Macarons from six Washington shops. (Emily Codik/The Washington Post)

Ladurée's macarons are renowned the world over. Boxes of the treasured sandwich cookies are often brought over from shops in France, or any one of the brand's more than 100 locations. But with Ladurée's recent arrival in Georgetown and Union Station, locals can now get their hands on the treats whenever they want.

That is, if they have time to spare, as lines at the pastry counter can stretch out the door on weekends. At $2.80 per dainty sweet, each only about the size of a half dollar in diameter, Ladurée macarons aren't a cheap habit, either. So are they worth it?

To find out, we pitted them against the local competition. We selected five other shops in the District and taste-tested their vanilla and chocolate flavors, plus a “wild card” of any other variety that caught our eye. Each macaron was rated in three categories (appearance, texture, flavor) on a scale of 1 to 5, with a maximum score of 15 per cookie. To get the overall score for each shop, we averaged the flavor scores.

A good macaron should have a smooth shell with some shine. It should crack — but not totally disintegrate — when you bite it, revealing a pleasantly chewy interior that isn't dense or riddled with air pockets. Properly baked macarons will also have the characteristic pied, or foot, around the edge. The filling shouldn't ooze out or overwhelm the cookie. Of course, the entire composition must simply be delicious.

Here's how the contenders came out:


FROM LEFT: Vanilla macarons from Olivia Macaron, Macaron Bee, Paul, Le Caprice and Ladurée. (Emily Codik/The Washington Post)

Le Caprice

3460 14th St. NW

Overall score: 4 (vanilla 4, chocolate 5, pomegranate 3)

Price: $1.89 each

Average weight: 0.54 ounce

Observations: By far the cheapest of the bunch, Le Caprice's macarons were a lesson in “you get what you pay for.” Our samples were matte and flat, definitely the least attractive in the array. They also tasted stale. There was a strange crunchiness to the outside of the cookies, too. Among the tasting notes: The chocolate was “generic,” the vanilla had a filling like “bad canned frosting (very sweet)," and the pomegranate reminded us of SweeTarts and even the horrendous Unicorn Frappuccino.

The Sweet Lobby

404 Eighth St. SE

Overall score: 6.5 (vanilla not available, chocolate 7, fig-balsamic 6)

Price: $2.10 each

Average weight: 0.63 ounce

Observations: These samples approached the middle of the road, but weren't quite there. The chocolate looked like “a hockey puck” but did have a decent contrast between the crunchy exterior and smooth filling. We weren't quite sure what to make of the fig-balsamic, which was assessed in texture as chewy and dense. As for the flavor, it “tastes like purple,” one taster remarked. Think candy or Dimetapp. That's not a good thing.


FROM LEFT: Chocolate macarons from Olivia Macaron, Macaron Bee, Paul, Le Caprice, Ladurée and the Sweet Lobby. (Becky Krystal/The Washington Post)

Olivia Macaron

Multiple locations; we visited 3222 M St. NW

Overall score: 8.3 (vanilla 10, chocolate 9, mimosa 6)

Price: $2.50 each

Average weight: 0.5 ounce

Observations: There was a nice sheen on these cookies, which were rather appealing in appearance. The outer shell was crisp, even if the overall effect was a bit crumbly. The chocolate was sweeter than its competitors, and the vanilla needed to be bolder. The mimosa had a little champagne flavor, though it didn't taste much like the brunch drink — and by the way, shouldn't it be orange instead of pink?

Paul

Multiple locations; we visited 1275 K St. NW

Overall score: 8.3 (vanilla 9, chocolate 9, caramel 7)

Price: $5.95 for three

Average weight: 0.5 ounce

Observations: These petite macarons were pretty dense. The chocolate was “kind of like a brownie in taste and texture.” The vanilla? Well, we were told it was vanilla, but we ended up with a very sweet shredded coconut filling that was something akin to a Mounds bar. The caramel was “super sweet” and reminded us of Werther's Original.


FROM LEFT: “Wild card” flavors of macarons from the Sweet Lobby (fig-balsamic), Ladurée (pistachio), Le Caprice (pomegranate), Paul (caramel), Macaron Bee (pink champagne) and Olivia Macaron (mimosa). (Emily Codik/The Washington Post)

Macaron Bee

3261 Prospect St. NW (inside Lady Camellia)

Overall score: 9.7 (vanilla 10, chocolate 10, pink champagne 9)

Price: $2.25 each

Average weight: 0.5 ounce

Observations: These tall specimens were textbook in appearance, with extra glimmer in the pink champagne. The texture was dense, almost closer to a macaroon than a macaron. Our vanilla seemed overbaked, crystallized and more neutral, though not necessarily bad, in flavor. The chocolate resembled something from Little Debbie. The pink champagne did have an alcoholic bite, but we were confused by what appeared to be a chocolate filling.

Ladurée

3060 M St. NW; Union Station location opened Tuesday

Overall score: 14.3 (vanilla 13, chocolate 15, pistachio 15)

Price: $2.80 each

Average weight: 0.58 ounce

Observations: Alas, it seems we have expensive taste in macarons. Then again, you'd hope that a brand with more than 100 years in business would know what it's doing. These were our ideal specimens in almost every way. Appearance wise, they had a good shine, a perfect pied and ingredients (vanilla seeds, pistachios) we could see. The texture of the cookies had the right balance of crispiness, heft and fluff. The vanilla was clean and not artificial tasting, and the pistachio tasted like the actual nut, not just green. The chocolate? All our rapturous taster could manage: “Ooh la la! Je t'aime!”


The macarons we sampled. (Becky Krystal/The Washington Post)

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