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Macaron mania: a pastry chef's challenge

Macarons flavors — colors — vary from week week Fritz Pastry 1408 W. Diversey.<br>

Macarons flavors — and colors — vary from week to week at Fritz Pastry, 1408 W. Diversey.

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Updated: November 19, 2010 5:10PM

By this time of year, most New Year's resolutions are long forgotten. Not so for Nathaniel Meads, who, some nine months later, is nearing the end of his. To wit: to create 100 new flavors of macarons.

Meads had a head start. As partner/baker of Fritz Pastry, 1408 W. Diversey, this wasn't some start-from-scratch endeavor.

The project started out simple enough. It was around the first of the year that Meads' wife and partner Elaine Heaney (she handles the business side of things at Fritz), recalls seeing a tweet from, an online culinary resource, asking about their followers' food resolutions for 2010.

"I read it aloud and the first thing Nate said was to be on ‘The Best Thing I Ever Ate' show," says Heaney.

Since the couple couldn't control that, she asked him what would be his second choice. Meads said to create 100 macarons he hadn't done before. Heaney made it official with a tweet. Or, as Mead half-jokingly says, "That's how we got into this mess."

The couple decided they needed to do at least two new macaron flavors a week, in addition to the standards they always stock (chocolate, vanilla, pistachio and orange).

For the most part they've kept to it - minus some time off in April for the birth of their son, George, and schedule changes to fit in the additional workload of supplying pastries to Intelligentsia coffee bars and Gaztro-Wagon (look for custom Fritz Pastry offerings at the soon-to-open Grahamwich, too).

Meads' love affair for the French sandwich-style cookie developed during his time in the kitchens of Brasserie Jo, Everest and Tru. It was at Blue Water Grill as executive pastry chef where Meads perfected his macaron-making technique. Letting the cookie batter - a mix of almond flour, confectioners' sugar, egg whites and sugar - rest is crucial, so it develops a shell and that sought-after crisp texture, he says.

Besides adhering to Meads' preference for classic European desserts - "It feels good knowing that the things you are doing have a great deal of history to them," he says - macarons have another appeal.

"I like them because they don't really taste like anything without any flavors added to them," he says. "They are a total blank canvas."

That's something he's taken full advantage of, having created flavors ranging from the more traditional (rose, passion fruit and lavender), to the more out there ones, including root beer float, peanut butter-stuffed pretzel and Guinness chocolate.

He's used Intelligentsia teas and coffees as a flavoring agent. Being an "American kid" also has left its mark - Meads has done a number of candy-inspired macarons (think Watermelon Nerds, Twix, Red Hots), some incorporating the actual candy.

To get the ball rolling and create some buzz, the couple got their customers involved, first by using a suggestion box for flavor ideas - "We had hundreds of requests . . . It was insane," says Heaney - followed by tweets of each new flavor as it hits the cozy pastry shop's shelves.

The combination has worked, with the 100-cookie batches often selling out. The macarons are 75 cents each.

"We tend to sell them a lot quicker than people can get in to get them," says Meads.

It also created some macaron groupies. Marketing coordinator Elisa Leon was already a fan of Fritz's doughnuts when she tried her very first macaron. Now, says the Albany Park resident, she's become "a little obsessed" with trying each flavor, having had all but five so far.

"I love the concept of rotating flavors," she says. "It's become a game for me now."

Joseph Kosowski, a computer tech/music teacher, also has had almost all of the flavors. Living less than a mile from the bakery makes getting his macaron fix a bit easier.

For Kosowski, it was the shop's chocolate croissants that initially made him a fan. Now, he also picks up a macaron or two.

"Every time Nate has a new one, I get it," he says. "They're small enough and cheap enough so you can try them all."

When it comes to their personal favorites, Meads and Heaney are divided. She leans towards the Lemon Poppyseed, while he cites the PB+J+J+J, a peanut butter cookie with three types of jelly for the filling that was inspired by his friends, the local synth-pop band, J+J+J.

For the 100th macaron, expected during the last week of December, the couple agrees that a champagne-flavored one would be the perfect choice.

Lisa Shames is associate editor at Where Chicago magazine.

Here are the flavors Nathaniel Meads has checked off his 100-macaron list:

100. Grape

99. Banana-Hazelnut

98. Peppermint

97. Orange-Chocolate

96. Lavender

95. Cinnamon

94. Pineapple

93. Root Beer

92. S'Mores

91. Peanut Butter & Jelly

90. Lemon Poppyseed

89. Raspberry-Chocolate

88. Grapefruit

87. Black Forest

86. Intelligentsia Masala Chai

85. Dreamsicle

84. Ginger

83. Red Velvet

82. Rose

81. Peanut Butter-Honey

80. Passionfruit

79. King Crimson

78. Peanut Butter-Stuffed Pretzel

77. Banana-Cinnamon

76. Honey-Chocolate

75. Passionfruit-Chocolate

74. Mint

73. Guinness Chocolate

72. Honey

71. "Snickers"

70. Salted Caramel

69. Espresso

68. Intelligentsia Organic Emerald Spring Green Tea

67. Root Beer Float

66. Nutella

65. Harp & Guinness

64. Irish Coffee

63. The Liz Lemon

62. Banana-Passionfruit

61. Coconut-Macadamia

60. Orange

59. Blueberry

58. Macadamia Praline

57. Toasted Almond with Honey

56. Chocolate-Drizzled Peanut Butter

55. Coconut

54. "Twix"

53. "Sweet Tarts"

52. Watermelon "Nerds"

51. Sour Cherry "Nerds"

50. Snowball

49. Canadian Blueberry

48. Salted Peanut-Caramel

47. Intelligentsia Jasmine Peach Tea

46. Chocolate-Covered Strawberry

45. Blackberry

44. "Whopper"

43. Almond

42. Montmorency Cherry with Seedling Fruit Cherries

41. Intelligentsia Raspberry Green Tea

40. Coconut-Chocolate

39. PB+J+J+J

38. Espresso Bean and Americano

37. Caramel Latte

36. Toffifay

35. Caramel Corn

34. Peaches 'n' Cream

33. "The Elisa" Horchata

32. "Fruit Loops"

31. "Red Hots"

30. Pumpkin Spice Latte

29. Caramel Apple

28. Chocolate Cake

27. Mixed Berry

26. Hum-a-Ron (with local mixologist's Hum liqueur)

25. Banana-Caramel-Hazelnut

24. Mint leaf-Chocolate

23. Honeyed Walnut

22. The Graveyard

21. The Gaztro-Wagon (Oatmeal Cream Pie)

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