I have been on a gluten-free diet for about three months. Actually, it is a wheat-free diet since I haven't the slightest idea what gluten is. But everyone is talking about the gluten-free diet and all food markets are settimg aside whole sections for gluten-free products.
It all started with celiac sufferers and has now expanded to the general population. Although I have lost almost 15 pounds since beginning the regime, I didn't do it for weight-loss purposes. I read two shocking articles in the New York Times about the damage that wheat can do to the human digestive system, something that has never been widely-discussed before.
I read a few more stories and a book about wheat and gluten damage and decided to try it, which is not easy for a food/restaurant critic. No bread (which means no butter), no pasta, no chocolate cake! Yes, I can eat rice noodles, which I like a great deal, and gluten-free white bread from a company called Udi's that also soy-, dairy- and nut-free and is pretty good. The folks at Cooks Magazine tested all gluten-free breads and selected this as the best product; it is available at Trader Joe's and Pavilions.
I am seeing menus around town with entire sections which feature gluten-free dishes. A fad? I doubt it. I think it is a serious trend. I actually do notice that the wheat-free regime has made my tender digestive system far better able to handle all other volatile products, i.e. onions, garlic, chiles and such.
Claire and Bernard Becker are the owners of the Oxnard-based bakery company.
Want a unique wedding cake? This Duverger Macron Tower Cake is made from their macarons, with flavors of your choice or all their flavors. Cutting the cake will be a lot easier with these.
Which is a rather circuitous way to get around to a product which I have adopted as my go-to dessert of choice. I remember the first French macaron that I tasted. It was many years ago, in the late fifties, when I was living in Paris for several months and someone took me to interview a legendary baker named Pierre Hermé. He served me a tiny sweet meringue-based pastry that he said was made with egg whites, different sugars, almond powder or ground almonds, a few drops of vanilla and natural food coloring.
I quickly learned that they varied enormously in quality, depending upon the baker and also what was placed between two of the aforementioned cookies. The macaron is filled with either a 'ganache,' buttercream or a fruity jam sandwiched between the two biscuits. Pierre's wife told me the name 'macaron' is a derivation of the Italian 'maccherone' or meringue and means 'fine dough.' The authoritive Larousse Gastronomique says it was invented in a Nancy convent in 1791 by two Carmelite nuns who sold them to support the nunnery, while other authorities say that Catherine de Medici's Italian pastry chef brought them with her in 1533 when she married Henry II of France, Regardless, it was embedded in French culinary culture by the late Fifties when I first encountered it. Herme's chief rival in the gourmet patisserie world was and is Laduree, and they also claim its development. It has been the mainstay of their chain of pastry shops for 150 years. I'm told that the McDonald's chain in Paris also offers it, but that the quality is different.
The display of various macaron flavors at Monsieur Marcel's bistro in Beverly Hills.
Which leads back to my wheat-free diet and an occasion last week when I encountered my new dessert of choice. I have this favorite French bistro that recently opened up in Beverly Hills, and I wrote a Huffington about Monsieur Marcel (447 N. Canon Drive). They invited me to enjoy a glass of champagne and taste their new treat, Duverger Macarons. When I arrived, I saw this enticing display of luscious-looking macarons and said to the woman standing beside them, "They look delicious... but I'm on a wheat-free, gluten-free diet.." She laughed in all her pregnant glory and said, "But Monsieur, they are wheat-free, gluten-free... you can eat all you want."
And then my experience with Pierre Herme and his wife at dinner fifty years ago kicked in, and I realized that she was correct. Almond was the ingredent, and nuts are a regular on my diet. I picked up a raspberry macaron and stuffed it in my mouth, It quickly melted on my tongue and the fruit flavor infused my brain. I ranged up and down the trays -- pistachio, lemon, chocolate, pina colada, Earl Grey, and settled on Chocolate Orange Liquor. Does the word 'scrumptuous' convey anything? Believe me, it fits here.It turns out that the woman I met, Claire, was the baker and creator of the Duverger Macarons. "Duverger was my maiden name in Paris," she explained.
The couple had decided to move to America for his musical work, and settled in Los Angeles' Echo Park in 2008. On a lark she made up several batches of her special macarons and they took them on a Sunday to a flea market in town. In less than an hour they were all gone.
I was working as an art restorer at the Louvre, repairing some of the most precious paintings on earth. It was difficult, exhausting work... and for relaxation I made these tiny cakes for my friends and family from an old family recipe. Everyone kept saying that they were the best macarons in Paris, and I should think about selling them commercially. But until I married my husband, Bernard Becker, a film music composer, I didn't seriously consider it. However, I was burned out with the art gig and finally made up several batches of macarons for a neighborhood patisserie, They sold out immediately and I received rave reviews from people in the bakery world.... so we went at it all out.
This was repeated several times and they moved on to various farmers markets around the city, again to see the macarons move so rapidly they could not keep up with demand, selling 4,000 cakes in a three day period. A local bakery let them use the kitchen until they ran out of space within a year. Happenstance led them to a French baker in Oxnard who wanted to retire and offered to rent them his large baking space.
Since moving the operation to Oxnard in 2011, Duverger's business has grown exponentially, and now their macarons can be found in stores and restaurants in 13 states. On the West Coast, from San Diego to San Francisco, in outlets including 20 Whole Foods Markets. Tous Le Jour, several Farmers Markets, Monsieur Marcel, Aroma Coffee and Tea, and others. On the East Coast they are in many markets... and now they can be purchased online at www.duvergermacarons.com.
Since I have a long history of enjoying these precious little pastries in Paris, I was curious about why Claire's macarons seems so much better than any I have ever tasted there. A long conversation with her explained it: she uses her art conservation background to create such vivid natural colors that they explode on the eye before they explode in the mouth. I have been exploring the macaron market since tasting theirs and find hers to be lighter, more delicate and refined than others 'round town. She uses only natural products and flavors, creating an extraordinary, natural taste treat. I was curious about her fillings and she explained that they were buttercreams or ganaches made with chocolate, a fruit jam made with real fruit, or a home-made almond paste. There are 18 flavors at the moment: think salted caramel and vanilla, orange blossom, praline, coconut... oh, my, so many treats.
Macarons ae the aristocrats of French pastry. Thee brighty-colored mini-meringues are daintily held together with subtle fillings; they are addictive.. or so I found this past week. As one critic said, they fill your soul with warm, fuzzy happiness after one bite. Yes, my wheat-and-gluten free soul is happy these days.