or slightly chilled. Many pastry chefs believe in refrigerating them for a day or more after the meringues have emerged from the oven and are filled. Once most macarones hit the counter, their expiration date will arrive within three to five days (best to ask your preferred source how long it gives the cookies). I tried freezing my favorites and found they held up well. (Allow for ample defrosting time; do not microwave.) Shipping is a risky proposition, and products that are not expertly protected can turn up in pieces, soggy, or dried out. Florian Bellanger has mastered the art of mailing macarones and built his company Mad Mac on that capability. He designed a plastic tray molded with individual niches to hold each macaron and a transparent matching cover that ensures everything is sealed and flavors remain discernible by color.