Monday, August 16, 2010

Pierre Hermé versus Ladurée: An American Smackdown in Paris

“I definitely preferred Pierre Hermé when I came, and now… I’m a Ladurée girl. And I’m not comfortable with that.”—Jo

“I had heard so much about Pierre Hermé’s flavors, but… they kinda freaked me out!”—Karin

For years the debate has raged on: Who has the most sublime flavor-combinations? Who has the richest ganache? The creamiest buttercream? The perfect balance of crisp to chewy to melty? Whose is the prettiest?

Just exactly who has the best macaron: Pierre Hermé or Ladurée?

This was the question. But trust me, it’s not so easy to answer.

Even after the American Smackdown in Paris.

Nine tasters, ranging from macaron newbies to diehard aficionados.

That would be Karin and Sion

Sarah and Jo

Sylvia and Lionel

Top-notch pastry chef Rachel Khoo, experienced macaron taster Erica Berman, and myself.

Two flavors went head to head: rose and chocolate. (The others were just there because—pourquoi pas?—you can never have too much macaron carnage.)

And what do you know? It was a draw.

Rachel helped set things up and point out what we were looking for...
...What was the sheen like on the shell? Is the “foot” ragged or smooth? Does the shell crack like a baby bird’s egg? (Okay, that last one is my professional contribution, but it’s important, no??)

Although the numerical results would indicate Pierre Hermé won the Smackdown, it’s just not that easy. At the end of the night, four attendees confessed to preferring Ladurée overall—two of these were converts. Yesss!

So why is it a draw? Because I’m such a wuss, the ninth mouth, and I still can’t decide.

But here’s what we do know:

What we like about Pierre Hermé
The appearance: both the macarons themselves and the image of the brand
That they’re hand-assembled
The flavor combinations

What we don’t like about Pierre Hermé

A little too dense & heavy

What we like about Ladurée
The flavors
The fillings
The crisp shells

What we don’t like about Ladurée
That they’re assembled by machine
The stodgy image

Specifically, we pitted rose for rose.

It was a very close call. Out of a possible score of 15 (5 for appearance, 5 for texture and 5 for flavor), it was 11.875 to 11.222, Hermé’s favor. Ladurée tasted “just like a rose!” while Hermé had “a titch of savory creaminess”—which, with the comments on sugar and sweetness is probably what tilted the scales.

The results for the chocolate macaron were greater but, again, misleading.

Numerically, Hermé was the top scorer (12.5). But verbally, most people preferred the Ladurée option (which scored 11.33), citing that Hermé had “too much filling” and was “too cocoa-y”. Tasters likened it to eating a brownie. Pierre Hermé was “fudgier” versus Ladurée’s “creamier”.

So au final, who is the best?

Karin said it best and half agreed: Give me the appearance (and image! Piped Jo and Rachel) of Pierre Hermé but the flavor of Ladurée (which got big love from Erica).

In other words, the debate (happily) goes on.


Sion @ paris (im)perfect said...

As the self-professed newbie of this fabulous group, I was delighted to have such a fun introduction to both houses. I have to agree with you, Amy - total draw for me! Thanks for such a wonderful evening.

Karin (an alien parisienne) said...

Thank you so much, Amy. It was truly fun to experience this kind of "taste off," and educational for me as I had only ever had Ladurée macarons before this experience. While I recognize both houses have strengths and weaknesses, I think a LOT more taste-testing is required in the future before I can come to a definitive conclusion. ;-)

Thank you again for everything!

"All things French" said...

What fun you all had! tasting macarons- I have tasted Laudurée but not Pierre Hermé - I must return to Paris on a mission ~tout de suite~

Shannon said...

I gotta go w/ Ladurée - or maybe I just had a bad experience? Wasabi + Macaron = badness. Fun read, thanks for the taste-tester insights!
xx s

R khooks said...

What a great (and tasty) way to start the week and cheer you up in this awful wet summer. Thanks a mil, Amy!

Les rêves d'une boulangère (Brittany) said...

Sounds like a great taste testing :)
I've never tried either of their it was fun seeing the different flavours and hearing about the 'fudgey' flavor or 'rose' type.

How To Be Perfect said...

Fantastic post! I must admit I'm more of a Ladurée girl but certainly wouldn't turn a Pierre Herme mac down! When in Paris though nothing beats a caramel infused coffee and plate of macarons at Ladurée x

Sweet Freak said...

I think the great lesson learned was that you just might *think* your heart belongs to Ladurée or Pierre Hermé, but then your taste buds tell you otherwise...

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Linda (ParisienSalon) said...

Now there's a taste test I would have LOVED to have been part of. Personally, I'm a Ladurée fan. Yes, Pierre Hermé is prettier, but I've always thought their macarons too rich.

Shell Sherree said...

What an excellent idea {and such a clever post title!} I can see the need for frequent re-testing of such analysis.

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ParisBreakfasts said...

Always late to the party!
I love yr 'appart'
Will you show us yr inspiration wall?
Is it all sweets?
I could never choose - too difficult but would love to watch others in their state of confusion.
Sign me up as observer next time svp
Bonne idee1

Poppies and Sunshine said...

I want a macaron now! They all look so good. This was a great idea to taste test these two macarons!

ParisBreakfasts said...

Yr smack-down caused me to raid the frozen pistachio macarons from Paris (only 2 months old)
I didn't even wait for them to get room temp.
Pls. hold off on the smackdowns for a bit..or till next week at least!