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Mar 2, 2009 08:39 PM

[SF] Hayes Valley Macaron Crawl

Last Friday was a gorgeous day, so I made my way into the city to waste time and fatten up. Two great pleasures of life. After a failed attempt (AGAIN!) to get some focaccia at Liguria Bakery (are they ever NOT sold out? I am beginning to wonder...), I decided to seek consolation on a mini macaron crawl. Paulette, Miette Confiserie, and La Boulange are all within a couple of blocks of one another along Hayes. How convenient.

1st stop: Paulette
Price of macarons: $1.60 each
Flavors sampled: pistache de Sicile, dragée, caramel salé, noix de coco
Verdict: inconsistent, but higher highs than the subsequent stops. Pistache was slightly dry, caramel was very much so. These two were not particularly fresh. The caramel filling was lovely though. Dragée was wonderful, little crispy candy bits on top made for a lovely texture. Not dry in the least. Noix de coco was too soft and, like coconut cake.

2nd stop: La Boulange de Hayes
Price of macarons: $1.50 each
Flavors sampled: vanilla, cherry, caramel
Verdict: Vanilla seemed a couple of days old. Like a rock. Cherry was good, not overly sweet, a little too soft. Caramel tasted cheap, if that makes any sense. Not a well-made caramel, in my opinion. Tasted like Halloween candy I got when I was 5.

3rd stop: Miette Confiserie
Price of macarons: $1.50 each
Flavors sampled: vanilla, hazelnut
Verdict: These things are thick. They have a much more noticeable almond meal sort of texture, not as smooth as most macarons I've eaten before. The vanilla was nice. A tad too chewy, though, and not much of a crispy outer layer on the meringue. Hazelnut, I found the filling a little too hard and the chocolate ganache pretty lackluster.

The only place of the three I would go back to is Paulette, and just based on how good the dragée was, I would go back without hesitation. I would take the opportunity to taste the samples of every flavor that I can first, though (they have a little jar of sample pieces behind the counter, and the charming woman working there was very generous with them). They supposedly get shipments each morning from the boutique in Beverly Hills, but I think based on what I tasted this time that the freshness can vary a lot. Even with that being the case, Paulette smashes the competition here in Berkeley...

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  1. Who are the Berkeley competitors and how do you rate them vis a vis one another?

    1 Reply
    1. re: dordogne

      Good question. I'd love to learn about more places that offer them here in Berkeley, but the places I was referring to were Masse's Pastries, Sweet Adeline Bakeshop, and Lulu Rae Confections (Oakland).
      Masse's is, in my limited experience, the weakest of that bunch. I've tried their macarons three or four times, and regardless of when I go, freshness seems to be an issue. I've often found them dry.
      Sweet Adeline's were satisfying as sandwich cookies, but a bit too chewy to me. There wasn't that little crisp meringue shell on the outside. In other words, the texture was just too uniform for my taste. They should be somehow crisp, slighly chewy, and soft all at once. And the filling should be lighter than the dense fillings I found here.
      Lulu Rae, it has been a while, honestly. I tried them last fall or so. I tried several flavors and remember finding them a tad on the too-sweet side. They were also really soft. I they're going to err one direction or the other, I suppose soft is better than hard.
      I am way too particular when it comes to macarons! :)

    2. I absolutely agree with your reviews of the three places and think Paulette is the only place for macarons here. On many separate occasions I have tried the ones at Miette and La Boulange de Hayes (as well as the other locations on Pine St, on Market St, etc) but I have only been disappointed. The ones at Miette are insultingly hard and chewy, and there is almost no flavor to the filling. The ones at La Boulange have a better texture but they tasted cheap and something made by a shop that is in the business of selling Parisian baked goods in general and therefore makes these macarons in order to enhance the selection, rather than by a shop that actually focuses on the macarons and has probably spent a lot of time on learning how to make them.

      3 Replies
      1. re: hong_kong_foodie

        Honestly, I can't see how Paulette can keep going selling items of questionable freshness shipped in from another city. There are a lot of competitors here. I would hope Paulette is just gauging demand to figure out whether to build a kitchen here, rather than saying "We're so much better than the rest that we can get away with this indefinitely."

