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…