I didn't like macaroons until I met Danielle Chong. She's the founder of Macarune, a one-woman baking operation, and macaroons are the specialty of the house.
A co-worker introduced me to Macarune's light as air creations, and even through the deadened fog of a headcold, I could taste the freshness of the buttercream and feel the juxtaposition of textures -- crisp, then soft and chewy -- on my tongue. I was intrigued. So I called Danielle up, and we met for coffee to talk about her budding bakery.
"I've always baked," explained the petite Malaysian. "I used to pore over mom's cookbooks. A lot of friends back home know me for my cheesecake with peaches on top."
When her boyfriend bought her a KitchenAid mixer two years ago, she started baking in earnest, gifting the sugary excesses to friends. Macaroons were a particular challenge.
"They're a pain in the butt to make," she says with a rueful smile. "I've thrown trays and trays away. I failed the first time and I failed the second time and it worked the third time. But I've failed many times after."
Danielle bakes her macaroons in a variety of flavors. My favorite is rose, which is made with rose water; each one is distinctly and intoxicatingly floral. There is also pistachio, vanilla bean, coffee, hibiscus, coconut, hazelnut, caramel fleur de sel, lychee, lavender, raspberry, black sesame, green tea -- and many, many more. She's currently playing around with cardamom, orange blossom, and elderflower. "Traveling has opened my eyes to a lot of different flavors," she says.
Danielle makes her macaroons in the French style, meaning that the buttercream sandwiched in the middle is made by pouring sugar syrup over egg yolks and whipping it to peaks. She prefers this method for most of the flavors because of the velvety texture it imparts. For the honey buttercream in her lavender macaroons, however, she switches to the Italian method, which uses egg whites in place of yolks.
The provenance of her ingredients varies. "I am pro-local," she admits. "I go to the Ferry Plaza farmer's market almost every week." But some things are better abroad, and she prefers Valhrona chocolate and culinary lavender imported from France.
She is equally fastidious about how she presents her dainty cookies. Strawberry macaroons come in a green plastic pint basket, just as they would at the market, and each order is festooned with a polka dotted ribbon.
Right now, Danielle bakes only to order -- one reason her macaroons are so unbeatably fresh tasting. (In comparison, the macaroons sold at everyone's favorite boulangerie look and taste like limp imitations.) In addition to macaroons, Macarune also offers custom cupcakes -- my favorite is the intensely fudgey chocolate soufflé -- as well as celebration cakes, shortbread and cookies.
Orders: $26 for 16 (1 flavor) or $42 for 32 (2 flavors). 72 hours notice required, not including weekends. Pick-up is in North Beach. For more information or to place an order, contact firstname.lastname@example.org