        I like the version at Sweet Adeline's in Berkeley better than Paulette's, having just tried the former in response to a tip on this forum a few days ago. Masse's and Bette's also make macarons, although I don't think they were that great.

        1. re: Agent 510

          I agree that dragée, aka sweet wedding almond, was one of the best I tried. The center is like a nice marzipan. I thought the pistachio tasted like nothing. The green tea is nice, subtle, but nice.

          You are right about them being generous with the samples. I tried the vanilla which I thought had previous negative reports, but I liked it and would probably buy that flavor in the futue.

          Sweet Adeline's like every place is inconsistant. I liked the first I tried a chocolate mint and thought people were nuts when they didn't like the strawberry. However, after trying that flavor, didn't like it so much.

          Masse's can be really awful. I think I tried them a second time, though why I have no clue since the first ones I tried were so awful. The second were better but can't really remember much other than they weren't awful.

          Masse's Pastries
          1469 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94709

          Miette Confiserie
          449 Octavia St, San Francisco, CA 94102

          Sweet Adeline
          3350 Adeline St, Berkeley, CA

          La Boulange
          500 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

          1807 4th St, Berkeley, CA 94710

          437 Hayes St, san francisco, ca

          1. re: rworange

            Thanks for adding the addresses, rworange. I'll have to give Bette's a try one of these days. Didn't know about that one.

      2. Macarons are a recent addition to the offerings at Feel Good Bakery in Alameda. They had chocolate, espresso and lemon last week, and said more flavors would go into the rotation. I didn't try them...yet.

        8 Replies
        1. re: foodeye

          I've been making the rounds of the SF macaron bakers and a few others too. The ones from Feel Good have been my favorite so far and worth a special mention. Ruth Lafler provided some samples a couple weeks ago. Didn't like the strawberry one (those decorative sugar crystals made it too sweet) and had a hard time figuring out the chocolate-orange one since it looked like it should be hazelnut. But I did love the pistachio one. These are light and delicate cookies, airy and not soggy or too tough, and the best part is the silky buttercream. I loved the finesse of Feel Good's macarons.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Interesting article, Melanie. Thanks for sharing the link.

            I have the same worry the article mentions, which is: if macarons become "the next cupcake... it will flood the market with an inferior product". Because the thing is, macarons are more difficult to make well than cupcakes, or frozen yogurt, or (insert other food fad here).

            I had no idea the macarons from Ladurée (which remains my benchmark) and Pierre Hermé are "aged" for two to four days. Interesting.

            Where is Feel Good, by the way? Alameda?

            1. re: tupac17616

              I've added a Places link for Feel Good.

              I can say that the chocolate macaron I had from Miette recently was too fresh. The first bite of it was like a chewy chocolate brownie and I thought to myself that it would be better in two days. It was, but the lack of finesse was off-putting.

              OTOH, I'm not sure that I'll try Paulette's again on a Sunday. The cassis one has a rubbery, jelly filling anyway, and at two days old or more when purchased on Sunday, it was more like fruit leather and barely chewable. The cookie part itself was crumbly. Other flavors fared better.

              Feel Good Bakery
              1650 Park St, Alameda, CA 94501

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                The Passion Fruit is the same as the Cassis. I'm not sure why they do it instead of using a buttercream; total calorie content is probably similar, just replacing fat and protein with pure sugar, and it makes for a cookie with pretty uneven texture that falls apart if you try to take small bites.

                1. re: SteveG

                  Yeah, I had a big "WHY?" in my mind when I tried to bite into that thing. Maybe it fares better when fresh.

              2. re: tupac17616

                I think at least some places, like Boule in L.A. freeze theirs before selling them, to give them that chaw.

                That said, there's aged but then there's just plain stale. After a while sitting outside, the edges get hard. There's a happy medium.

                1. re: choctastic

                  They also freeze them at Bouchon in Yountville. I once talked them into selling me a caramel macaron directly from the freezer, since they were all sold out of those in bakery case, by promising to let it warm up.

            2. re: foodeye

              Actually, Feel Good has had macarons for years, but they recently expanded their selection and seem to be featuring them more, perhaps because more people recognize what they are. Be warned that they're at the top of the price scale at $2.

              I've actually had some of those "inferior" macarons. I bought them at New Leaf market in Half Moon Bay. They offer some that are small and sold by the pound. They were quite inexpensive, but they weren't very good, especially the various fillings. They were to good macarons what Hostess cupcakes are to cupcakes.

