Macaron mania: a pastry chef's challenge
BY LISA SHAMES Oct 4, 2010
Macarons flavors and colors vary from week to week at Fritz Pastry, 1408 W. Diversey.
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 StarChefs.com, 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:
93. Root Beer
91. Peanut Butter & Jelly
90. Lemon Poppyseed
87. Black Forest
86. Intelligentsia Masala Chai
83. Red Velvet
81. Peanut Butter-Honey
79. King Crimson
78. Peanut Butter-Stuffed Pretzel
73. Guinness Chocolate
70. Salted Caramel
68. Intelligentsia Organic Emerald Spring Green Tea
67. Root Beer Float
65. Harp & Guinness
64. Irish Coffee
63. The Liz Lemon
58. Macadamia Praline
57. Toasted Almond with Honey
56. Chocolate-Drizzled Peanut Butter
53. "Sweet Tarts"
52. Watermelon "Nerds"
51. Sour Cherry "Nerds"
49. Canadian Blueberry
48. Salted Peanut-Caramel
47. Intelligentsia Jasmine Peach Tea
46. Chocolate-Covered Strawberry
42. Montmorency Cherry with Seedling Fruit Cherries
41. Intelligentsia Raspberry Green Tea
38. Espresso Bean and Americano
37. Caramel Latte
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)
24. Mint leaf-Chocolate
23. Honeyed Walnut
22. The Graveyard
21. The Gaztro-Wagon (Oatmeal Cream Pie)