It’s a cliché to go to Paris and eat pink- and green- and chocolate-colored macarons, and you should do exactly that without an ounce of shame. Eat fancy macarons, and macarons from the corner bakery, and the giant-sized ones that look like sugary hamburgers. Eat them when you love Paris, because they’ll make you love Paris even more, and eat them when you hate Paris, because they’ll make you love Paris again. But most importantly, eat them when you’ve left Paris—the cookies travel beautifully, boxed up prettily and tied with a bow.
But which macarons to bring home? We packed up selections from five Paris pâtisseries, flew them home with us to Eater’s offices in New York and Los Angeles, and subjected our beleaguered colleagues to a blind taste test. The contenders were a mixture of iconic purveyors (Pierre Hermé, Ladurée), lower-profile pâtisseries with cult followings (Arnaud Delmontel, Sébastien Gaudard), and straight-up chain pander (yes, McDonald’s). The question wasn’t which macarons are the best to eat while you’re blissed out on wine and starlight on the edge of the Canal St.-Martin; it’s which will, with a single bite, make your friends and loved ones jealous they weren’t there with you.
Here's how they stack up.
This international chain's original location in the 1st arrondissement is on plenty of Paris must-visit lists—but let's be honest here. If you can get these macarons in New York and (soon) a fancy Los Angeles mall, is it really worth dragging yourself to the flagship? More to the point, Ladurée also has kiosks scattered throughout both Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, a knowing wink to how well they appreciate their role in the city's touristic narrative. Ladurée is gilded and pastel and lovely and utterly commercial and soulless, the ubiquitous Death Star of macaron slingers.
Then again, they were also the resounding winner of taste tests on both coasts. Eater editors called the pistachio flavor "fantastic" and the caramel "pure," though editor-in-chief Amanda Kludt declared them "too sweet." New York senior critic Ryan Sutton declared them "really gorgeous stuff," with "every element in perfect balance." LA senior editor Farley Elliott boiled the praise for his cookie down to an unimpeachable declaration: "I'm going to eat this whole fucking thing."
2. Arnaud Delmontel
A well-regarded patisserie with three locations in Paris (the products for our test came from the shop on the Rue de Martyrs, a street studded with culinary specialists), Arnaud Delmontel offers a large array of flavored macarons in classic flavors and lurid colors. Editors noted, and appreciated, their creamier filling and crisper shell, though some thought the flavors verged on the artificial. It's notable that these, even more than the Ladurée cookies, are picture-perfect Parisian macarons, colorful and petite and ideal for including in any meticulously nonchalant Instagrams. Advice from those who know of what they speak: The pistachio, salted caramel, and chocolate are terrific, but avoid the banana flavor at all costs.
French McDonald's outlets began selling macarons in 2007, and they've readily become the go-to item for any tourist attuned to a certain high-low, ironic-distance-but-is-it-really type of Paris-cliché playacting. Then again, the macarons aren't bad, even if they are an obvious ploy to ingratiate the chain with Parisians, and shake the stigma of multinational gray-tinged-beef cultural hegemony. Eater editors in both New York and LA had mixed reactions, describing them as "so good, so dense," "a touch too chewy," "not unpleasant, but disappointing," and perhaps most neutrally, "a green macaron that tastes vaguely like a macaron."
4. Sébastien Gaudard
Just a few doors down from Arnaud Delmontel on the Rue de Martyrs is this impossibly chic bakery, a favorite of the hip and fashionable. Gaudard was once the second-in-command to Pierre Hermé at Fauchon; here, he keeps things exceedingly classical, including making his macarons without any (obvious) artificial colors, and sternly enforcing a no-photos policy. The interior is all marble and brass and robin's-egg blue, and the confections, especially the preserved fruit, are simultaneously old-fashioned and austerely modern. These macarons were undoubtedly the most delicious eaten in the moment, but sadly did not fare well after a day of transatlantic travel. Their packaging, while far and away the most beautiful of the bunch, was sadly not airtight, and compared to the bright colors of the other offerings, their varying shades of brown were dull and uninviting. Editors' notes included that these were "the stalest" and "very plain and bland," though one editor liked them best of all, saying that the cookies "tasted like a boozy S'mores Pop-Tart, in the best possible way."
5. Pierre Hermé
How could this happen?! Pierre Hermé is widely considered to be the architect of Paris's macaron renaissance—not to mention the godfather of the global obsession with salted caramel—and yet his confections tanked in our highly scientific rankings. The cookies available at Hermé's seven locations are rarely offered with traditional fillings like vanilla or pistachio; instead, they're a rotating selection of thematic mash-ups using an international array of fruits, nuts, and spices, the multi-hued cookies tie-dyed with pearlescent shimmer. Maybe it's all too much. Back home, features editor Matt Buchanan declared that they were his favorite, but other editors called them "chalky," "acidic," "a little burnt-tasting," and "just sort of mushy and I'm not even sure what the flavor was." About the famous salted-caramel macaron, one editor said it "tasted like it was aiming to be a Werther's Original, but it most def was not." Kludt called it "too gummy and bizarre." Perhaps most damningly, Eater LA editor Matthew Kang declared that there were "better macarons in Los Angeles."
Lead image: Helen Rosner