Crazy for coookies: The French macaron possesses unlimited possibilities for colors, fillings and flavorings
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The details of their "first time" stories may vary, but the end results are the same. Once foodies across the nation have their first bite of the partly flaky, partly chewy French macaron, they are hooked.
Most first time macaron-tasters initially confuse the Parisian almond-based sandwich cookie for its American counterpart, the macaroon, which is a coconut-flake mound cookie whipped with egg whites and sugar.
But upon one bite, the differences between the two cookies is clear.
Possessing unlimited possibilities for cookie colors, fillings and flavorings, the macaron is quickly becoming the "it" dessert, with macaron shops giving popular cupcake shops competition in New York and Los Angeles.
Food bloggers are particularly enchanted with the trend because the rumored temperamental nature of the macaron cookie makes them want to take on the challenge.
Barbara Schieving, a South Jordan blogger who chronicles her baking experiences on www.barbarabakes.com, said she decided to try making macarons after her friends on Twitter talked about the difficulties of baking the cookie.
"I think that a lot of the excitement (over macarons) is built up between bloggers saying they'd never tried one and then giving techniques on how to make them," Schieving said. "It's nice to have someone who has cooked them before because they can be a little finicky."
Inviting fellow baking enthusiasts to her home to experiment with macarons, Schieving is now well-versed on macaron baking tips: Beat egg whites until peaks stand up straight, and use two baking sheets to avoid hollow cookie shells.
Schieving said she has been trying to perfect the cookie, experimenting with flavors like cinnamon roll and dark chocolate.
She also joined an online group specifically dedicated to macarons that issues "Mac Attack" baking challenges to food bloggers, found at mactweets.blogspot.com.
Despite whipping up so many macarons, Schieving said she hasn't been able to share the treats with friends — her family of five usually gobbles them down before they make it out the door.
Maria Lichty, of popular Utah food blog www.twopeasandtheirpod.com, said she, too, became obsessed with macarons after tasting them at Miette pastry shop in San Francisco.
Lichty's baking buddy husband is allergic to nuts and still has never tasted a macaron, yet he, too, was allured by the challenge.
After their first tastes of macarons, the pair made batch after batch of the French cookie, even making their own powdered sugar and calling Miette bakery for their insider tips, and making them for their own wedding reception.
Why go to so much effort for one little treat?
"I think they're tasty and fun to eat, and small and cute," Lichty said. "I like how a lot of bakeries package them and how they're really colorful."
Currently, Les Madeleines cafe in Salt Lake City is one of the few Utah bakeries to sell macarons.
Romina Rasmussen, the French Culinary Institute graduate and head pastry chef at Les Madeleines, concocts three original macaron varieties weekly, basing combinations on her popular cupcake flavors like coconut with passion fruit filling.
The first Utah bakery to offer cupcakes, Les Madeleines has been offering macarons for more than two years, originally calling them "buttons" to avoid confusion with America's coconut macaroons.
These days, with macaron recipes popping up on Martha Stewart and in magazines, Rasmussen's customers are more familiar with French macarons.
Rasmussen said that macarons are a "finesse item" that require practice and high-quality ingredients to perfect, but still thinks the trend will eventually catch on throughout Utah in the way that cupcakes have.
She accounts the appeal of macarons to the fun presentation, variety of flavors, and the fact that they are a gluten-free option for the rising number of people affected by Celiac disease.
They provide rich, satisfying flavor in a small package, she said.
And unlike "homey and nostalgic" cupcakes, macarons offer a dose of sophistication.
"They're simple and elegant — and definitely more chic," she said.
Where to find macarons
Though Utah is still catching up to New York City and Los Angeles on the trend, here are a few spots across the state that offer these delicate cookies:
Les Madeleines: 216 E. 500 South, Salt Lake City
Gourmandise: 250 S. 300 East, Salt Lake City
Elaine's Bakery: 1750 S. State, Orem
Forage: 370 E. 900 South, Salt Lake City (with petit four dessert)
The Grand America Hotel: 555 S. Main, Salt Lake City (with afternoon tea)