Macarons, the traditionally French sandwich cookies, have been making their way across the nation recently, quickly becoming the next big thing in baking. Not to be confused with their coconut filled cousins spelled with an extra “o”, the macaroon, the classic French macaron is one the more temperamental yet marvelous creations to fly across the pond and land in the United States. The basic building blocks of a macaron are rather simple, egg whites, powdered sugar, and almond flour. However, a properly prepared macaron can be a rather elusive venture for many skilled bakers. Marcaron measurements require exactness, they require even heating of both sides while baking, and properly combining beaten egg whites with almond flour and sugar can be a particularly tricky process as over-beaten batter commonly results in cracked, flattened, pitiful-looking macarons. Exceptional macarons have a smooth meringue texture, light and airy, with a thin, delicate, slightly crispy exterior. Two macaron cookie halves are usually filled with a variety of creams, jams, caramels, or chocolates. Modern bakeries are incorporating a myriad of enticing, often exotic flavors such as rosewater, lavender, champagne, fig, blood orange, blackcurrant, or pistachio.
Biting into a macaron, one breaks through the delicate outer shell and the cookie almost deflates in your mouth…as if the gentle delicacy has given up its last dying breath for your consumptive pleasure. The cookie is light and airy but with a slightly chewy texture. Then your mouth is flooded with the bright, fragrant, even floral flavors of the smooth creamy filling working its way through every corner of your tongue. Forget all thoughts of self-restraint or pastry propriety. If you have the willpower to not eat an entire batch of macarons at one sitting, you are a stronger soul than I.
Where can one acquire these little beauties in central Arkansas?
One option comes from the Hot Springs baking duo of Mary Jo Selig and Clare Thomas Williams, owners of MaryClare Macarons. These girls operate a pre-order operation in which you choose your macarons and they will ship them to you in a beautifully packaged box. Boxes come in sizes of 6, 12, or 24 and they also offer special bulk packages for parties or showers. Just drop them a line via email or just call them to place your order, they’ve got all their contact info on their website. You can also pick up both individual macarons or a packaged set at Hillcrest Artisan Meats on Kavanaugh. They offer flavors such as dulce de leche, sea salt caramel, amaretto, raspberry, orange, lime, lemon. I promise you this, if you’re not already a believer in macarons, MaryClare will have you singing their praises with your first bite.
The talented Kelli Marks of Sweet Love Bakery, which I’ve found to be one of the most diverse bakeshops in Little Rock, is selling them as well. Sweet Love offers them at various times (I’d recommend following them on Twitter or Facebook to keep current on the day’s menu), but the best way to get your hands on their macarons is to simply call and place an order. Kelli has a brilliant mind when it comes to developing enticing, ingenious flavor combinations. For example, you’ll find pink champagne with raspberry buttercream, pumpkin spice with maple filling, chocolate hazelnut with Nutella, lavender and honey, butter rum with biscoff spread, and blueberry with lemon cream. Sweet Love’s macarons are always bright and vibrantly colored, guaranteed to be gobbled up quickly if brought to any sort of social gathering.
Recently, I’ve found macarons at Rosalia’s, the Latin American bakery that happens to sell a good number of non-Latin American items. When I stopped in I found the French macarons on a side table in a small package, away from the glowing main display case…easily overlooked had I not been hunting for them specifically. But they’re there and they are delicious. Despite the fact that Rosalia’s is one of the most prolific bakeries in town, with a host of infrequently-seen ethnic bakery items, they still manage to produce a macaron meticulously constructed and quite flavorful. Again, if Rosalia’s is your desired macaron maker, it’s best to drop her a line and phone in your order ahead of time.
If you’re familiar with any other bakeries offering up French macarons, please share your knowledge with us in the comments section. Anyone able to produce a respectable macaron deserves a bit of recognition, so if you’ve got a favorite not listed here, we’d love to hear about it.