            3. To add my two cents to this thread, I have been eating a lot of macarons lately and last Saturday indulged in a similar crawl to yours.

              1. Miette Ferry Plaza
              These are the most almond-mealy ones I've ever had, not only is the almond not sifted and/or ground to fineness, they appear to have been ground with the skins on, resulting in brown flecks throughout and sometimes an unpleasant texture. The cookies themselves are unflavored, but the fillings are too mild, with the exception of the flowery one (rose geranium?) Actually, the chocolate ones have a chocolate flavored cookie, and were probably best of the lot. Not stale, but I don't feel like I ever want one again.

              2. Patisserie Phillipe
              These are monster-sized macarons, which kind of put me off a bit, but in the end I liked them a lot. I should say that the pistachio I had was hard and chewy, too soon tried after cold storage... a couple hours later the cookies had softened to the correct texture but the filling was still very chewy. However, I liked all the other ones I tried, in particular the fruit flavored ones- passion and I think cassis and raspberry. Apart from the size, they had what I think of as "correct" texture: crisp outer shell, softer inner cookie, smooth soft filling. The almond meal was ever so slightly rougher than I'd like but no biggie. I liked these and would return.

              3. Paulette
              To me these are just beautiful, and I very much appreciate how distinct the flavors are. This is particularly apparent in some of their "special" flavors, where they have crossed the cookie flavor with a different filling flavor. They are the perfect size and texture. I like this flatter style of cookie as compared to macarons that have a distinct dome shape, but it's not a strong preference. This most recent trip I had a mixed dozen, and I think if you do this sort of larger across-batch tasting you can start to see patterns in texture vs. freshness, etc. Of 12 cookies I think 10 were peak quality. I thought the caramel was a bit burnt in that cookie. Also I think it's clear that the non-ganache fillings do not last as long and tend to accelerate the decline in cookie quality- they get moister and chewier faster, whereas I feel the cookie/ganache macarons can last for days if stored properly.

              I should note here that my first experience with Paulette was a mixed dozen brought to me from the Beverly Hills store, that had been refridgerated overnight but allowed to come to temp over several hours. Those also had a similar distribution of texture quality- I would say 9 or 10 were excellent, with the remaining 2 or 3 somewhat harder and chewier. All of those were the jam/jelly-type filling, as opposed to ganache. Although I was skeptical before this tasting odyssey began, I do now believe that shipping cookies from Beverly Hills is not itself a problem, and the freshness issues have more to do with turnover and filling type.

              4. Boulange de Hayes
              These were quite flat (too much so) but each one I sampled had a good texture. They were not too memorable, but at the same time I was happy to eat them and i had no complaints, except that these ones seemed to go moist the quickest of them all. Since I bought something like $50 worth of macarons that day, I did not eat them all at once, though I did make a point of sampling most of the cookies that first day. The flavors were not as distinct and bright as Paulette or Patisserie Phillipe, though fine.

              Finally, although it was not included on this one-day odyssey, I should mention Cocola, the San Jose-based bakery. I have on two separate occasions gotten the dozen box from the Westfield center shop and each time have been pleased with their quality and freshness. They have very nice cookies, a bit more of the hamburger shape as compared to Paulette, and a nice size as well (though they also make "monster" sized ones sold singly). The main criticism might be that the cookies sometimes get larger air bubbles inside them, which I would consider a minor flaw. The flavors are good, too, not quite as good as Paulette, and fewer, but better than the others listed here except perhaps the Pat. Phillippe flavors that I liked.

              As a point of reference, I have no experience with the Paris giants, and my only Euro macarons were Swiss.

              Hope this helps.

              20 Replies
              1. re: twocents

                Cocola ... another entry. Thanks for the report.

                Patisserie Philippe (moving)
                655 Townsend St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                La Boulange
                500 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                Cocola Bakery & Pastry
                865 Market St, San Francisco, CA

                1. re: rworange

                  costco in foster city had a 12 macaron cocola variety pack in a pretty box today for $8.99. they're in the refrigerated section, on an end cap near the fish/sausages. i couldn't resist.

