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A tasting of local French macarons: Formaggio Kitchen, Whole Foods, Tous Les Jour, Violette Bakery

Hi, a very long time lurker here with a hopefully helpful comparison of some Boston-area macarons. I'm trying to improve my macaron-making technique in time for Christmas this year. But I thought I'd try researching the local "professional" creations--the tastiest research ever! One fine day, I happen to be near 4 different places that offer these tasty, crazy pricey treats, and I also had a box of Trader Joe's macarons sitting in the freezer. The first photo shows, clockwise from the top, ones from Whole Foods' bakery department, Violette Bakery, Formaggio Kitchen, Tous Les Jour (Burlington Hmart), and Trader Joe's (there are two macarons from each). The second photo (profile view) shows them in the same order from left to right. When I could, I tried picking mostly neutral flavors since it wasn't possible to get the same flavors at each location.

Tasting notes: Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and Tous Les Jour were actually pretty similar texture-wise with Tous Les Jour being slightly more delicate. Whole Foods had the "freshest" taste and the most generous filling. Plus, they don't use artificial colors which is also very nice. Formaggio Kitchen was too sweet for me and had a much chewier, wetter texture. Violette Bakery was less sweet and had a very different cake-like texture; it very obviously does not look like the others. Anyone who might be seeking a traditional French macaron will be disappointed. However, as a flourless sandwich cookie, it's perfectly enjoyable on those terms--I actually did like it.

Appearances: Tous Les Jour cookies were extremely uniform in appearance and very pretty to look at from the top. But too bad, they were so very flat with nearly nonexistent "feet." Trader Joe's were much smaller in diameter than the rest, but the feet on them looked a lot like the ones from Whole Foods. Formaggio Kitchen's macarons have much larger feet, making them stand up taller (food nerds know that this is desirable quality in macarons). The sizing of Formaggio’s cookie halves was also more irregular than any of the others. The ones from Violette Bakery were huge and lacked the traditional shiny top and crisp outer skin found in macarons, but it's really a different animal altogether. I should also mention, since macarons are often given as gifts, that only Formaggio Kitchen seems to have the right size boxes. Whole Foods plops them in a plastic takeout container. Tous Les Jour uses a plastic baggie. Violette uses a wax paper baggie. I guess, technically, the Trader Joe ones come in a box, but you're on your own if you are gifting them like that :)

Pricing: (here's the crazy part!) Tous Les Jour and Formaggio Kitchen sell for $2.25 each. Violette Bakery sells for $2 each. Whole Foods are $1.89 each. I don't remember how much the Trader Joe's ones are, but there are 12 to a box, and it couldn't have been more than $3-4 per box.

Verdict: I wouldn't pass up the frozen ones from Trader Joe's, and the Whole Foods ones can be an occasional treat. I'll skip the ones from Tous Les Jour. Formaggio Kitchen's are also really not for me either. Perhaps much of the difference is that some are using an Italian meringue versus a French meringue technique in their recipes?

Tasted before, but not part of this sampling: Thinking Cup coffee shop offers several flavors each day. I remember thinking they were a bit too sweet. They are a little over $2 each--I don't quite remember. L'Espalier provides a little token French treat as a goodbye gift in their coat check area. The goody bag changes all the time, but last month I received a pretty wonderful macaron after lunch. (Chef Bacheller, tell me your macaron secrets!!)

Haven't tried: Flour, L.A. Burdick, Gourmet Boutique in the Westin Copley hotel (the visibly massive amounts of food coloring was a huge turnoff), Macaron Sweeterie (closed before I could get around to going there).

…If I ever visit Paris, I’d pretty much do nothing but visit pastry shops…

 
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    1. Nice review.

      I recently had some at a dessert table at an event at the Westin Huntington, looked gorgeous, flavors were forgettable.

      1. I just yesterday ate some macarons from the Danish pastry whatever in WAtertown and they were excellent

        3 Replies
        1. re: C. Hamster

          I always enjoyed the macarons at DPH and recently had the ones at Violette. Thought the DPH ones were better. Which flavor of macarons did you get, C. Hamster? The passionfruit and lemon ones were quite good every time we got it. I never get to taste the raspberry ones because my kids get to it first!

