I remember falling in love with the macarons at Ladurée in Paris. These ethereal cookies made with a layer of ganache sandwiched between two almond meringues are magic. I'd never had anything like them before.
When we moved to Zürich I was thrilled to see that there was a local version called Luxemburgerli available at the landmark confiserie Sprüngli. On our first visit to the city I made a beeline for the shop on Paradeplatz just to try these little delights. I liked them, but they were not the really the same thing. A drier shell and a sweeter, heavier ganache. Good but not magic.
Since then I've tried the ones at Péclard, which took over the venerable Café Schober in the Niederdorf and based its macaron recipe (and its chocolat chaud) on Ladurée's. And last year Ladurée itself opened an outpost in the Old Town as well. More recently I tried Vollenweider's macarons and was very pleased that they were good enough to convert some naysayers who had previously just tried Sprüngli's version.
With four possible versions to choose from in Zürich, it seemed like it was time for a taste test. I got a sample from each shop and tasted the chocolate from each and then the pistachio from the best two as a tie breaker. In the end, the winner was still Ladurée with Vollenweider a very close second, followed by Péclard, and then Sprüngli.
They're all lovely little treats, and I love to give them as gifts, especially since they all come so beautifully packaged in tiny little boxes. It's just fun to order them and watch the selection be put together and wrapped.
My tasting notes are below, but half the fun is really in trying them yourself. The shops are all fairly close together and the walk will at least partly make up for indulgence. Give it a try. Which one is your favorite?
Ladurée. The meringue shell is delicate, almost ethereal, but it holds together against the chewy inner meringue and has a light but distinctive egg-y note, while the ganache is not as dense as the Swiss versions. The cookie is also not as sweet as the Swiss versions. The three elements (meringue shell, inner meringue, and ganache) are perfectly balanced. The pistache was perfection, with the nutty creamy filling beating all competitors. One quibble: the chocolate macaron I got was not as perfectly fresh as it should have been.
Vollenweider. Much smaller than Ladurée's (more the size of Sprüngli's Luxemburgerli), the balance between shell and inner meringue is not quite as perfect as Ladurée's but still quite good. The ganache layer is also thicker and denser. Vollenweider's macarons are basically a perfected version of Sprüngli's. A delicate shell but not too dry or too sweet. The pistachio was every bit as good as Ladurée's.
Péclard. Since this shop has intentionally followed Laduree's style, I really expected it to win. The balance of the meringue shell and inner chewy meringue was as good but the ganache layer was too thin and quite a bit sweeter. Points off also for kelly green as a color for the pistachio macarons.
Sprüngli. These are the sweetest of the four, almost sugary. The cookie shell is quite dry and basically shatters into crumbles on the first bite. The ganache filling is relatively thick. I do like the tiny size of these, which allows more than one to be sampled without inducing sugar shock.
Story and photos by Kathy