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Authentic macarons?

Anyone have any recommendations for a pastry shop that sells French-style macarons (think Pierre Herme and A. Lehrer)? How about kouglof? (Did I spell that right? It doesn't look right...) I am oh-so-willing to drive for these items, if they're good.

ABM

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  1. I'm not familiar with the places you mention, but I'm familiar with French macaroons. They're two thin, almond-paste macaroons (NO coconut) sandwiched around a thin layer of buttercream. And they are heavenly. Ideally - to my taste, anyway - they have a strong almond flavor (sometimes the almond flavor isn't as strong).

    My absolute favorites have been at Fox & Obel, but they don't normally carry them, although you can special order them. The ones at Vanille on Clybourn are very good indeed, almost as good as F&O; theirs are tiny, so you just need to eat more. :) Gourmet Frog, in north suburban Highwood across the street from the train station, sometimes has them and they are very good. Gourmet Frog is the carry-out adjunct of Froggy's French restaurant. Finally, Bennison's, in north suburban Evanston, always has them, although they are not quite as strong in almond flavor as the previous places, IMHO. All of the above except Fox and Obel carry them in multiple flavors (flavor, e.g. chocolate, raspberry, etc. added in addition to the almond paste base).

    Pasticceria Natalina in Andersonville also has very good macaroons, but I have not seen the French variety there (i.e. no buttercream). And there are some excellent almond paste based desserts (although not macaroons) at Swedish Bakery, also in Andersonville just down the street from Pasticceria Natalina; in particular, I love their mazariners, and their marzipan roll cakes.

    Links:
    Fox & Obel - www.fox-obel.com
    Vanille - www.vanillepatisserie.com
    Gourmet Frog - www.frenchrestaurantschicagocatering....
    Bennison's - www.bennisonscakes.com
    Swedish Bakery - www.swedishbakery.com

    4 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Macarons are the French pastry (as you described).
      Macaroons are what we generally think of as the dense, coconut cookie.

      1. re: rubinow

        Wrong.

        "Macarons" is the word in the French language; "macaroons" is the same word in English. In both cases, the word refers to cookies made from egg whites (which raise the cookie while baking), sugar (for sweetness), and a flavoring ingredient (either almond paste or coconut).

        Feel free to look it up:
        www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ma...
        www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ma...

      2. re: nsxtasy

        One other place that has almond macaroons is Tag's, in Evanston. However, they are not the "French" variety, i.e. there is no buttercream. When they are fresh, theirs are excellent; however, sometimes they've been around for a few days, and can be a bit dry. www.tagscakes.com

        1. re: nsxtasy

          I grew up on those awful packaged Passover macaroons and didn't realize how good macaroons could be until somebody brought me some freshly made ones.

          But then on a trip to Paris I discovered the French version. spelled macaron if it makes any difference. I guess I'd say you're both right because I've typically seen the French version listed as macaron, but oh well . . . I digress.

          Fauchon in Paris had a great variety, but after tasting the chocolate-almond macarons from La Maison du Chocolat in Paris, I bought their cookbook and I have been making them ever since.

          They're actually very easy to make, and I've now expanded well beyond the standard La Maison du Chocolat recipe. My most recent variety was chocolate-hazelnut (using ground hazelnuts) and a Nutella ganache.

          They don't require buttercream. Ganaches are frequently used . . . I've done both. And it's not really an almond paste -- egg whites, ground nuts (usually almonds, i.e., almond flour), powdered sugar, cocoa (for chocolate ones). After that, you just need an oven, some parchment paper and a plastic/pastry bag and a cookie sheet.

          The two places I've seen them for purchase in Chicago are Vanille Patisserie on Clybourn and Bittersweet on Belmont. Both offer a variety of flavors. However, I've never tried them at either place. But given the traditional French pastry background of the pastry chefs at Vanille, that would be my first stop.

          And if you happen to make it to L.20, the pistachio macaron which ends the meal is amazing.

      3. Bittersweet bakery on Belmont has delightful macarons - just like from Paris. Their other goods are outstanding as well. In fact, my husband and I love to go there to pick up goodies for high tea, then go home and indulge with an excellent pot of tea.

        6 Replies
        1. re: vrollings

          From the "gift ideas" section of Bittersweet's website ( www.bittersweetpastry.com ), it's clear that they are referring to the French macaroons (i.e. macaroons in a sandwich form, presumably with buttercream filling):

          "OH MY GOODNESS
          one pound of bittersweet’s signature chocolate
          macaroon sandwich cookies
          packaged in a reusable striped tin"

          Do they always have their macaroons in stock? Do they have other flavors in addition to chocolate?

          I've never been to Bittersweet, but it's clear from their website (as well as the recommendations here) that it's a place I would really enjoy. I can't believe it's been around for 16 years and I haven't been there - thanks to both of you for the recommendation!

          1. re: nsxtasy

            Every time I've been to Bittersweet they have them, and my recollection is that they have several varieties. I believe chocolate, strawberry, vanilla and pistachio, but maybe others. I'm planning on stopping in tomorrow so I'll update this post.

            1. re: BRB

              Yes, if I remember correctly, they had at least four flavors last time I was there. I was partial to the chocolate and the raspberry. Or maybe it was strawberry. Regardless, it is a delightful bakery and I think I, too, must stop in this weekend!

          2. re: vrollings

            I went to Bittersweet Pastry Shop this morning, for my first time. What a nice place! Of course, I should also mention that I love pastries and desserts, so I love checking out new places that have them.

