When my friend Maniko casually mentioned a meringue shop in her neighborhood, I stopped her in mid-sentence.
"Did you say a meringue shop? As in a shop selling only meringues?"
Nearly every French pastry shop has its puffy meringues piled up somewhere near the window, but they often seem to be more of a decoration than something that people actually eat. Yet meringues have their fans, among them my son Sam. Just as I did at his age, he loves to bite into the crispy shell, working his way in a cloud of crumbs to the center where the egg whites have retained some chewiness. I would no longer eat a meringue by itself, but I do buy them to crumble into a glass bowl with fromage blanc and ruby-red strawberries in summer.
What I love most about meringues is their very unfashionableness: while the little macaron must always prove itself with ever wilder flavor combinations and colors, the meringue seems to exist in its own dimension, unaffected by changing Parisian tastes.
That era may be about to end thanks to Au Merveilleux de Fred. Frédéric Vaucamp trained at Lenôtre before opening his first meringue shop in Lille, home to the sugar-filled gaufre and the cramique, a brioche studded with raisins or chocolate and topped with crunchy sugar. He has had a Paris presence for the past two years, first in the outer reaches of the 15th arrondissement and since last November in the chic 16th. Though Fred is not yet a household name here, I suspect that will soon change once the glitterati get a taste of his cakes.
Of course I accepted Maniko's invitation to join her at the rue St-Charles branch, which faces a lively, partly organic street market that takes place on Tuesdays and Fridays. The shop has a whimsical old-fashioned feel to it, with the touch of humor that you would expect from the person who named it. In the window, young women laugh and chat as they coat snowball-sized meringues with whipped cream before rolling them in chocolate shavings or crystalized coffee.
The finished cakes have names like Le Merveilleux, L'Incroyable and L'Impensable, referring to the period after the French Revolution when young people known as les incroyables and les merveilleux dressed extravagantly, took on odd mannerisms and refused to pronounce the letter "r" (as in Revolution), which they said had done too much harm.
How to choose between a Merveilleux, an Incroyable and an Impensable? Now there is a dilemma I would like to have every day. Reasoning that the Merveilleux - coated in whipped cream and rolled in dark chocolate - seemed the least original of the three even if was the eponymous cake, I took one each of the coffee and speculoos versions. The smiling salesgirl carefully packed them in a box and said I could keep them in the refrigerator for up to three days... yes, I suppose I could.
It wouldn't be fair to say that Au Merveilleux is only a meringue shop, as it also sells some marvellous looking gaufres filled with vanilla and rum-scented sugar, gleaming cramiques and tartes au sucre, and loaves of country-style bread. I would have loved to try it all, but there is only so much that one person can eat in a day, and we had just come from a three-course lunch at Inake Aizpitarte's new restaurant Le Dauphin. (I did order cheese rather than dessert, anticipating the meringues.)
Back on the other side of town I decided that I would try half of the Incroyable, just to be able to tell you about it. A few minutes later, I found myself scraping the last crumbs of meringue with my fork, having demolished the whole thing. Fred, the idea of coating layers of meringue in whipped cream sweetened with spice cookie crumbs before rolling them in white chocolate was sheer genius, incroyable even. Tomorrow I will do the impensable and try the coffee version.
Au Merveilleux de Fred
129 bis rue St-Charles, 15th, 01 45 79 72 47.
29 rue de l'Annonciation, 16th, 01 45 20 13 82.
10 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.
Haha, brilliant! A shop devoted to meringues. That's what I love in the French, they do (sometimes) concentrate to the important things.
Rosa! This is the second mention of Fred in the last 48 hours! I cannot believe you were able to get out of there without buying one of everything....I certainly hope to march myself there this week sometime to buy everything. No seriously, great review of Fred. God save the friends of mine who live nearby one of the shops.
Anni, what could be more important than meringues indeed!
Sonia, the Impensable lived up to its name in every way- again, I started off thinking I would take just a bite and found myself licking crumbs.
Lynanne, you must rush over there! I can't imagine what would happen to me if I lived nearby...
Hi Rosa - do you send your blog out to subscribers by email like David Liebovitz? If so, how do I get added on? I see a "subscribe" but only access to rss feed which doesn't allow for sign-up.
Hi Linda, as far as I know you can subscribe through my RSS feed. When I looked at it, it seemed to be working. However, I'm not very gifted technically so I'm not sure!
Love your blog! Since you love French food I thought you might be interested in an amazing culinary tour to France, www.francebackroad.com There is one coming up in June, it is an incredible tour.
I love this idea I am going to try and make these even though I do not have the recipe, I love the idea
Hello, Going to Nice, France Oct 23, 2011 . Can you recommend a meringue shop in the Old Town Nice where we can enjoy pastries. Also,would you please recommend a place to have lunch that would be inexpensive. I would be very pleased to receive a reply.