Macarons. I first saw them in Paris, but it wasn’t long before I realized these small round, garishly colored cookies were available in every French gift store, bakery and cafe. The problem was, my brain immediately confused them with the American macaroon, which is a dollop of baked coconut. Since I had no interest in coconut confections, I kept passing them by. Until I landed in Saint Malo, that is. This small village on the Brittany coast had not been on my itinerary but when I decided to take a bit of a break at Au Bon Accueil Bed and Breakfast, the owners, Jane and Paul Cunnison, convinced me to set one day aside to explore the charming town.
Braving chilly late October temperatures, I bundled up and hopped on the train for the 15-minute ride to Saint Malo. Another quarter-hour walk brought me to the gates of the the old walled city known as the Intra-Muros. For hours I wandered around the cobblestone streets, following round brass markers embedded into the streets and sidewalks that led me on a historic walking tour. When my fingers finally turned numb from the cold I stumbled into the nearest place where I could get a hot cup of coffee, Macarons Chocolats de Luxe Philippe Bouvier. Wouldn’t you know it, I had landed in the shop of one of the most famous macaron makers in all of France.
The woman behind the counter, Sylvie, greeted me with a broad smile and between my practically non-existent French and her limited English I managed to make myself understood. Gratefully, I wrapped my frozen hands around a piping hot cup of coffee and perused the little shop. Vividly colored macarons were displayed in the bakery case, in tall crystal vases, and in exquisite gift boxes tied up with pretty silk ribbons.
“I have never had a macaron,” I said, pantomiming putting something in my mouth and shaking my head.
“Non!” she replied, astonished. “You try!”
I pointed to a pile of burgundy colored macarons in the case. “OK. Framboise.”
Sylvie ducked down behind the glass and came up with two macarons – my raspberry and a caramel flavored one.”You try caramel also. My gift.”
I bit through the thin, crispy meringue-based top to the jam filling. The entire confection instantly melted in my mouth, blending the slight flavor of the almond flour from which macarons are made with the sugary cookie top and raspberry center. Ambrosia! Clearing my palate with a swig of coffee, I bit into the second macaron. Same delicate confection, but this time filled with caramel-flavored butter creme. I nearly swooned. How had I not tried these earlier in my travels around France? Sylvie was so obviously delighted that I loved the macarons that she sent me on my way with a cup of hot chocolate, also on the house and once again, I wondered about the myth that the French are rude to tourists.
Refortified and warmer, I headed back out into the blustery chill evening for another couple hours of touring this lovely town.
When the cold temperatures crept back up my sleeves and down my neck, I finally called it a day and headed for the train station. Near the city gate, another bright display in a storefront caught my eye. Jars of hard candy and fanned displays of candy swizzle sticks beckoned.
“Oh no you don’t I thought.” Already, the food and confections of France had layered ten unwanted pounds on my hips, and I wasn’t about to succumb to yet another temptation. I’m saving myself for macarons.