Back in February 2010, the confection’s burgeoning popularity was documented by NPR’s “Move Over, Cupcake: Make Way for the Macaroon” and a Wall Street Journal scare piece headlined “Mon Dieu! Will Newfound Popularity Spoil the Dainty Macaron?”
Eventually, the trend even made its way to Texas, where, last week, the Houston Press blogged that “Macarons Are the New Cupcake, but Why?”
Why indeed. We’ll be honest: We’ve never been that crazy about macarons. But after ignoring them for so long that people in Texas discovered them, WW decided finally to figure out who made Portland’s best. We assembled a tray of 25 colorful, bite-sized meringue cookie sandwiches stuffed with buttercream or ganache for a blind taste test. The result? We love Farina’s macarons, but we’re otherwise ready for the canelé to have its moment.
Flavors: Meyer lemon, chocolate hazelnut
Rating: 87 points
Laura Farina crafts her elegant creations in the communal KitchenCru space and sells them in bright display boxes at shops like Moonstruck and Sterling Coffee Roasters. Her macarons are as pretty as anything on the market, and tastier than the rest. We found Farina’s creations had just the right amount of chewiness that accentuated rich chocolate hazelnut or a lemony tang.
Tasting notes: “Shiny!” “Thank God. Flavorful with lovely texture.” “A world apart.”
2. Pearl Bakery102 NW 9th Ave.
Flavors: Salted caramel, chocolate mocha
The lopsided shells with whipped filling seeping out of the edges looked sloppy, but tasted spot-on. We found the sea salt on the caramel to be overpowering, though this was counterbalanced by sweet, creamy fillings. Get to the cafe early, because by 4 pm the macarons are sold out.
Tasting notes: “Unexpected smokiness and overwhelming saltiness.” “Strong filling flavors.” “Loved the fluffy texture, though I’m not sure it’s suppose to be so fluffy.”
Flavors: Passionfruit, vanilla, almond
A French baker opened this local chain in Lake Oswego in 1996. Inside the newest outpost on Alberta, you’ll find a colorful assortment of cakes, cookies and more exotic fare. Petite Provence’s very solid macarons come in flavors for the adventurous (passionfruit and blueberry) and traditionalists (chocolate and vanilla).
Tasting notes: “Good springiness but tasteless.” “Lemon as in Lemon Pledge.” “Sugar.”
4. Papa Haydn701 NW 23rd Ave.
Flavors: Chocolate hazelnut, pomegranate, vanilla
Papa Haydn has been making desserts in Portland for 35 years and has a huge variety, including chocolate hazelnut and vanilla macarons we found too sweet. The chocolate tasted more like a heavy brownie on crack, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. One bite of the vanilla resulted in a 30-minute sugar high.
Tasting notes: “Tasted like Safeway cake.” “It’s something you’d take to your niece at a tea party. A child would like it.” “I feel like someone took baking sugar and plunged it into me.”
Flavors: Maple bacon, violet, sea salt caramel
Pix is a longtime Portland favorite run by one of the most talented bakers in town, and was recently anointed the best of five local macarons by an Oregonian critic. We pushed back our taste-off to get Pix’s wares fresh just after the shop opened, but they did not impress. One WW taster preferred the maple bacon over all other maple-bacon treats in town. Others complained the perfuminess of the violet flavor was off-putting, with one reviewer comparing it to amoxicillin.
Tasting notes: “Tasted like corner-store doughnuts.” “The floral flavors are way too overpowering.” “Maple bacon was better than the doughnut—or the beer!”
Flavors: Pistachio, salted caramel, chocolate
Measuring at least 2 inches in diameter, Ken’s super-sized macarons were chewier than we hoped (like our winner, Farina, they were purchased the night before our taste-off). The chocolate was heavy and rich, and the pistachio had a vibrant Kermit-colored exterior, but was bland. The espresso dusted on the salted caramel was overpowering.
Tasting notes: “All color, no substance.” “Pistachio looks like Kermit with a dull cream.”
7. Nuvrei404 NW 10th Ave.
Flavors: Valrhona Araguani & raspberry, white chocolate, pistachio
The macarons in Nuvrei’s small, neat glass case are lined up like a little army of soldiers in every color. We found the fillings in the white chocolate and pistachio macarons to be a bit too sticky, and the outer shell lacked the crispness we were looking for, though we enjoyed the pistachio.
Tasting notes: “Shrug.” “Unpleasantly sticky.” “Too sweet…like cotton-candy sweet.”
Flavors: Chocolate, almond, salted caramel
With Sriracha bottles on every table, Jade Teahouse is more a noodle joint than a bakery. Jade offers several traditional macaron flavors like chocolate and almond, made fresh daily. The sugary consistency of the chocolate filling felt like it belonged on a cupcake, and the bright orange color of the sea salt caramel gave it more of a gingerbread look. They weren’t bad, but the vibe wasn’t at all French.
Tasting notes: “Sea salt caramel is not macaron in texture in any way, but it’s a pleasant caramel chew.” “The chocolate filling tastes like cheap frosting.” “Like caramel chewing gum stuck inside an eggshell.”
9. Two Tarts2309 NW Kearney St.
Flavors: Earl Grey, coffee cream
On our visit, Two Tarts offered us two flavors: Earl Grey and mocha espresso. Both had a delicate shell and creamy filling, but the flavors didn’t impress. We found the Earl Grey much too flowery and not enough like the true flavor of the tea, and the espresso was burnt like a day-old cup of joe.
Tasting notes: “Like eating my grandmother’s bathroom.” “Soapy but delicate.” “I drink Earl Grey every morning and love it; this was gross.”