What do you do when your child wants something very, very special for a special occasion—and it just can't be found anywhere? In some cases, you go to extremes. In the case of Mary Jo Selig and Clare Thomas Williams, you start a company and make your own specialty macarons.
Selig and Williams were trying to find a supplier of macarons for the upcoming wedding of Selig's son and Williams's daughter. They looked everywhere and discovered that not only are macarons just not made in Arkansas... but no one dependably ships them here, either. Macarons they ordered arrived cracked or shattered, and they didn't seem all that bright and pretty.
A little experimentation later, and last November, MaryClare Macarons were born. The ladies discovered that they had a knack for creating the tiny cookies and started selling them—on private order and through The Savory Pantry. Less than a year since their dilemma was solved, they're creating all sorts of macarons and developing a budding business, too.
We visited the macaron ladies behind the scenes just to see what they're all about. Making macarons is a delicate operation, but when it comes out right, it's beautiful.
The process starts with almond flour (did I mention these confections are gluten-free?), sifted to an extraordinary fineness and consistency. The flour is combined with powdered sugar and the flavor base of the macaron itself. For instance, we watched a chocolate macaron batch being made up; Black Onyx cocoa powder was used in the base.
Then the arduous task of beating in the egg whites commences. This can take a long time, and requires a great deal of patience. The whites, along with a touch of cream of tartar, can take a long time to set, especially if it's hot or humid in the kitchen.
Williams told us as she beat the whites, "Moisture is everything. They hate moisture." She demonstrated how when the egg whites are just about ready, they stick to the inside of the bowl and won't fall out. Of course, they've made impressive peaks.
From here, it's time to mix in the almond flour mixture. Too few folds and the macarons are liable to have peaks rather than being perfectly round. Too much folding, and they'll come out squishy and cracked.
From there, it's time to pipe down each cap. The ladies do so with the assistance of a "cheat sheet" with equal sized circles set under a piece of wax paper. I envy how easily they're able to dollop just the right amount onto each place. It's a precise geometric dance they've learned to execute with grace.
Then it's into the oven. Once they're out, half the caps are flipped over and each of the flipped caps is given a small dollop of filling. We watched as a round of Orange Dream macarons were assembled; first the flipping, then the dolloping, then the coordinated assembly.
And that's about it... except for the sheen, a fine lustrous dust that's applied with a delicate brush to each and every macaron before it's packaged in custom flat boxes, which helps eliminate breakage.
The business is growing. Selig and Williams rent out a commercial kitchen to make their delicate wonders, but one day they both believe it'll be nice to be able to open their own permanent shop.
MaryClare Macarons are available in several flavors, including the Orange Dream and Obnoxious Chocolate versions shown here. There's also Lemon Tang, Lime Splash, Raspberry Beret and Dulce de Leche in the normal flavors. We experimented while we were there with Pecan and Chocolate Pepper macarons; several other varieties have been attempted and made for custom orders.
And the wedding? It's still set for the second weekend in October. Selig told us that they've had special macaron displays created just for the wedding—and that there's been enough interest in said holders they may start having them made for sale.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
About the author: Kat Robinson is a writer and storyteller out of Little Rock, AR who writes the Arkansas Times' Eat Arkansas blog and who explores Arkansas and the American South looking for great stories, interesting people and the next great meal -- especially if it involves pie.