Macarons Galore in Palo Alto

Chocolate Yuzu, Lavender Cassis and Red Velvet macarons from Chantal Guillon.

Chantal Guillon chuckles that Americans feel it’s a required rite of baking passage to try to make their own macarons at home, while the French scoff at the idea and would just as soon buy them from a specialty patisserie.

It would be like trying to bake your own baguettes at home, she says. Why?

When she moved to the Bay Area in 2008, the cupcake craze was in full throttle. But most folks were still unfamiliar with the dainty French sandwich pastry known as a macaron and often confused them with American macaroon cookies made with shredded coconut.

Guillon, a former restaurateur in France and art importer, decided it was high-time Northern Californians got to know real macarons.

Chantal Guillon outside her Palo Alto shop.

So, in 2009, she opened her namesake Chantal Guillon macaron and tea shop on Hayes Street. It proved so successful that this summer she opened her second shop on University Avenue in Palo Alto.

Recently, I met up with her at her brightly lit Palo Alto storefront. Inside, there are long glass cases of macarons of every hue and a whimsical wall art of women’s purses, each with a box of macarons sticking out of them — just like you’d see women doing in France, she says.

Sixteen flavors are offered each day — from Green Tea to Lavender Poppy to Red Velvet to Orange Blossom. All are made with natural ingredients, such as real mint leaves, Tahitian vanilla and seasonal fruits. Every month, she and her baker try to come up with a new flavor. For Christmas, that may mean a French Champagne one covered in glam gold leaf.

A peek inside the shop.

A macaron display on the counter.

The holiday window display.

Every woman needs a box of macarons in her purse, doesn't she?

About 4,000 macarons in all are made each day, all by hand. They are all baked in San Francisco, then brought to the Palo Alto shop, where they sell for $1.75 each.

Chantal Guillon’s meringue-like shells are softer, less chewy than others I’ve had elsewhere. The fillings are extraordinary in their intensity. You bite down and wonder how something so tiny can set off such an explosion of flavor. The Green Tea one is like taking a slurp of a milky boba tea. The Chocolate Yuzu is deeply chocolatey with a punch of fruity tang. The Lavender-Cassis is like eating a whole bowl of blackberries with a floral finish.

The most popular flavor? Salted Caramel.

“I don’t know why,” Guillon says with a laugh. “It’s not my favorite. Mine is the Almond Amaretto because I’ve loved almonds ever since I was a child.”

Still, with its buttery, toffee-like flavor that’s like licking caramel off a spoon, it’s easy to see why the Salted Caramel is one that she can never take off the menu.

Pumpkin macarons.

Her son, Cedric, and daughter, Alexandra, also are involved in the business. In fact, they just opened Bacetti on Harrison St. in San Francisco, which specializes in the gelato bonbons of Tuscany.

The two-bite treats are little bricks of gelato that are coated in dark chocolate.They come in three flavors: Vanilla, Chocolate and Milk with Roasted Pine Nuts. You also can try them at Chantal Guillon, where they’re $1.25 each. Or look for them at stores such as Andronico’s and Bi-Rite Market.

Bacetti, a gelato treat dipped in chocolate.

The Milk with Pine Nuts flavor.

They’ll remind you of the ice cream bonbons you ate at the movie theaters as a kid — only better.

Like their mother’s macarons, these are the perfect little pick-me-ups no matter what your mood.

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  • But, what’s wrong with making macaron at home? I made 4 different flavors to use as Christmas gifts this year!

  • Ellon: Nothing wrong with that at all. It’s just a different mindset with Americans vs. French. In France, you typically shop every day for groceries and you visit specialty shops for your bread, your pastries, your meat, your produce, etc. In the U.S., we like to do more one-stop shopping. We also have that DIY spirit, in which we like to do things ourselves.

  • That display of all the macarons look so pretty. I have to drop by the Hayes Valley store and get me some. 🙂 (I, too, think that I would like the salted caramel. It’s great as gelato and cupcakes, and I think it’s the buttery toffee undertones that you mentioned.)

  • Oh wow, it all looks so yummy. Love the purse display. 🙂

  • they do look amazing and i have been hearing buzz aout her two stores for a while now. i am very glad to see macarons being so easily accessible to the general public! i’m tired of the cupcake craze.

  • Macarons are one of those things I like, but not enough to make; so I’d definitely want to buy them! But it’s getting harder to buy truly good bread these days, so we’re actually baking that more and more. (Oh, I can find it in bakeries, and some is excellent; but ours is excellent too!) Anyway, good post – thanks.

  • Both of those stores look adorable. I must admit that I’m with the French and have never tried making macarons. But to me they’re an occasional splurge, not something I need to master. Thanks for spotlighting these two lovely shops!

  • Mmmm those little ice cream bonbons look fabulous! I must say that I do love making macarons at home – even more than any of us like to eat them. But I do enjoy discovering new macarons baked by professionals and discovering new flavors. These look wonderful.

  • I make macarons all the time and these are so beautiful! I’m inspired to decorate mine nicer next time. 🙂 The ice cream bonbon looks so delicious. 😛

  • My neighbor brought me a huge box of her macarons! She discovered her in Palo Alto after her daughter started working down there. They are definitely wonderful. I not only make them myself, but buy them every chance I get!

  • Rae: Oooh, you are so lucky to have such a thoughtful neighbor! A gift of those macarons is a memorable one, indeed.

  • OK, after not being able to check out your blog in a while, you’re killing me with the possibilities. My goal of 2013 – eat more of what Food Gal eats. I better get crackin’

  • These French macarons have a way of bringing people together. Just stumbled upon your post on macarons in Bay Area today’; not sure if you remember but you left a comment on my blog re. French macarons couple years back – I made a short video of my encounter with macarons in Paris (which Dorie Greenspan shared via her blog as well). Small world!
    I’ve had CG’s macarons; they are good, albeit a tad sweet for me. Thanks for sharing!

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