          1. re: Crazy Egg

            There were 6 and I got the raspberry one! I wasn't sure what the other flavors were. Green, yellow , tan and 2 others I don't recall.

            They were the first I've tasted since ODing on macarons in Paris a year ago and they compared well.

            1. re: C. Hamster

              The green is likely pistachio, yellow is lemon, tan can be either vanilla or maple. They do change their flavors around, so I am guessing the flavor using the colors you described. So lucky you got the raspberry one!! I have to be smarter next time and eat one before the kids see them!

        2. Thanks for the report! I've ordered macarons from Petal's Table several times, most recently at a lunch that they catered. I haven't tried Formaggio's but I would hazard a guess that Petal's are closest to theirs in style - pretty sweet, very delicate, no artificial colors and they come in a box designed for macarons.

          Good luck with your macaron-making...did your research help you with your technique?

          1. Thanks for the report and photos. I gave up after trying the ones at Formaggio (bland) and Burdick's (way too sweet), but you've got me curious about the ones at WF now. So far what I've had here can't compare to the ones in Paris. You must go! Even if you can just swing a layover at the airport, they've got Laduree stands there.

            3 Replies
            1. re: pollystyrene

              You don't need to go to Paris to try "Parisian" macarons, just New York. I was there a few weeks ago, and had macaron at both Laduree and Maison du Chocolat on Madison Avenue, Upper East Side. They taste just like the ones in Paris (though after much trying, I've concluded that macaron really aren't for me--they're fun, but don't have enough "oomph" in the flavor department.)

              1. re: winedude

                Ive heard great things about Melita Fiore in Salem.

                1. re: winedude

                  I'd forgotten about the Laduree in NYC. Did you prefer the ones there or at Maison du Chocolat, or did you find them equally oomphless?

              2. Thanks for this thoughtful report!

                1. When you get to Paris, don't miss Pierre Herme.

                  Or you can order them online,
                  http://www.pierreherme.com/products.html

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: MaxEntropy

                    Unfortunately, they don't ship to the US.

                  2. I've had Macarons from the following places, ranked from tastiest to meh:
                    Laduree
                    Trader Joe's
                    Dominique Ansel Bakery
                    Maison Du Chocolat

                    Trader Joe's box of macarons is definitely a great deal.

                    1. Anyone tried the macarons from Northlight Baking Co? The flavors look interesting like pink peppercorn and rose, mango chili lime and blackberry bayleaf. Thinking of getting a few and will report back if no one has tried.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Crazy Egg

                        http://www.northlightbaking.com/p/mac...

                        looks v intriguing! i like her flavor combos, and it looks like she is not chintzy with her fillings.

                        1. re: Crazy Egg

                          Finally got to try Northlight Baking Co.'s macarons made by Shira Melen. The macarons are 2 inches in diameter and the flavors really come through. The flavors I got were: gingerbread, fig cardamom, peppermint stick, salted caramel ganache, blood orange elderflower, milk chocolate ginger, london fog (earl grey), passionfruit, lavender, orange blossom. The weakest flavor I believe I got was orange blossom. Even then, I could taste the orange flavor. I just would have liked a stronger orange flavor profile. The surprise was fig cardamom, where I could taste the fig and the cardamom. The first five flavors were the holiday edition macarons and the last five were of my choosing.

                          The macarons have a nice crunch on the outside and have a chewy interior, just how I like it. The macarons were not too sweet, exactly how I like them. The filling was really good, as I mentioned the flavors did shine through. Having the flavor come through so clearly is something really hard to achieve. So, I was very pleased at being able to taste the flavor profile in each. I could practically do a blind tasting and let you know the flavor. It was that good. They were also pretty to look at with the london fog having a blue color and gingerbread having a light brown top and dark brown bottom. These maracons at least rival Violette. I haven't had all of what Violette has to offer, but will now have to do some sort of comparison.

                          Finally would like to add that I got the macarons delivered personally for a fee, but the goods can be picked up at Shira's place in Somerville. Very pleasant and easy to order my maracons via e-mail with Shira. It was a pleasure!

