What We Want: French Macarons
As with any noncoastal city, Buffalo is sometimes a year or two behind the trends, especially when it comes to the availability of hot items. Food trends are no different. For example, while the cupcake craze is winding down elsewhere, here in Buffalo it is still coming into its own. Ditto juice bars and European frozen yogurt shops. Likewise, with the highly delicate and utterly delicious French macaron (that’s right, only one ‘o’), the trend is quite near its climax in places like San Francisco and New York, while here in WNY we are still in the nascent stages of this tasty tidbit’s popularity. Overall, this subtle lag is actually a good thing; it gives us the chance to learn from others, to hone our offerings and to almost completely avoid trends that prove to be a flash in the pan and unworthy of our attention in the first place.
Fortunately, macarons are not a fleeting food fad and have finally made their way to Buffalo. And no, we are not discussing the cloying, lumpy macaroons made of sweetened coconut flakes, but rather the mercurial and temperamental Parisian sandwich cookie, made of only three ingredients: egg whites, almonds, and sugar. The very technical preparation makes them pricey when compared to other cookies, but they are worth every penny once you realize the marvelous textural journey offered by every bite. Additionally, macarons are a primed canvas for unique flavor combinations. Top French macaron maker, Pierre Hermé, offers a baffling number of choices, including classics such as chocolate, lemon, and raspberry, along with exotics like olive oil with vanilla, hazelnut with white truffle, and wasabi with grapefruit.
Of course, in addition to quality and variety, what makes anything truly special is rarity, and due to the macaron’s difficult nature, it is just that. Few bakeries will sign up to make a product with a limited shelf life that is also “finicky and maliciously inconsistent, not to mention downright stubborn and prissy,” as described by blogger and pastry chef Shuna Fish Lydon, who has sworn off macaron baking after being at their mercy in the kitchen of the French Laundry for years. On her site, Eggbeater.typepad.com, she goes on to write, “I figure it’s a lot like high heels. I think they’re very pretty shoes, but I’m glad other people are happy wearing them so I don’t have to.”
Buffalo transplant Sarah Walley, owner of Sarah Walley Events, fell in love with macarons while visiting Paris. Once home, Walley, a skilled home baker, set out to teach herself the terribly technical process associated with macaron making. After a hundred failed attempts, she sought out professional training, taking classes at the Bonnie Gordon School in Toronto. Having learned the secrets to success, she worked to sharpen her skills, developing not only proficiency but also recipes for scrumptious interpretations, including lemon meringue, hazelnut with bittersweet chocolate ganache, and vanilla with pumpkin cheesecake.
Walley’s desire to bring her macarons to the masses landed her in cahoots with Zilly Rosen of the very successful Zillycakes. While Zillycakes’ bread and butter is fantastical custom cake design, the Elmwood location’s make-your-own cupcake bar brings in quite a bit of foot traffic. Rosen knew the value of Walley’s efforts, and encouraged her to pursue full-tilt production by giving Walley space to work in the Zillycakes kitchen provided she sell her excellent macarons through the bakery’s storefront. “People have been clamoring for them,” said Rosen. Rather than mail order them as some bakeries are wont to do, Rosen’s partnership with Walley allows her the ability to “assure quality and freshness” to her clientele.
Walley plans to spend the next few years developing more macaron flavors and hopes to expand her repertoire to include other French sweets such as canelés, madeleines, and financiers. With a tragic deficit of French bakeries in the area, Walley is sure to find an enthusiastic audience for her work.
In the meantime, macaron munching is required. If you haven’t sampled one of these amazing edible works of art for yourself, you don’t know what you’re missing. Available in number for special orders, or at Zillycakes by the piece, it appears Buffalo can finally boast of its own marvelous macarons.