Ladurée has the finest macarons I have tasted anywhere. Unlike pâtisseries such as Pierre Hermé which pride themselves on constantly introducing new and unique flavor combinations, Ladurée takes a much more straightforward approach. Most of the macarons are single-flavor, with a few being a combination of two, at most. This emphasis on simplicity allows Ladurée to completely focus on ingredient quality and taste, ensuring each macaron is the best of its kind.
Not only does Ladurée have the most true-to-life flavors, but the texture of their macarons is also the lightest and most delicate. The inside layer of crème is modestly thin, preventing the cookie from becoming cloying. This is also a boon for someone impatient like I am who sometimes can't help not waiting for the cold cookies to warm to room temperature since the thin layer warms up more quickly. These cookies are delicate, airy, and delicious. They are the most mouthwatering cookies on the planet.
Downstairs at the Champs Élysées location, ordering a box of macarons to go is a very efficient process. The counter is configured like an assembly line with one person helping to find the right size box and another to help fill it.
At Ladurée, moderation is very important; I try to never get more than 30 macaroons during a single visit. The vanilla, pistachio, rose, and licorice flavors are my favorite, each one an unembellished concentrated representation of the natural ingredient from which the small meringue sandwiches were made.
The pistachio macaron has a pastel green shell with light brown specks. The flavor is sweet and nutty with a very subtle hint of salt. The texture is a bit more gritty than the other macarons, a reminder that this cookie does come from ground nuts.
A floral aroma dominates the rose macaron, with a subtle flavor of vanilla. Unlike other rose flavor sweets, there is not the slightest bit of soapiness.
I think the most interesting flavor is the ink-black réglisse macaron, or licorice, a flavor that combines the sweetness of vanilla with the cool mouthfeel of licorice. I don't really like licorice and generally try to avoid it, but for some reason the licorice macarons are absolutely incredible, I believe one of the greatest dessert pastry flavors ever created.
Upstairs at the Champs Élysées location lies the tea room. It feels a bit like stepping back in time to Paris' belle époque: opulent gold leaf leads to delicate porcelain and an eclectic mix of antique chairs suitable for royalty. The service upstairs is a bit more "relaxed" than downstairs, so be sure to leave plenty of time for afternoon brunch.
Ladurée has the finest macarons in the world, but they also have excellent pastries. Pastries are baked in the morning, so try to arrive early if you plan on ordering croissants. The croissants are buttery and flaky with a unique cavernous interior that makes them appear extraordinary large.
The pain au chocolat aux amande, piped with a green almond paste and thin layer of dark chocolate, is nonpareil. Unlike most croissants aux amandes which recycle day's old croissants by re-baking them with a layer of sticky frangipane, these are fresh, crispy, and flaky. These are some of the only almond croissants in the city that are not are not flooded with powdered sugar.
Ladurée's kouglof amande, a sweet brioche of raisin and almond sprinkled with sugar, is phenomenal. When freshly baked in the morning it retains moisture like a sponge without the slightest hint of dryness. Hard to imagine a pastry that pairs better with a cup of French Press coffee.
When Pierre Hermé was still the executive chef at Ladurée he created the recipe for the Ispahan, a giant raspberry macaron sandwiching a rose water crème dotted with lychee. When Chef Hermé left to open his own shop, Ladurée retained the recipe along with the right to continue producing it. This pastry is a wonderful balance of flavors and is quite beautiful, but the even more impressive ispahan left along with Pierre Hermé.
Ladurée will always hold a special place in my stomach. No matter what crazy or inventive flavors competing bakeries create, Ladurée remains a beacon for consistency and unequaled taste. It is truly one of the most magnificent bakeries in the world.