                        2. Finally made it to Violette today. 1001 Mass Ave, DOWNstairs under a Yoga studio, by Undergound at the Cellar. Ah yes, the old Orson Welles Cinema- where you could at one time wash dishes in exchange for dinner.......

                          Anyway, these women at Violette are a very talented pair. Of all the food businesses, I walk into a bakery with so much mistrust and suspicion that it really is like a huuuge surprise to find good product And so , of course, i had to tell CH about it.

                          I tried 2 of their macarons- salted caramel, and fig// and a piece of orange almond torte.They were all terrific.(Did i really just say that? I did indeed.) The macarons were much heftier than any others I've had- wider and higher, with a perfect {not skimpy) amount of filling. They were very moist and had a beautiful mouthfeel. Not dry and airy like a meringue.If you're going to pay $2.50 for a cookie, this is the one to buy.

                          The torte was not the heavy dense moist torte i expected; it was moist but both light and dense in a pound cake kind of way. Very clean orange flavor.

                          Man, i am NOT feeling sorry for gluten intolerant people who have Violette for their sweet tooths! What a delight. Look forward to sampling more.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                            they have some wonderful macaron flavors this busy Xmas week Today I sampled their House made Nutella and a Lime Coconut and a Chocolate Mint. Wow, what great combos, each and every one. And some were not just moist but creamy moist inside. yumola.

                          2. Violette's are so large (and wonderful). Easily twice the weight of most others.

                            Did anyone see the Globe feature on that new Salem bakery , Malita Fiore, that features macarons?

                            http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/regi...

                            1. Being a huge fan of Laduree macarons and not finding Formaggio or Burdick's even a close approximation, I picked up the Trader Joe's dozen multicolored/flavored assortment at $4 for a dozen. I tjust thawed them even though there are no directions on the box. The exteriors were quite good, but the filling were W-R-O-N-G - they were jammy and super sweet, not creamy and intensely flavored. Though not macarons,k these are perfectly fine desserts for the (very low) price, but I think I may still have to head to Laduree for what seems like the real deal for me-and get to Violette.

                              1. I have a random, but on topic question.

                                Has anyone ever bought 500 macarons in Boston? I need to do so for my wedding. I am not a huge fan of Formaggio's, and while some of LA Burdick's flavors can be good, others are terrible. I haven't yet tried Northlight or Violette.

                                12 Replies
                                1. re: gini

                                  hi gini,
                                  the Violette woman is lovely to work with, and her product is really superior.(Congrats , btw!)

                                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                                    We bought two of each flavor macarons from Violette this weekend to try them out. Wow, were they horrendous! Each cookie was a different shape and texture and all but the lemon version had absolutely flavorless insides. I was most dissapointed. I shall try Northlight asap.

                                    1. re: gini

                                      really? i'M ASTOUNDED. what a bummer/so sorry but i've honestly never had them any way but delicious.

                                      1. re: opinionatedchef

                                        Macaron have to weather so many difficult to control/recognize variables... perhaps this weekend’s sudden jump in humidity might have taken many makers by surprise?

                                        1. re: enhF94

                                          Humid weather might well damage the texture, but I can't see how it would render the macarons flavorless.

                                          1. re: Allstonian

                                            very true. also, for small bakeries, one never knows when some items are made, so thinking about them being made this weekend might be inaccurate (because wkends are prob the busiest retail days for her.) i would imagine she does most of her production in non-retail hours. well, she is a very conscientious person, so i'm hoping this is just a temporary slip, as it happens to everyone...

                                      2. re: gini

                                        Yeah, I've been disappointed in Violette's macarons. My fav is still Burdick's in Harvard Square.

                                        1. re: gini

                                          Let me know what you think of Northlight and the flavors you get, gini. If they are as good as I have had, then I think it may be time for another order.

                                      3. re: gini

                                        I would give Shira at Northlight an e-mail. She responds fairly quickly. Very sweet person and easy to work with. I really enjoy the flavors she has for her macarons. Good luck with your planning!

                                          1. re: Crazy Egg

                                            We tried 10 flavors from Northlight. First of all, the macaron she makes is very pretty. It's colorful, of uniform shape, and well formed. Some of the flavors were more successful to be than others. I can see why she has fans and she was certainly easy to get a hold of.

