While some French food enthusiasts cherish the macaron, the piled high buttercream cupcake or the newly-enamored whoopie pie, I remain an original meringue fan. Whenever I pick up my baguette in Paris, I always add a simple gigantic meringue to my order, as every bakery keeps a few at the ready. A lot of egg whites and sugar, whipped and baked, meringues are an old standby and perfectly resilient. We think the new Au Merveilleux de Fred bakery, a spot heavily dedicated to meringue, will change all that soon. Thanks to our friend Rosa Jackson for sharing it with the world and, hopefully, making it au courant again. – Maggie
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.
Written by Rosa Jackson for Edible Adventures. All images by Julien Hausherr. Julien Hausherr is a photographer based in Paris, specializing in architecture, still-life and reporting. Contact: [email protected]. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.