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Eat Here, Not There: Macarons

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There are two kinds of cookie that sound alike. One is a confection of sweetened coconut, sometimes with chocolate drizzled on top, that looks like a small mountain and is very popular during Passover. This is a macaroon with two O's.

Macarons (with one O) are a French confection of meringue, almonds and a soft filling, either buttercream or ganache. Because they're doctored with food coloring, they look like a Crayola box of Whoopie Pies, and unfortunately, more than half of the time they taste like a Crayola box, too.

The grande dame of macarons is Ladurée, a Parisian boutique with four branches, including the most crowded bakery I've ever seen on the so-tourist Champs-Elysées, where scads--"murders" would be the best collective term here--of tourists line up to buy extremely expensive macarons in a rainbow of colors.

Ladurée is famous for a reason; despite the hours-long wait, haughty-even-for-Paris service and usurious price, it is excellent--without peer, to hear some people wax lyrical about it. Every large city in America has a bakery that thinks it's going to be the next Ladurée, and nearly every bakery fails.

We have our share here, too: There has never been a macaron that I could recommend without reservation. Sure, there are some decent stabs--Paris In a Cup comes close, but it don't make the confections. It buys them from Xuan Pâtisserie, more famous for its excellent chocolates. The macarons at Pascal are awful: chewy, sticky and expensive. Layer Cake Bakery commits a worse sin: the ones there appear to go stale within five seconds of being removed from the oven.

It was, then, with great trepidation that I ordered macarons at Au Cœur de Paris Bakery in Westminster. Honestly, the only reason I did was the price tag: $1.25 each ($15 per dozen, which is an unbelievably low price). That, and the fact the baker was French.

When I bit into the raspberry macaron, I was transported. Not to the Champs-Elysées and its macarons snobs, but to an unpretentious table at the Fête de la Patrimoine (cultural heritage fair) in the city of Meaux, about 30 miles east of Paris, where I had the most perfect macarons I've ever tasted, the first such that didn't make me wonder why they were ever invented.

The hazelnut macaron was similarly excellent, with a subtle flavor and a really deft hand in the making. The shell shattered in my mouth, but the meringue below was still soft and chewy, and the hazelnut filling inside had its sweetness tempered so the nut flavor could shine through.

I haven't yet been back to try the other flavors, but I will be: despite its odd location in a strip mall that appears out of houses like a corn "volunteer" in a field of soybeans, it's worth finding. Make no mistake: Though macarons are beloved of the wealthy, the best ones are not in Newport Beach or Anaheim Hills, but in a bakery on the outskirts of Little Saigon. You'll be hearing more about this gem soon.

Au Cœur de Paris Bakery (also known as Le Versailles), 9441 Edinger St., Westminster, (714) 775-8465.


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