Mag Mile spot has fab French macaroons

April 1, 2009 (CHICAGO) One is a golf ball-sized mound of sugar and coconut. The other is a delicate nibble made with baked egg whites. Our Hungry Hound has found one of the best examples of the latter version inside one of the most prestigious addresses on Michigan Avenue.

Andres Lara spends his days amidst butter, sugar and flour. As pastry chef at NoMI, inside the Park Hyatt Hotel in the Gold Coast, he creates all kinds of classic and modern sweets, including a killer macaroon.

"Means something different to a lot of different people, but my favorite take on it is the more refined French version of it, and that's what we try to do here, try to execute perfect French macaroons," said Andres Lara, the pastry chef at NoMI.

Lara begins by blending up egg whites in the giant bowl of a stand mixer. He adds sugar, and after about 5 minutes, the egg whites and sugar are transformed. Visually, the key is that they form what's called "stiff peaks," a sign they're done. He then adds almond flour and powdered sugar to the egg white mixture, and this is where skill and experience come in. As he stirs and folds the mixture, he's looking for ribbons that fall just so, an indicator the macaroon will have the proper texture. The batter is filled into bags and then piped onto a silicone sheet to prevent sticking. Again, his technique is crucial.

"This is, I would say, a much more minimalist look. It's got a beautiful, just clear, dome-like texture...It's more about the texture and what's inside," Lara said.

That's where Lara gets creative. After the basic macaroon has been baked, he'll fill them with all sorts of delicious combinations: In this case, an outer ring of creme fraiche, coconut and milk chocolate, then an inner dollop of passion fruit caramel. Sandwiched between the slightly crispy, partly chewy macaroon halves, they are understandably addictive.

Lara says there are two other keys to the bite-sized treat.

"It's knowing your oven, baking it right and the most important part, which I think a lot of people don't realize, is the storage of it," said Lara.

At any given time, there are about three of four different flavors at the Park Hyatt. You can get them in the lounge, you can eat them in the restaurant, but you want to get some extra to take home because they are impossible to stop eating.

The macaroons cost $12 for six pieces.

Park Hyatt Hotel
800 N. Michigan Ave.

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