Thursday April 8 marked the much anticipated 'macaron-mashup/taste-off/
smackdown in Edmonton at the ARTery - part of the Literary Saloon for that evening. For those that braved the incredibly windy and snowy day that landed unexpectedly in Edmonton, they were treated to a reading by former home-town boy Alan Reed (from his book Isobel & Emile), Lynn Coady's story of her hometown, and most importantly the reason why Dan & I were there - the macarons!
Upon walking in we were greeted with an amazing display of macarons from The Duchess Bakeshop. There were macaron trees - 9 macarons attached to a white chocolate cone, mini macaron cakes with raspberries and a large banana macaron cake.
While Dan was taking pictures, he was approached by Marina Endicott, author of Good to a Fault. She humbly did not introduce herself, but introduced us to everyone else's macarons . So, here they are! Furthest down the table are macarons from Yann's Boutique, next Marina Endicott's macarons, then The Duchess Bakeshop's, and finally closest to the camera, Jennifer Cockrall King's macarons.
At intermission, guests were invited to try out the different macarons. As there were a number of guests, Dan and I strategically selected two different macarons each so we could maximize the variety.
First Taste Test:
Marina's caramel macaron was very good for her first try! The meringue crust itself had pieds and its texture and consistency was in line with Duchess and Yann. Marina stated that hers and Jennifer's macarons were not really for comparison, but having tried making macarons myself, I think their creations were great! Jennifer commented on her macarons stating that she had started making them late, and was somewhat rushed with the macaronage which she explained may have resulted in them being more on the crunchy side. food note: macaronage is the beating of the meringue batter.
The sugar dusting on the strawberry macaron from Yann complemented the white coloured pied that it had, and didn't add as much sweetness to the macaron as one would think. The filling was more of a preserve than the typical ganache or buttercream filling. Dan noted that it gave him the (good) impression of a light strawberry jam.
While I find that Lavender often reminds me of soap, the lavender macaron is surprisingly tasty. I must admit, it does take a bit of getting used to - the idea that you have a soap smell in your dessert. The coconut macaron was dense and had a very strong flavour of (real) coconut and had the Duchess' characteristically chewy-ness.
Once the first round cleared there were still quite a few left to try out, so Dan and I chose a few more macarons from Yann's and Duchess' so we could make a better comparison between Edmonton's and Calgary's bakeshops.
As Marina stated later in the night that both her and Jennifer were "not really contenders". The second taste test included a lemon macaron from Yann's, strawberry and pistachio from The Duchess. Needless to say, Dan and I were definitely macarooned out by the night's end! All macarons were incredibly delicious. The lemon macaron from Yann's while carrying the Yann's shiny meringue surface, seemed to lack that punch of lemon flavour that I recalled of Duchess' lemon macaron (from a previous visit). As for, the strawberry and pistachio macarons - they too were full of natural flavours. With the audience vote of applause, The Duchess won the taste test!
Pictured above are macarons from The Duchess. From closest to furthest away: strawberry, coconut, lavender, pistachio, and dark chocolate.
After the taste test, there was a short Q & A with Garner, owner of The Duchess, led by Marina and Jennifer. One of the questions was how to ensure the formation of the pied (which is crucial for a macaron - since without it some say it cannot be called a macaron!). Garner responded with saying that macaronage is truly unique, "it's so special that it has it's own name". He deflected all the success of the macarons to his wife, saying that she is the expert and added that all he could say, "is that you need to mix the meringue until magma". Later on in the night, I had the chance to personally talk to Garner and was encouraged by the fact that there is no definitive method to make macarons. Garner also suggested a book by Pierre Herme, written in French and possibly no longer in print. So, if anyone has this book or knows where to find it, let me know! Of course, macarons are finicky in the sense that many factors can change depending on the city you live in (i.e. wet, dry), the temperature that day, the oven, and general procedures that can result in the creation of pied or none.
We had planned to go only for the macarons, but in the end we enjoyed listening to some great stories and meeting up with Edmonton's literary community. I am looking forward to the next literary saloon and being wowed by The Duchess on my next visit!
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