Somehow, despite yearly trips to France, I’d never tasted a French macaron. The colorful pastries in Parisian windows were candy to my camera, not to my taste buds — or so I thought. I loved taking pictures of the little jewels, but thought they were a frivolous nibble for the Marie-Antoinettes of the world, nothing for a lover to take seriously.
But as a winter twilight fell over Paris one February day in 2010, I made a pilgrimage to Pierre Hermé, one of the gourmand's nirvana places I keep on a mental list. I strolled from my hotel near the Eiffel Tower to Saint Germain des Prés, chilled through by the time I arrived an hour later at the small, glowing shop more reminiscent of a jewelry store than a pastry shop. Inside the bright, warm store people queued up to select their precious treats. Precious indeed — I chose the macarons because they were the only thing in the shop that wouldn’t cost more than I’d budgeted for dinner.
The clerk waited patiently for me as I carefully considered my options, selecting rose, wasabi, salted caramel, and balsamic vinegar flavors. He carefully wrapped my treasures and took my euros — the four small macarons cost about €7. I left the store and perched on a nearby bench by the cathedral St. Sulpice and bit into my first macaron. And exclaimed out loud.
As I bit down the thin shell shattered into a cloud of intense flavor. I was in love. It took three bites to reach heaven. I meant to only eat one so as not to ruin my appetite for dinner but I couldn’t help it. I reached in the bag and plucked one more — this time I knew what to expect and closed my eyes the better to savor the rapture. I saved the other two for dessert, which I partook of like a religious ceremony back in my room that night, each one three bites of bliss.
I obsessed over macarons the rest of my time in Paris. I had to bring some home to my husband — how could I know that joy like this existed and not share it? The epicerie inside Publicis drugstore on the Champs-Elysées boasted a Pierre Hermé counter. On my last afternoon in Paris I chose a box of seven to take home. After the clerk packaged them and rang me up my resolve failed. "Et une autre, pour moi. Un petit cadeau," (And another for me. A small gift.) I said, smiling already with anticipation. And in this chic shop on one of the grandest avenues of Paris, the young man grinned and handed it to me. No charge. Paris, je t’aime!