Sometimes I fantasise that my husband and I will move to Hobart in Tasmania and open a macaron shop. I’m sure this will never happen. Even if I could get my husband on board with moving to Hobart, the truth is that I have never made a macaron in my life. And while macarons seem to be catching up to cupcakes in popularity, I’m not sure a city the size of Hobart could support a shop exclusively devoted to macarons.
Still, if being an avid eater of macarons qualified me to run a macaron shop, I would be guaranteed success. I don’t eat them often but a really good French-style macaron – as opposed to the English coconut macaroon – is one of my very favourite sweet treats. (Officially the spellings are interchangeable but many food writers make this distinction). And the promise of macarons has lured me out of the house – twins in the double stroller in tow – twice in the past week.
Macarons are undoubtedly delicious. I love the taste and texture – a shell with a soft, yielding crunch and a sweet, creamy filling – and how the flavours can be as simple as vanilla and as exotic as green tea or sesame paste. Yet my enjoyment is at least as much aesthetic as culinary. Whereas you can dress a cupcake up in fancy dress or frivolous frippery, a macaron is never trying to be anything other than a macaron. The appeal lies in the simple shape and pretty colours. A box of macarons looks like a paint set and is especially attractive when dollied up in a fancy box with a ribbon.
The first macaron encounter of the week came thanks to the magic of social media. I caught wind of a Samsung marketing tent at Circular Quay in Sydney that was giving away free macarons from the feted Sydney patissier Adriano Zumbo. I heard about this from Roulla, a journalist friend, on Twitter, then another journo friend, Angus, confirmed that it was open to the public. As I live in the city, it was easy enough for me to pop down with the babies. The macarons were blue and flavoured gingerbread and honeycomb – to promote a Samsung Android phone (an iPhone competitor) with the Gingerbread operating system and a Samsung tablet computer (an iPad competitor) with the Honeycomb operating system. In return for partaking in a product demonstration of one of the two devices, you were given a ticket for a macaron. There were comfy lounges spaced throughout the tent and a coffee station with a barista serving free cups of espresso coffee down one end.
The Vodafone salesman enthused about the quality of the camera on the tablet on the basis that it had 8 megapixels. However, I was disappointed with the results when I used it to take a picture of the macarons. Firstly, the device crashed and needed to be switched on and off again. Secondly, the photo quality wasn’t that great. Sure, the light was tricky but my point-and-shoot Canon did a much better job. Check it out for yourself below – the photo above is from my camera and so is the one below left. The photo from the Samsung device (emailed to me over Vodafone’s 3G network) is below right. As most keen photographers would know, megapixels don’t actually indicate the quality of a camera anyway – it’s all about the lens. I believe the tablet took a decent picture in daylight but it seemed that it couldn’t handle low light or close-ups particularly well.
On the other hand, the macarons were very good indeed. As they should be… Adriano Zumbo has quite the brand name in Sydney these days. I’ve visited his patisserie in Balmain a few times but I had never previously noticed that he sold macarons, as the shop is usually quite crowded with customers and the display case is crammed with all sorts of elaborate confections. But apparently macarons is one of his specialties. Lorraine of the Not Quite Nigella food blog has attended an Adriano Zumbo masterclass in macaron baking, but the website currently lists baking classes as coming soon rather than available now.
Baroque and MCA cafe
Later in the week my friend Jessica who blogs at FushMush invited me to join her for macarons at Bistro Baroque in The Rocks in her lunch break. We didn’t end up having lunch at the bistro because it was very expensive, so we went for a meal at the Museum of Contemporary Art instead. I had a salad with duck, vegetables, noodles and Asian spicing – delicious!
Baroque had a range of macaron flavours and colours. The passionfruit flavour was bold and delicious, and possibly my favourite of the lot. My perennial favourite of cassis (blackcurrant) was also very good. I also tried the chocolate and coconut, which reminded me of a lamington, and the rosewater, which was just like Turkish Delight. Then there was their trademark salted caramel, which was fine – but I’ve been there and done that with San Francisco ice cream flavours so it was not quite such a novelty for me.
I haven’t sampled all the Adriano Zumbo flavours, but the Baroque macarons certainly stacked up with the world’s best. When I lived in London I frequented several shops specialising in high-end macarons, including the popular French patisserie Ladurée and my personal favourite, Yauatcha, which had a slightly oriental twist to its flavours. Baroque also offers masterclasses in macaron baking – again reviewed on the Not Quite Nigella blog – and I’m sure they’re fabulous but the price, at $220, is a bit steep for enthusiastic amateurs like me. Maybe if I decided to get serious about this macaron shop, but I should probably try making them on my own first!