            They had five types of macaroons, and I bought four of them. (I prefer almond-based macaroons, so I did not buy any of their chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons, the fifth type they had.)

            I hate to admit it, but I was a bit disappointed in their macaroons. As I indicated above, I prefer macaroons which have a strong almond flavor. In my baking experience, this strong almond flavor is usually achieved with the addition of almond extract, or with the use of almond paste made with almond extract. (Yes, macaroons can be made from ground almonds or from almond paste; however, since almond paste is made from ground almonds, any distinction between the two is purely academic.) This flavor is the strong "blast" of almond flavor you get when you take a bite of chocolate-covered marzipan from Piron Chocolatier in Evanston, or of a slice of marzipan cake from Swedish Bakery in Andersonville. And unfortunately for me, there was no such "blast" of almond flavor in the macaroons I got at Bittersweet, the way there is in the ones from Fox & Obel or the tiny ones from Vanille. So I prefer those over Bittersweet's for that reason.

            Here's more information about their macaroons; names in quotes are how they were labeled in the shop:

            Their "lemon french macarons" and "raspberry french macarons" are similar, and the same style as the French macaroons at Fox & Obel, Vanille, Bennison's, etc. The center is a thin layer of buttercream, the macaroon is pretty big overall (1 3/4 inches in diameter) and thin, and there's a nice sheen to the surface. The consistency is perfect - very moist, and they crumble in your mouth (or before you put them in your mouth, if you're not careful!). The raspberry ones have a reasonably strong raspberry flavor; the lemon ones have a somewhat weaker lemon flavor. However, as previously noted, there is little if any almond flavor to them, IMHO.

            Their "chocolate macaroons" are slightly smaller in diameter (1 1/2 inch) and somewhat thicker, and have a slight sheen to the surface. These are filled with a layer of chocolate ganache, rather than buttercream. These too are very moist, although the ganache makes them a bit less so (and they crumble less) than the lemon or raspberry ones. They have a strong chocolate flavor. As previously noted, there is little if any almond flavor to them.

            Finally are their "almond macaroons". These are very different from the three previous kinds (and the staff mentioned that they involve a different preparation technique). These are much smaller in diameter (I'm guessing an inch although I ate these before I thought to measure) and also much thicker, as thick as they are wide. They have a layer of buttercream in the middle. The almond layers are harder than the previous types, and fairly dry; in fact, when biting into one, the buttercream squeezed out the sides, like in an overly soft ice cream sandwich. And they look more "rustic", i.e. the surface is rough, rather than the smooth sheen of the other types. These tasted like ground almonds but again, without the "blast" of almond flavor you get in some products.

            Don't get me wrong - All of these were tasty and I wouldn't turn them away! They just don't have the strong almond flavor I prefer in macaroons. Perhaps others prefer macaroons with a bit less almond flavor, in which case theirs might be preferable. Different strokes.

            I bought quite a few items and I'm working my way through them. I had a croissant, which was quite good and tasty, although without a slight crisp to the outside that I prefer. I also had a peach-ginger scone which was outstanding, maybe the best scone I've ever had anywhere. I got a few other items which look good but I haven't tried yet.

            www.bittersweetpastry.com

            1. re: nsxtasy

              I too tried all of their macarons today and I was not impressed. I don't mind the lack of assertive almond flavor. In fact, I don't want the almond flavor asserting itself above the other flavors. But I agree with you that the addition of almond extract to the batter would certainly assist you in this regard.

              But my real problems with the macarons were their texture . . . too crisp without the soft, delicate center. This could mean a couple of things: 1) that they were overbaked (I've learned from experience), 2) they're too old, and/or 3) the fillings were not moist enough. Also, some of the chocolate ones in the case had cracked tops (any of mine which turn out this way get thrown away or placed on the bottom layer, invisible to those eating them). So overall, I wouldn't recommend the macarons at Bittersweet.

              I agree that their scones are great. I like their versions because they are less dry and crumbly than your typical scone. I also love Bittersweet's pecan rolls. And while I like their croissants, I don't love them. They don't feature as many layers and pockets as the best French croissants (my favorite in the area are at Vanille).

              1. re: BRB

                Hmmm... I would not describe the lemon or raspberry ones as "too crisp without the soft, delicate center". In fact, I think they are just right - not crisp at all, and the center is indeed soft and delicate! (To check, I just popped a raspberry one in my mouth and am chewing it as I type this!) Perhaps your description was intended for the almond or chocolate ones, rather than the lemon or raspberry ones? I think the ganache center on the chocolate ones makes the center less soft and delicate - although perhaps that would change if you let them come up to room temperature before eating...? And perhaps the almond ones are a bit old, I don't know.

                Incidentally, I thought the prices at Bittersweet were quite high, relatively speaking. Granted, almond macaroons (especially the French variety with real buttercream) are never inexpensive, but for what I bought, I'm guessing I spent at least 50 percent more than I would have at Fox & Obel or Vanille, neither of which is exactly a bargain.

          3. The best almond macaroons I know are not local but are from Fralinger's (Atlantic City and online). They are big, moist, fresh, and very almondy.

            1. Try Sarah's

              http://www.sarahscandies.com/index.php

              The Oak St location has more macaron flavors than the Macy's location.

              1. My two favorite places that you can order them from are :

                www.miettecakes.com
                www.fusionaustin.com

                Both require next day delivery which can be pricey. Often pricier than the macarons themselves (which already don't come cheap) so make sure you ask about shipping and handling beforehand. I am optimistic soon they will be all over...there seems to be a trend. Hopefully, we'll be able to find laduree or PH soon. Vive le macaron.