Saturday, July 23, 2011

France - It was all about the Food

And the company.

My daughter was finishing an 8-month work assignment. She had contracted to spend the academic year teaching English in the French public school system. Done. We were joining forces for a 24-day exploration of Europe. Her French is fluent. Swedish is my first language and somehow we would manage to communicate with the Germans in Berlin.

I flew in to Lyon and later we met up at the train station. My daughter accompanied me to St. Etienne, the town where she shared an apartment with two other language assistants. That corner of southwestern France was ours to explore for the next several days.

This was a trip for pleasure, not business, and as such the planning was loose. The overbooked, must see everything phenomenon was clearly to be avoided.

We primarily explored in and around St. Etienne, a town of approximately 180,000 people and an industrial heritage. Our food obsession became finding the best macarons in the region. Macarons are a predominantly French confection, made with egg whites, icing and granulated sugar, ground almonds and food coloring. Two disks or cookies are joined together with a filling of jam, ganache or buttercream.

We began our mission with a box from Au Jardin des Douceurs (the Garden of Sweets) trying out pistache, cerise griotte, cassis, framboise, chocolat and praline (pistachio, cherry, black currant, raspberry, chocolate and praline).

We broadened our search during a day trip to Lyon.The venerable bakery of Pignol, an institution of 50 years, is situated just around the corner from Place Bellecour on Rue Emile Zola. They had lovely macarons, but Sève, located on the presqu'île between the Rhône and Saone rivers, was easily the best.

Sève's pomme tatin macaron was all lovely and sparkly (yes, glittery-sparkly) and tasted absolutely delectable. This macaron is a riff on a classic upside down apple tart created in the Loire Valley in the late 1800's.

Sève is even older than Pignol, established in 1905. Richard Sève, a master chocolatier, was voted best pâtissier in the Rhône Alpes region in 1999. The attention to every detail of production is evident in the taste and appearance of each sweet little morsel. Accordingly, Sève's offerings were the priciest of the three as well. Have a peek for yourself.

While I think we sufficiently fulfilled our search for the best macaron, the prospect of further research intrigues me.


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