Now that St. Patrick's Day is behind us, it's time to focus on another fun, indulgent holiday - National Macaron Day!
From the time I took my first bite of a macaron from Vanille Patisserie at the Chicago French Market a few years ago, I've been totally hooked on the scrumptious meringue cookie sandwiches. These days, I can never pass up buying - and enjoying - a macaron.
Lucky for me, more and more macaron purveyors are hitting the Chicago scene on a regular basis, giving us all of us even more reason to celebrate National Macaron Day on Wednesday, March 20.
What Exactly are Macarons? Are They Different Than Macaroons?
For anyone wondering exactly what is a macaron, let's dig into the details.
Macarons are often confused with macaroons. But, they're very different. Macarons are small, colorful meringue sandwiches commonly filled with ganache, buttercream or jam. The cookies were invented by Maison Ladurée, the famous French patisserie, more than 150 years ago. And, to this day, it's one of the most popular places to buy macarons in Paris, with stores on the Champs-Élysées and in the shopping mall that lies beneath the Musee du Louvre. You can't miss the distinctive mint-colored shopping bags swung with carefree joy by very happy people all around the city.
Macaroons, the cookies with the extra "o," hail from Italy. They are also made with egg whites, sugar and ground almonds, but their primary ingredient is coconut. Macaroons have their own day to shine on May 31.
Help Chicago Stand Out as the Macaron Capitol of the Midwest
These days you can, of course, find macarons at French bakeries and patisseries. But, here in Chicago, you also can find them at Polish and Belgian bakeries and French-Vietnamese and Japanese restaurants - to name a few. And, that's just sheer happiness to me - the ability to enjoy my favorite dessert in different globally inspired flavors.
But, despite the continuing rise in popularity of the macaron, to my knowledge, National Macaron Day isn't celebrated in a more official capacity here in Chicago like it's done in other major metropolises like Paris, Toronto or New York. In those cities, several bakeries have stepped forward to offer complimentary macarons to people who purchase the cookies at bakeries that dot their the urban streets on National Macaron Day (or Jour du Macaron).
As the "second city," we're used to working hard to achieve our due recognition. So, that is why, I am calling upon my fellow macaron-lovers in Chicago to come out in full force and help show the world that Chicago is indeed the macaron capitol of the midwest - and always rises to the occasion for any celebration.
Please join me in hitting the streets on Wednesday to sample macarons from many of the wonderful bakeries and restaurants in Chicago. I put out the call to action in a recent My French Life column - and I'm glad to be able to do it here too.
Not sure where to go to purchase macarons? Or, are you interested in using the "holiday" as an excuse to sample macarons from other places? Then, check out the below list of some of my favorites places to buy macarons in Chicago.
Great Places to Sample Some of the best French Macarons in Chicago
Alliance Bakery & Cafe / 1756 W. Division Street
Alliance Bakery in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood is a hipster bakery in an old-school setting. It offers a selection of macarons in unique flavors like pumpkin spice, balsamic fig, coconut lime, and salted caramel. Check the chalkboard menu on top of the display case for the full flavor list. And, if you're a true macaron lover, you have to check out their macaron towers. They breathtakingly beautiful and delicious - and they make the best birthday presents. Trust me. I speak from experience.
Ba Le / 5014 N. Broadway Street
The banh-mi sandwiches are usually what attracts the biggest crowd at Ba Le in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood. But, on a recent weekend day, the macaron display case was mobbed with hungry dessert fans. We rushed to get our own hands on macarons in flavors like boysenberry, raspberry, coffee and pistachio - and we're so glad we did. Talk about the perfect way to top off a great meal!
Bittersweet / 1114 W. Belmont Avenue
I've always known that Bittersweet makes great cakes. So I wasn't surprised that it offers delicious macarons too. Recent flavor choices included chocolate, strawberry rhubarb, blueberry, and salted caramel. Be sure to ask for available flavors. On my last visit, there were only two kinds on display, but another four were stored out of sight.
Delightful Pastries/ 1710 N. Wells Street and 131 N. Clinton St.
I got an inside look at the amazing pastries made at Delightful Pastries just before Paczki Day. In addition to making absolutely amazing paczki, Dobra Bielinski and her team also make a wonderful selection of brightly colored macarons. You can sample macarons in flavors like pistachio, raspberry, passion fruit, marzipan, chocolate and caramel. On a recent stop at their Chicago French Market location, I spied their boozy macaroons, which are coconut meringues topped with vodka buttercream and dipped in chocolate. Another must-try macaron!
Hendrickx Belgian Bakery / 100 E. Walton Street
My friend, Yelena, recently reminded me that Hendrickx Belgian Bakery makes amazing macarons - and she's so right. The small Gold Coast bakery, hidden away just out of sight near the start of the "Mag Mile," should be a part of any Michigan Avenue shopping "hit" list. They offer big-sized macarons that will win you over in no time. Be sure to also try one of their amazing breads and croissants when you stop in there. I've got my eye on their Esmeralda, a pistachio croissant.
La Boulangerie / 915 W. Belmont Avenue
La Boulangerie has been serving up fresh-baked baguettes, croissants and French pastries in Logan Square since 2010, and it recently opened a second Chicago location in Lakeview - just east of the Belmont "L" station. The bakery offers a wonderful selection of macarons in flavors like pink peppercorn, lemon poppyseed, mango, pistachio, caramel and chocolate - which makes it hard to just choose one!
La Fournette / 1547 N. Wells Street
La Fournette opened its doors in Old Town last summer - and they've been serving up fresh, authentic French breads and pastries ever since. Whenever I grab a fresh baguette, I order a few macarons too. They always have a big selection of enticing flavors like chocolate, pistachio, coffee, raspberry-chocolate and hazelnut.
Slurping Turtle / 116 W. Hubbard St.
Slurping Turtle is a Japanese restaurant - and not a place you'd typically associate with macarons. But you should. Its dessert menu includes some of the best and biggest macarons I've ever had. You can sample unique flavors like raspberry wasabi, yuzu, chocolate-sesame and caramel soy.
Vanille Patisserie / Chicago French Market, 131 N. Clinton St.
I can never go to the Chicago French Market without stopping at the counter of Vanille Patisserie - which just happened again this past weekend. The patisserie offers a large rotating list of flavors including PB&J, honey almond, green tea, coffee, caramel and turtle.
Thanks for everyone helping to celebrate National Macaron Day in the Windy City. I hope to see you at one of these places - with a macaron (or more) in hand!
Will you join me in sampling macarons on National Macaron Day? Where is your favorite place in Chicago to buy and enjoy macarons? Please share your suggestions in the comments below.
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