                  1. re: artemis

                    Interesting. I noticed that Starbucks in Daly City had a 12 pack (plastic clam shell) for $9.99 last time I was headed to the movies, but didn't buy one. Still, curious about the source and quality.

                    I continue to enjoy the macarons from Thorough Bread and curse their plastic tubes, which guarantee you crush the corners getting them out.

                    1. re: Windy

                      The Starbucks ones were imported from France. I believe the producer was "Chateau Blanc"... googling shows some blog posts, one of which claims it was a seasonal item.

                      I only noticed it in SoCal when I visited between xmas and new years... I don't think I saw any up here, though my Starbucks visits are at best irregular. At any rate, I bought some driving back up from LA.

                      Verdict: These were sold directly from their refridgerated case... far too cold a temperature for macaron service. I was disciplined about testing them over an extended time period. By hour 4 they were okay, though lacking in crispness. By hour 12 they were better than many I've had from local (bay area) purveyors who sold them to me too cold. But at 24hrs they had assumed the crisp shell, soft inside quality that to me define the tactile qualities of this cookie. The flavors were fine, I would say not as good as the French McDonald's one I had last year, but fine.

                      Based on my experiences over the last year, I think clearly that service temperature plays a big role in perceived quality, along with lack of staleness. I will not say freshness, as I am convinced now that you can get good quality as long as 5-7 days out if they are stored properly (i.e. 50 F or so, or lower temps with adequate time to "reset").

                      1. re: twocents

                        Thanks for the notes. I will definitely check them out if I see them again.

                        The main reason I didn't buy them (or any assortment) is how much the flavors vary. Even at the bakeries I like, they go from hazelnut to awful green apple and other perfume-y flavors.

                    2. re: artemis

                      How are the Cocola ones. They have at RWC too

                  2. re: twocents

                    Sounds like you know something about luxemburgerli. Have you tried the ones at Schoggi in SF?

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Schoggi made my GPS list for the Macaron crawl but we didn't make it there. I'm keeping it in mind, though.

                      Despite walking by both the Sprungli shops on Banhofstrasse, not to mention the airport, I did not get them. I only had macaron in Basel from Confiserie Schiesser. These I think could have been more Luxemburgerli than macaron, but without a definitive Luxemburgerli example to compare it to I would hesitate to pronounce it so. They were more airy, though, almost light meringue-like than the macaron cookies, which are of course airier than most cookies.

                      If I have to go back I'll make a point of going through Zurich again... really beautiful city, Luxemburgerli or none.

                      1. re: twocents

                        I stopped by Schoggi this week and was disappointed to learn that it no longer stocks luxemburgerli imported from Switzerland. What it has in the case are larger french style made by "a San Francisco bakery". I didn't ask, but judging from the number of flavors available, I suspect they're from Bay Bread/Boulange.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          I was brought a few of their macarons a couple of weeks ago on the eve of a business trip. Based on my recent experiences, I would guess that they were from Patisserie Phillipe. But again, it was based on one visit each. I felt the Boulange macarons were distinctly smaller and flatter overall.

                          I was also brought another dozen of the Cocola small macarons, and was very satisfied once again. I'm keen to get over to Masse's again to see how they're doing. I really should cut back, but what the hell.

                          1. re: twocents

                            Please keep going, I'm appreciating your recon.

                        2. re: twocents

                          Just to update this thread with a little story.
                          I made it back to Zurich last November as the jumping off point for my Italy vacation (wanted to take the train over the Alps) and made a point of going to the main Sprungli shop again. The displays of luxemburgerli are gorgeous and like other patissiers, they made a point of having some seasonal flavors. I then went to lunch nearby. Halfway through lunch, we were so tired that we just went back to the hotel thinking we'd come back out later in the afternoon... of course did not make it back before they closed. On the train to Milan first thing in the morning. So as yet have not had the famous maker's luxemburgerli, despite coming so close!

                      2. re: twocents

                        To update with some East Bay data points:

                        5. Cafe St. Honore, Albany
                        They had three flavors on hand, medium sized with the correct shell, but a little dry on the inside and a couple of them had v. large air pockets inside, which bugs me. Ganache filling was good in each. Seemed like they were starting to get a little old, but overall ok.

