Most visitors to Paris have come across shop windows filled with pastel-colored, delicate little biscuits that look too beautiful to eat, and displayed artfully on large trays. The "macaron"-- from the Italian maccarone for "to smash together"-- should not be confused with the North American macaroon, a close but much heavier cousin flavored with coconut.
The world-famous French variety is composed of two small, crispy biscuits made of egg whites, almond, sugar, and vanilla pressed together with small amounts of ganache, buttercream, or other fillings. Having presumably been invented in Paris during the early 20th century, this reigning version of the macaron is a favorite among gourmets and pastry makers. You can even find the round little cakes at McDonald's in Paris now, but if you prefer (rightfully so) to head to the best purveyors the city has to offer, read further.
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With their unmistakeable pastel green boxes and signature pink ribbons, Ladurée has achieved a coup in marketing that has made them nearly as famous for their packaging-- Sophia Coppola was inspired by their hues for the set design of her film Marie-Antoinette-- as for their much-lauded macarons. With several locations in Paris, including a flagship bakery and tearoom situated on the posh Champs-Elysees,
Ladurée is perhaps the most recognized of the "creme de la creme" macaron makers by Parisians and tourists alike. They claim to have invented this most-coveted version of the round little cake in 1862 when the bakery's founder opened a shop on Rue Royale in Paris. Popular flavors include vanilla, pistachio, salted butter caramel, and dark chocolate, but for the more adventurous tasters among you, why not try eclectic flavors such as chocolate yuzu, marrying western and eastern palates (Yuzu is an Asian variety of mandarin fruit).
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Another major heavyweight in Parisian patisseries, Pierre Hermé has been celebrated around the world as one of the best living pastry chefs, and his own stunning and delicious collection of macarons are giving Ladurée a run for their money. Hermé has several shops around Paris dedicated mostly to the egg, almond, and ganache creations, and is especially loved for his creative and unexpected flavors. Why not try a macaron flavored with matcha tea, olive oil and mandarin, licorice and rose, or even with foie gras? Hermé is also appreciated for his chocolate macarons made from pure-origin, high-grade chocolate from Peru, Venezuela, and other regions. A pure delight for all the senses.
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One of Paris's best chocolate makers, Jean-Paul Hévin has attempted to take on the established macaron-makers in the city with his own selection of interesting and delicious flavors. French magazine Figaro named Hévin's macarons the best of 2012, underlining his success. His chocolate varieties are especially recommended given the high attention to sourcing only the best grades of chocolate, but he also peddles some creative and quirky flavors, including fig and mango-coriander. You can enjoy a couple of macarons accompanied by a cup of gourmet tea or hot chocolate at Hévin's upstairs tearoom. In the winter, it's a plan that's hard to beat.
Travel Tip: The Jean-Paul Hévin boutique is located in an area known for its gourmet addresses, in close range of chocolate makers such as Michel Cluizel (at 201, rue Saint-Honore), and not far from the original Ladureé shop, bakery, and tearoom at 16, rue Royale ).