                                            Flavorwise, however, I'm still beholden to LA Burdick's.

                                          2. re: gini

                                            Congratulations!

                                            Maybe CSCA, if you haven't tried them yet? At least you'll get a lot of names of people who've made them before and recognize feet.

                                            (Since CSCA is one of the very few culinary schools that doesn't provide a bachelors' or associates' degree, they tend to get a higher proportion of students who are cooking as a second career or fun job, and so have an enormous number of grads who want to do small-time gigs like this one.)

                                          3. Got some macarons from The Patisserie on Newbury: pistachio, lemon, chocolate. $1.25 each. They stood up really tall like the ones from Formaggio Kitchen so I was afraid they would turn out sticky and too chewy. But they had a really nice texture and not overly sweet. (I know, I know, macarons are pretty sweet, but the best ones manage to keep it in balance)

                                            Lemon and chocolate were nice flavors. Pistachio didn't taste like pistachio. They also had vanilla, coffee, and raspberry which I didn't get. I think they are a smidge smaller in diameter than any of the other local ones I tried earlier, but definitely bigger than the ones from Trader Joe's.

                                            1. While I think of it, there's a truck called Cameo Macron now operating: http://www.cameomacaron.com/

                                              And a Southie macaron bakery called Miam Miam is shortly forthcoming: http://boston.eater.com/archives/2014...

                                              http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                I just tried some Cameo macarons today. They were very pretty, quite costly, and ultimately mostly good, but not extraordinary. The vanilla was fine (though no better than TJ's), the salted caramel also fine, but barely tasted of salted caramel, one of them (not sure what flavor it was supposed to be) had a weird looking turquoise blue half. (Why?) But the worst was the crème brûlée (which they spell "crème brulee" in a quasi French fashion). It tasted suspiciously of artificial caramel or butterscotch flavoring. Really unpleasant.

                                                So, all in all, not worth the price.

                                                 
                                                1. re: calisson

                                                  I wrote to Cameo about the artificial flavor of the crème brûlée macarons, and they replied :

                                                  "Hi,

                                                  The majority of our macarons, including the vanilla are made using artificial flavors. "

                                                  1. re: calisson

                                                    Well, I guess there's no need to check them out, at least in my book. Thanks for that info, caisson.

                                              2. "Paris Baguette Cafe" inside the Central Square H-Mart has macarons. I didn't try them but I tried and enjoyed a couple of other things.

                                                5 Replies
                                                1. re: KWagle

                                                  I tried their 'trio' selection a few days ago. A tad on the mushy side for me but not bad, but the purple one (I forgot the flavor - some berry) had great flavor in the filling. I don't know if I got just a bad batch that sat too long, but I would go back and try more. They have these extra large single macarons that I'm curious about.

                                                  I also tried their cronut (croissant donut as they call it) and found it meh. But stuff was still head and shoulders above Tous Le Jour.

                                                  1. re: kobuta

                                                    The purple one in the trio is blueberry. I'm pretty sure the other ones are raspberry, and not pistachio (they make a "large" one in pistachio, and if that had been in the trio I might've tried it.)

                                                    1. re: KWagle

                                                      I thought it was blueberry but couldn't remember. I love (pretty much) all things blueberry, so that may have influenced my opinion. I think the last one was coconut, though it tasted nothing like coconut to me. I thought the raspberry filling wasn't as raspberry enough. The blueberry one was the best.

                                                    2. re: kobuta

                                                      Did you try the coffee filled coffee glazed cronuts? I find them completely addictive. BUT if they have sat long ("they arrive 1pm daily") they can get much softer/more room temp than intended.

                                                      1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                        I only tried the 'regular' that had a vanilla cream in it. It was ok, and I have nothing to compare it to. I'll have to make sure I try the coffee one next time, and see if I can time it better to get one fresher. It was late in the afternoon when I went last time, so maybe it was already softer.

                                                  2. Wegmans in Chestnut Hill has them packed by the half dozen in their bakery. They are six dollars for 6 small cookies but they are delightful. Great texture and taste.