It was love at first bite – two tiny circles of meringue, their centers nicely chewy, sandwiching a filling of sweetly flavored buttercream – think miniature whoopie pies but much more sublime.
“These are the best meringues I’ve ever tasted,” I said reaching for another from a plate filled with the pastel colored treats.
“Macarons,” said the waiter as he passed us by.
I thought I knew better. Macaroons were egg whites, sugar and coconut, sometimes dipped into chocolate – and they were nothing like this.
“Macaroons like the ones we know in the U.S. are entirely different than the French macarons,” Renee Wilson, owner of Dessert Menu in Dyer, tells me, pronouncing the latter as “mah-kah-ron.” “One of the first things they taught us at the French Pastry School was how to make macarons. People in the class said 'Oh, I hate coconut,' but we found out they were totally different.”
Said to have originated in the 1800s at the French pâtisserie Laduree (warning, if you go to their Website you will immediately want to get on a plane and fly to Paris), these ultimate sandwich cookies, made with almond flour, come in a myriad of colors – Wilson is currently doing bright pink, yellow, orange and lavender for the Easter season – they also are available in a myriad of flavors.
She also offers the traditional French such as orange blossom water, lavender and rose water and she also lets her imagination take over, creating pineapple butter cream rolled in toasted coconut for a pina colada type taste and hazelnut butter cream with caramelized hazelnuts on top as well as liqueurs like Amaretto and Grand Marnier. When she made a peanut butter and jelly macaron it sold out almost as soon as they hit the display case.
“Ingredients for fillings can be limitless,” said Wilson, noting they rotate flavors every Wednesday. “As long as we come up with it naturally we try it. We’re not going to do a bubblegum macaron.”
Tonya Deiotte, owner of Tonya’s Patisserie in Chesterton, offers both macaroons and macarons.
“Our macaroons are made with almond paste, egg whites, coconut and sugar and we drop these in mounds and bake them,” she said. “Our French macarons are made with almond flour, egg whites and sugar and then piped onto a baking sheet and dried before baking. Because we use almond flour, they’re gluten free.”
Deiotte, who grew up in Northwest Indiana working in bakeries and restaurants before attending and graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in New York, moved to Chicago afterwards before opening her bakery and café in Chesterton.
“I wanted to really hone my skills,” she says, noting that she became interested in making French pastries because of their beauty.
“Macarons are very traditional in France and I use a traditional French recipe for mine.”
She and her assistant pastry chef, Amanda De La Cerda, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago, make a variety of lemon flavored shells filled with lemon curd, sherry filled with sherry butter cream, purple filled with blueberry and recently, in honor of spring and St. Patrick’s Day, mint accented with a green shamrock.
“We don’t always have them,” she said, “but if someone wants some, all they need to do is call ahead.”
According to Wilson, it takes about two days to make macarons.
“You have to dry your egg whites for a couple of days and you have to make a meringue paste,” she said. “You pipe each half out individually. They’re expensive to make because the ingredients like almond flour are costly. But they’re worth it. I remember tasting my first one in pastry class and thinking these are dangerously delicious.”
Tonya’s Patisserie Macarons
4 ounces egg whites
8 ounces powdered sugar
1.66 ounces granulated sugar
4 ounces almond flour
4 drops vanilla extract (if you would like to play with flavors, try assortments of flavored extracts that you would like to try)
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 275 degrees. In a food processor, place almond flour and 3/4 of powdered sugar and blend thoroughly together; put in a large bowl and set aside. Place in a mixer, with a whisk attachment, egg whites and whisk on medium speed till whites become foamy. Add sugar and remaining powdered sugar slowly into the mixer. Whisk on high speed till firm peaks appear; this will be your meringue. Add some meringue into flour mixture and fold together adding more meringue each time; Do Not Overmix the batter. Put mixture in a piping bag, with a circle tip, and pipe on a lined cookie sheet quarter size circles. Set aside and let the circles dry before putting in the oven, you should be able to touch them without it sticking to your finger; this will prevent cracks on the macaroons. Bake for 15 minutes and take out of the oven and let cool. They should have a crunchy outside and a gooey middle when you bite into them.
Orange Buttercream Filling for Macarons
Recipe from Todd Kelly’s Orchids at Palm Court Cookbook by Todd Kelly (Black Tie Press 2011; $29.95)
4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
8 ounces unsalted butter
1/3 cup Cointreau
1 tablespoon orange zest
DIRECTIONS: In a metal mixing bowl, combine the egg whites and sugar. Whisk over a water bath until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture reaches 160 degrees. Transfer to a stand-up mixer fitted with a whip attachment. Beat until the mixture forms thick, glossy peaks and has come to room temperature. With the mixer still running, add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, making sure each addition is completely incorporated before adding the next. Add the Cointreau and orange zest. Mix until smooth. Sandwich the orange buttercream between two macarons using a piping bag.