Chicago bakeries crank out French macarons

July 28, 2010

For the past year or so, French macarons have been hitting the party circuit, showing up in gift bags at weddings. But they've also been inspiring pastry chefs, who've made the pilgrimage to Paris, and now want to recreate the delicate combination of flavors and textures back home. In Chicago, there are now two companies spending most of their day just making macaron.

The Logan Square Kitchen is an incubator of sorts, a place where small food artisans can create, without the hassle of overhead. Beth Jacob uses the space for her company, which focuses on just one thing.

"The name of my business is Macaron Chicago. I make macaron which are French -- traditional French cookies made with meringue-based shells and fillings of caramel, butter cream, jam or ganache," said Jacob.

Jacob makes everything herself, from the delicate merengue shells, to the sweet fillings. She then sells them at farmer's markets and through wholesale accounts.

Same principle in West Town, at Kitchen Chicago, a similar concept where you rent space. For friends Katherine and Lauren, the Panna Dolce brand was born here. Their specialty? French macarons, of course.

They begin by sifting almond flour; then, in a stand mixer, they combine egg whites and sugar, whipping it fiercely, until it begins to get frothy. Food coloring is added to create a unique color palette. That sifted almond flour is added, which will give the macaron shell some lift. At this point, ratios are crucial.

"It's definitely about the right ratio for the meringue and how much sugar you use, the temperature you cook at, the time that you bake at, the weather outside; really there is more chemistry to it than making just your regular batch of cookies," said Panna Dolce co-owner Lauren Robin.

Fillings also have to be calibrated, depending on which type of shell you're using. The partners say as much as macarons are loved on the East and West coasts, they're not quite sure if Chicago has fully embraced this latest dessert craze.

"I don't think that they are there yet in Chicago, definitely on the coast, but I think they're going to be the new cupcake," said Robin.

Notice we didn't say "macaroon." Those would be the golf ball-sized, toasted coconut and sugar balls -- a far cry from a French macaron.

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