HOME > Chowhound > Chicago Area >

Discussion

Authentic macarons?

  • 39
  • Share

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

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
Posting Guidelines | FAQs | Feedback
Cancel
  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.

                1. Today I found a place with some really good French macaroons at a shop in north suburban Long Grove:

                  Sweet Whimsy
                  251 Robert Parker Coffin Road
                  Long Grove, IL 60047
                  847-821-2021
                  www.sweetwhimsypastry.com

                  This is a very small pastry shop with a limited selection of items. When I was there, they had three "vanilla buttercream macaroons" (and of course I bought all three of them!), so you may want to call ahead to make sure they have them. At 2 1/4" across and 1" thick, they're significantly bigger than the tiny ones many other shops sell (and well worth their $1.50 price). They also have a higher proportion of buttercream filling to almond layers than others. They were very fresh and excellent, with nicely almondy layers and rich vanilla buttercream filling!

                  It's somewhat hard to find, so here are some tips on finding it. It's on the north side of Robert Parker Coffin Road, just east of Old McHenry Road. Look for the sign on the street that says "Mill Pond" and it's in that cluster of shops, in the lowest level. They may have their own parking lot convenient to the shop; however, if you're visiting the shops of Long Grove across the street and parking over there (like I did), you'll need to walk downstairs from the street, past the Glunz wine tasting shop, to get there.

                  1. You should have gone straight to Fritz Pastry for your macarons!!! It's on Diversey just west of Southport.

                    I have never tried the ones at Bittersweet so I can't compare. But, the one I had at Fritz Pastry was really intense!!! They have several flavors (75 cents apiece).

                    Bittersweet is much better for cookies and cakes, and their quiche is unbeatable.

                    1. I've tried macarons from Vanille and Fritz Pastry, and I prefer the former. Frtiz's were pretty good (the chocolate one in particular) but the texture of the shells were a little inconsistent - i.e. some were crisp with a nice chew (ideal) but also some whose shells were too crunchy. I also like that Vanille's are smaller.

                      1. You can order some great french macarons from a company called Panna Dolce (www.pannadolce.com). They only take orders online, but they have the closest to LaDuree macarons that I've ever tasted! They are located in Chicago and will deliver locally (my friend was able to place an order and received it same day!).

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: foodieyum

                          Wow, $2 each (16 for $32) is about twice what anyone else is charging for the small size French macaroons. For that price, they BETTER be good!

                        2. I fell in love with the pumpkin spice macarons for sale at Lycee Francais' Fall French Market and felt compelled to email the address on the packaging to let the pastry chef know...and ask where I could get my hand on more. Surprised to learn it was a first time effort by an architect with a passion for macarons who decided to try her hand at perfecting them and debuted them at the French Market.

                          They were far and away better than Fritz Pastry's, Alliance Bakery or Bittersweet's macarons.

                          Starting in December she began a weekly stand at the Logan Square's Indoor Farmers Market, (Sundays at the Congress Theater from 10am-2pm,) with four flavors that rotate monthly.

                          I tried all four new flavors today and my fave was apple cider. She offers samples of each at the market and packages them in a pretty white box with brown ribbon.

                          http://macaronchicago.com/

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: edemama

                            I am constantly on the lookout for a great macaron in Chicago and now I have a new one to check out. I wish I could get my hands on them outside of the market as I work most Sundays.

                          2. I'm a macaron fanatic, too. We've done a bit of a crawl in Chicago and, truthfully, have never found any that compared to the ones in Paris. Vanille and Sarah's were the best we tried. Also, Whole Foods has a new "International Cookies" section in the bakery and they had some pretty decent macarons.

                            HOWEVER, and I will probably get slammed for saying this, Trader Joe's has recently started carrying them in their freezer section. They come in a box of 12: 6 vanilla and 6 chocolate. I guess macarons are the new "it" dessert--similar to the cupcake a couple years ago.

                            Anyway, we gave them a shot and both my partner and myself agreed that they were the best macarons we've had. EVER. Since they were frozen, I was really skeptical about the texture. After 20 minutes under a towel and they were PERFECT--crisp on the outside and buttery inside.

                            Unlike other ones that we've tried in the city, you could really taste the marzipan in these. Also, the buttercream and ganache fillings were amazingly smooth and flavorful.

                            Just try 'em. And they are only like $4/box.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: emiliewasmyeve

                              Marzipan in a macaron? Blasphemy.

                              1. re: ferret

                                All authentic French macaroons are made with some form of almonds. You can say they're made from ground almonds, or you can say they're made from almond paste or marzipan; when you're talking about where the taste comes from, since both of those are made from ground almonds too, they're really all the same thing.

                                Some French macaroons have a stronger almond taste than others, the taste that comes through at its strongest in almond oil and almond extract (which, of course, come from almonds too). Personally, I agree with emileiewasmyeve and prefer ones with a strong almond taste (regardless of what words you use to refer to it).

                                Gotta try the ones from Trader Joe now... thanks for the post!

                                1. re: nsxtasy

                                  While marzipan and macarons both contain almond meal, there's no mistaking one for the other.

