This article is a guest post by my friend, Michelle Lim. Michelle is a student studying baking & pastry arts in San Francisco and an all-around sweets enthusiast.
When Cassie told me about her quest to find the best macaron in Paris, she said she was eager to find this French treat locally and asked me to share my tips for where to get the best macarons in San Francisco.
But first, here are my thoughts on what makes a good macaron. Taste-wise, I like macarons chewy at room temperature and not overly sweet (that way I can eat more before I get sick). Visually, I like my macarons with no added dyes and with cute feet, and they should look like a thick sandwich cookie. So the following pastry shops are rated according to these preferences.
I would like to note that the prices of all of the macarons I tried were from $1.50 to $2.00 each. However, to me, macarons are decadent treats and you should not skimp on them when it comes to price. Macarons are expensive to produce so the price often reflects the quality of the ingredients used and the premium quality taste and texture.
Here are my favorite places to find macarons in the San Francisco Bay Area:
I think Miette has the best macarons in the bay (I used to be a shop girl there, so I may be biased). My favorite is the rose geranium, though, it’s not for everyone, as some think it’s too “perfume-y”. Miette has about seven flavors at a time, and at least one flavor is seasonal. Some of their other flavors are pistachio (their best seller), chocolate, vanilla, and their current seasonal flavor is strawberry. I also recommend their ice cream sandwiches, and their fluer de sel caramels. Both are made in-house at their bakery in Oakland.
If you stop by the Oakland shop, you can see the bakery, around the corner, and it’s pretty much a wall made of window glass, so you can look into the facility. These macarons are best at room temperature, if you store them in the fridge or freezer (in an airtight container), bring them to room temp before eating, as the buttercream filling is too hard otherwise. On a hot day the macarons melt away in your mouth, but if you prefer a chewier texture, chill them slightly — that is, if you also want to test your will-power. Miette’s macaron cookies and fillings are also handpiped, and they are the only place I know of that doesn’t add coloring to their cookies or fillings.
Miette also has stores in the San Francisco Ferry Building and the SF neighborhood of Hayes Valley, so if you’re macaron hunting in the city, add them to your list.
About a ten minute drive, or a lovely 20-30 minute bike ride by the water, from Miette’s Oakland location, is the town of Alameda where you will find Feel Good Bakery. They have an assortment of flavors, about five to ten at a time, that range from more traditional flavors like raspberry, to far less traditional like maple bacon. I tried the maple bacon macaron and was quite impressed with the flavor and the bits of bacon in the buttercream filling.
- Chantal Guillon in Hayes Valley serves some unique and beautifully decorated macarons. I recommend the salted caramel (their best seller), coconut lime, passion fruit, and lavender poppy with cassis (poppy seeds on a lavender cookie with lavender ganache and cassis piped into the center of the buttercream — whoa!). Their flavors are always changing/seasonal, and they have A LOT of different flavors, and unique/artsy garnishes on their macarons. I think their macarons taste best frozen, as they have a more chewy texture and don’t taste as sweet because of the temperature. At room temperature their macarons are very soft and moist. Their macaron cookies are piped from a batter depositor (a machine that squirts out the batter in even portions), and they use natural food dyes to color their macarons. Also, try the Bacetti while you’re there. They’re like ice cream bon bons, and they’re delicious!
- I am in love with Pretty Please Bakeshop, so I admit — I’m a bit biased! They are a distance from the other places I’ve mentioned, but they’re in a fun neighborhood to explore so I do think it’s worth a visit. I’ve had their banana cream pie and a vanilla cupcake with a fresh raspberry garnish. Both were very good, but the banana cream pie truly shined! It’s the best banana cream pie I’ve ever had. With that said, I made a special trip to visit them for macarons. They currently have three flavors of macaron: raspberry, lime, and passion fruit. I went with the passion fruit, and the flavor was delightful, though the texture of the cookie was too crumbly for my taste so in the future, I’m going to chill it before I eat it. I still love them!
- La Boulange has several locations around the Bay Area, most recently I visited their Hayes Valley location which is just down the street from Chantal Guillon and Miette. Their macarons were a bit too moist for my taste, though if you prefer a softer texture they may be just right. If I had enough will power I would have chilled or frozen them, but I couldn’t wait that long! I tried the passion fruit-mango, caramel, and cassis violet flavors. My favorite was the cassis violet. Their kouin aman are also a real treat too!
- Sift Cupcake & Dessert Bar also has macarons that are pretty legit. I tried the salted caramel (I wanted to compare it to Chantal Guillon’s) and lemon, and both were very good, though the salted caramel was the stand out. Chantal Guillon’s caramel has a darker flavor to the caramel, and the fleur de sel is sprinkled over the filling, so the salt granules are still crunchy. Sift’s salted caramel is still a great contender, with its salt that has been added to caramel in the cooking process, so it’s smooth, and the texture of the macaron is chewy and the macaron itself is about twice as thick. Get to Sift early in the day, especially on the weekends, as they’re open till 10pm, and they sell out of many of their macaron flavors by early/mid evening. Also, if you’re tempted by Sift’s cupcakes I recommend their pink champagne cupcake; it’s as delicious and cute as it sounds.
- If you’re in Union Square, check out Tout Sweet. They’re at the top floor of Macy’s Union Square. I have yet to try them, but from what I hear, they have flavors like Chantal Guillon (next on the list), and are created by celebrity chef Yigit Pura, winner of Top Chef: Just Desserts Season 1.
Happy Macaron Hunting!