I can’t say I didn’t give Ladureé a fair try. I tried the macarons. I tried the croissant. I even dined-in and tried their ice cream and tea selections. But when all is said and done, my loyalties lie with Pierre Hermé – not that, of course, you ever have to choose sides. Though, things get really interesting when the protégé surpasses the master, n’est-ce pas? Viv and I visited Ladureé twice during our Paris stay to objectively evaluate the confections and desserts. We began at the St. Germain-des-Prés location on Rue Bonaparte. We bought several macarons and even a croissant.
In general, we found that the macaron shells were slightly tacky – not as crispy exterior or soft/light interior as a Pierre Hermé macaron, and just ever so sticky on the teeth. This is a no-no. Additionally, the fruit macarons have overwhelmingly sweet jam fillings that we thought took away from the macaron experience. We prefer our buttercreams and ganaches, and doubly appreciate when there are flecks of additional flavor mixed into those fillings (like lychee gel or bits of dried rose petals, etc). In short, we appreciate creativity.
Croissants. Top Ladureé. Bottom Pierre Hermé.
We also tried a Ladureé croissant – which was very delicious. Flakey, buttery – everything a croissant should be. But there was much to be desired. I can get a technically correct and delicious croissant at a million different bakeries in Paris, what made Ladureé’s stand out? Nothing. Meanwhile, at Pierre Hermé, the croissants come in more variations than just butter and chocolate. Enter the Ispahan croissant! Rose-lychee-raspberry flavors permeate throughout the pastry. Topped with a light glaze and bits of sugared rose petals – the croissant was a delight and such an inspired approach to so common a pastry.
On another occasion, we visited the Ladureé on Champs-Elysee, and were immediately seated in their tea room. I quickly went to the counter to snap pictures inside the shop, but an aggressive salesclerk told me non, no pictures inside. WHAT? No pictures? It’s not like I was using flash and irritating the other customers, or in anyone’s way. What does she think those pastries are? Delicate da Vinci paintings that are destroyed by light? Pierre Hermé (Paris and Tokyo locations) has NEVER given me any problems with photography! Minus 5 points Ladureé.
Teas & Ice Creams.
Once back the table, we were served teas in very cute teapots and serving ware. Despite not appreciating most teas, I genuinely enjoyed the fragrance and slight sweetness of my Eugénie brew – Chinese black tea with warm notes of different berries and currant. Viv had the Marie Antoinette tea, which was steeped in bright citrus flavors. Both were unique and delicious. Halfway through our first cup, the desserts arrived. Two towering bowls of Ladureé’s ice cream, topped with freshly whipped cream and fruit purée. I ordered the Ispahan ice cream, which included 2 scoops of the raspberry and 1 scoop of the lychee-rose. Once again, Ladureé does a very good job – intense raspberry flavor that packs a punch, but mellowed by the floral and sweet notes of the lychee-rose. Technically, it was flawlessly executed and delicious. However, you need to understand that I’ve had Ispahan ice cream at Pierre Hermé – and what a whole experience that was. In addition to the ice cream, whipped cream and fruit/rose garnish, there are actual pieces of sweet lychee to contrast the texture and add more depth of flavor. Incredible!
In conclusion, while Pierre Hermé surprises with sophisticated innovation in its approach to French pastry and dessert, Ladureé perfects with exacting tradition. If you like the basics, head to Ladureé. There are locations EVERYWHERE, even a stand at Versailles! But if you are a bit more daring, a bit edgier, a bit more hip – Pierre Hermé is the way to go.