                                  1. re: ferret

                                    The almond flavoring in marzipan and the almond flavoring in French macaroons that have a strong almond flavor are exactly the same. Of course, French macaroons come in other flavors too (e.g. chocolate, pistachio, lemon, raspberry, etc.). Depending on the recipe, those other flavors can complement or overwhelm the almond flavor from the almond meal. Some places also offer what they call a "marzipan" flavor French macaroon that lets the almond flavor come through. Marzipan is one of the flavors of French macaroons sold at Delightful Pastries ( www.delightfulpastries.com ) on Lawrence in Jefferson Park. They have about the same amount of almond flavor as the "vanilla buttercream French macaroons" sold at Sweet Whimsy in Long Grove ( www.sweetwhimsypastry.com ), despite the difference in names.

                                    1. re: nsxtasy

                                      There are two different questions here. Macarons are not made with marzipan. They are made with almond flour/meal. Whether you can approximate the taste of marzipan in a macaron is a different matter.

                                  2. re: nsxtasy

                                    I'd modify this statement only slightly - most are made with ground almonds, but a fair amount are made with ground hazelnuts.

                              2. Authentic, delicious, fresh, seasonal...perfect. Macaron Chicago sells at the Logan Square Farmer's market on Sundays 10am-2pm in the lobby of the congress Theatre at 2135 N. Milwaukee. If you want to place a larger order, they'll also deliver in the Chicago area.

                                http://macaronchicago.com

                                 
                                1 Reply
                                1. re: 1practicalgal

                                  Just got to try these yesterday, far and away the best macarons I've eaten in Chicago. Amazing texture, perfectly delicate, I can't wait to try her different flavors from month to month.

                                2. The ones at Pierre Gourmet are not bad!

                                  1. I recently had some pretty amazing macarons from Sarah's Candies in the Gold Coast also--worth checking out. http://sarahscandies.com/

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: grilledchz

                                      I've checked them out. And they were not particularly good, IMHO.

                                      1. re: nsxtasy

                                        Yes--the Sarah's Candies macarons were the most disappointing ones I've had in the city.

                                        I'm still sticking with the new TJ's frozen version. However, Whole Foods recently starting having an "International Cookies" display in their bakery and they have some delicious macarons that--I believe--they get from Delightful Pastries.

                                        1. re: emiliewasmyeve

                                          The Whole Foods around me have numerous pastries that they get from Delightful Pastries (and are labeled as such - which enables them to tout "local" on them). I haven't had them from there - I haven't seen them there - but I've bought them at Delightful Pastries original location on Lawrence. They're just okay. I've noticed substantial variation in freshness even among French macaroons of the exact same flavor on the exact same tray - some fresh, some stale. However, as soon as Whole Foods starts carrying the superb almond-paste based "rainbow cookies" from Delightful Pastries, I'm all over them! (I noticed that the branch location of Delightful Pastries in the new French Market in the downtown Chicago train station has the rainbow cookies.)

                                    2. Here's one more entry in the macaroon sweepstakes. Two entries, actually, but from the same place.

                                      Gerhard's is a pastry shop in the downtown area of north suburban Lake Forest, right across the street from the Metra station and a door down from the town square.

                                      They have French macaroons (the little sandwiches) that they import from France (shipped frozen, I'm guessing). They have the usual flavors: chocolate, pistachio, rose, etc. They're quite good, and surprisingly fresh.

                                      But wait, there's more!

                                      If you prefer the more traditional almond paste based macaroons, not the sandwiches but rather the ones that are dropped onto a sheet and baked, theirs are WONDERFUL. They have a very strong almond paste taste, and they dip them in quality dark chocolate so that half of them are covered. THESE ARE THE BEST ALMOND MACAROONS I HAVE EVER HAD. They don't always have them, so you can call ahead. They actually maintain a list of customers that they call when they make them, so you can know when to come in for them.

                                      Gerhard's Elegant European Desserts
                                      720 N. Western Ave.
                                      Lake Forest, IL 60045
                                      847-234-0023
                                      www.gerhardsdesserts.com

                                      1. I got some French macaroons today at Alliance Bakery in Wicker Park, and if you like the flavored kind, these are some of the best I've had anywhere. They're really really REALLY good (and amazingly fresh)!

                                        Here are the colors/flavors they carry (they had six of these flavors this morning):

                                        pink - raspberry rose
                                        purple - blueberry cream cheese
                                        purple/white - cassis-vanilla
                                        green - pistachio-brandied cherry
                                        white coconut flake - coconut lime
                                        brown with peanuts - snickers
                                        light brown - chocolate-salted caramel
                                        brown with swipe - coffee-orange confit
                                        orange - milk chocolate passionfruit

                                        Alliance Bakery
                                        1736 W Division St
                                        Chicago, IL 60622
                                        773-278-0366
                                        www.alliance-bakery.com

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: nsxtasy

                                          Yesterday I got some French macaroons at Floriole in Lincoln Park, and theirs are excellent too. Like the ones I got at Alliance, they are extremely fresh and delicious. They had three flavors: lemon lavender, chocolate, and I think the third was caramel. They had a bit more almond flavor than the ones at Alliance. I'd rate these two places about equal, as the best in the city.

                                          Floriole Cafe & Bakery
                                          1220 W. Webster Ave.
                                          Chicago, IL 60614
                                          773-883-1313
                                          www.floriole.com