                        6. Masse's
                        These were very pretty, a medium large size. That day they had yuzu, raspberry, chocolate, coffee, and pistachio. All were ok in the sense that they were obviously made with quality ingredients, but overall I found the texture much too soft and moist. The shell was in place but had no crunch whatsoever. Everything had the texture of a very soft, light cookie. One of the cookies was very chewy, in a way that suggests underbaking (not in a dangerous way, but in a not-enough-moisture removed kind of way). Has potential, I liked the flavor otherwise, but the texture was definitely off for me.

                        7. Feel Good Bakery
                        They only had three flavors out when I went by, but they were all v. good texture, with a nice crisp shell and moist interior cookie. The ganaches had nice flavor. Out of the case they were still a bit cold and had a noticeable chew which dissapated once they came to room temp. Less sweet than most others that i've tried, which some people may prefer. I liked these ones a lot.

                        8. Sweet Adeline
                        Did not have any when I stopped by. Are they a regular thing?
                        9. Bette's to go
                        I've never noticed them here either, and they did not have them when I popped in the other day.

                        1. re: twocents

                          Anyone know why Paulette still hasn't introduced a strawberry flavor macaron in this peak strawberry season?

                          1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                            Do any of their fruit flavored macarons come from a fresh product? Passionfruit and cassis have gummy disks of something vaguely like fruit leather or pate de fruit in the middle, which is probably made from imported fruit puree.

                          2. re: twocents

                            Went to Masse's again and had a much better experience. There were but three flavors but overall the texture was much better. Only one was too soft and chewy, the others had a distinct shell. One had the shell but still a little soft inside. Very much enjoyed the yuzu flavor this time.

                          3. re: twocents

                            Another East Bay Source:

                            10. Berkeley Bowl West (Artisan Foods of Berkeley)
                            In the pastry case at the upper right by the cashier, 3 flavors of macaron by the above named maker who appears to supply many of the cakes and pastries. Served directly from the case they are a bit cold and should be allowed to warm before eating. These are medium sized, relatively flat macaron with a proper "foot" and a good quality filling, fairly thin. The cookie also has a proper shell. My only criticism would be that they were slightly softer than I would prefer. Only $1 each.

                            Looking back on these posts, Cocola does not have a number. Call it #11.

                            11. Cocola.
                            See above.

                            1. re: twocents

                              Yes, those Artisan macarons are good. I just wish BB wouldn't chill them. Does Artisan sell these anywhere else? They make a swell cannelle too.

                              1. re: rworange

                                I never heard of them before seeing them here. The original Bowl doesn't appear to carry the same range from them, if at all. I've had a lot of these macarons over the past few weeks, and they have been pretty consistent, once they warm up. Occasionally, esp the chocolate/hazelnut ones, they get a bit chewy even after coming to temp.

                                Their cream puff with strawberry and custard is a delicious steal too.

                            2. re: twocents

                              Boulange de Hayes again, this time just two flavors. The shape was a little better this time, still flat but a bit thicker. These have distinct "feet." Flavor was good, but the berry was a bit soft, but still had a shell.

                              Paulette again: I do understand the comments that Paulette's non-fans make; I won't say they're wrong, but having sampled at least 36 individual cookies here I have to say I still like these near the best. Again, I appreciate the range and brightness of flavors (jasmine tea is very good, as is the sweet almond), and the variety of fillings. To me, these are also the perfect shape, size and texture for the cookies, but for 2-3 of those 36.

                              The criticism I agree with most has to do with the texture of the fillings. Since they choose to use a lot of pate de fruit and other non-ganache or buttercream fillings, this has a significant effect on the overall cookie experience. I don't like the hardness and/or chewiness of the dulce de leche/caramel ones, and I have also had the pate de fruit filling harden up unpleasantly. However, at least for the pate de fruit, I have also had good examples which I appreciated tremendously.

                              Sweetness I think varies quite a lot by flavor. To my taste they are not uniformly sweet. The sweet almond is one of the sweetest, but also one of my favorites. In contrast, I did not care for the Miette samples I had since they seemed too sweet without compensatory flavor. However, I need to try them at least one more time.

                            3. Such a fun game. Some friends and I had a side by side comparison of Miettte, Paulette, and Boulange de Hayes. In a side by side comparison Paulette is by far the sweetest, with Bay Bread making the most subtle macaron. My favorite that day was Miette, the four of us were split evenly between Miette and Boulange.