It’s not just the cascade of brightly coloured macarons hanging upon delicate white branches that welcome you as you enter Mademoiselle Macaron’s patisserie and café. The wonderful French dressmaker-in-residence, Caroline (aka La Robe à Caro), and the fabulous Mademoiselle Macaron herself, Rachel Hanretty, bring Paris to life in this chic little café in the heart of Edinburgh. You may be familiar with Rachel’s delicious macarons – she sells them at the markets around Edinburgh. If you haven’t tried them yet you really should. I promise you won't be disappointed.
Rachel opened Mademoiselle Macaron earlier this year in order to bring a little bit of Paris to Edinburgh, not only providing the most mouth-watering delicacies for her customers, but also teaching the art of making macarons to the masses!
Having been booked in for a mega macaron-making class myself (thanks to my lovely work colleagues) I decided I would go an hour early to sample the delights and take in the surrounds. I am very glad I did. I was greeted by a beaming Caroline who showed me to a fuchsia chaise-lounge, telling me to sit and relax whilst waiting for my order. Mademoiselle Rachel also popped her sunny face through the door that leads to the classroom and kitchen space, a fresh dusting of icing on her nose, to say hello. It’s this level of personal attention and interest in her customers that defines Rachel’s business. Excellent customer service is her drive.
Being here to make my own macarons (Oo la la!) I had to try a couple. I opted for the salted caramel and seasonal gingerbread... heaven. The salted caramel is the best-seller, and I can see why. The balance of salt and caramel is just perfect. All the macarons are delicate, light, with a crisp thin shell over mallowy goodness that sinks into the smooth creamy filling! None of these mini burger-style things you could throw off a window and they wouldn’t break. No thank you. This is the real McCoy. I was so impressed I ordered a coffee and two more macarons. This was my first taste of Steam-Punk coffee, about which I had heard only good things. It was so smooth and delicious I didn’t need to add any sugar – a sign of good coffee if ever I saw one. There’s no rush in slamming out the coffees here – as much time and care are taken over them as the customers.
Mademoiselle Macaron offers us a little slice of Parisian bliss amongst the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh. Surrounded by ornate gold-gilded frames, rich Opera-red walls and Le tour Eiffel à la Macaron, I could have sworn I was back in Paris (Oh to be 21 again!)
Rachel is honouring The Auld Alliance as she sees it – she hails from Glasgow but feels that she belongs as much in Edinburgh and in Paris - they are both home to her.
As the other attendees for the night’s class started to arrive I came to discover that everyone but myself had tried to make macarons before – and with little success. Oh dear. Perhaps I was going to muck this up. Our common ground? We all loved baking (and eating!) And we were all here to learn new skills, with like-minded people.
Rachel had carefully and precisely prepared and measured all the ingredients we would need, and set up all our utensils. Phew. All we would need to worry about was watching, learning and doing. That we did. Rachel is a masterful teacher – she makes it look easy. She effortlessly beats egg whites into submission. Total submission. Tipping them upside down and shaking them vigorously over a fellow classmate’s head would not tempt them to leave that bowl. She demonstrates the cooking method with such humour and panache it’s impossible not to take it all in. She frequently stops to make sure we’re all nodding along in understanding, and threads her cookery teachings with amusing anecdotes from her life, and particularly her time in Paris. The real-deal Mademoiselle right here. Amongst all the giggling I realised I knew exactly how to whip those eggs to the right stiffness, how to mix in the powdered food colouring (tap-tap-tap) and how to get those ground almonds and sugar incorporated (just) before using my painterly strokes to tease my egg mix into perfect macaron consistency. Et voilà!
Rachel is a woman with a vision as she pipes oodles of macaron shells with a perfect and concise symmetry, and all in less than a minute! Can it be so? Indeed. Once you get the knack of squeezing the piping back with the right hand and steadying and pressing gently down with the left, a sort of rhythm overtakes you and before you know it you have a tray of neat little rows of glistening daubs. These are heartily slammed atop the counter before being nursed in the oven for 6 minutes, turned, then given 6 minutes more. Cooking over 100 macarons (a class of 6) at 12 minutes per tray allows for some chill out time in the café, pot of tea and cake included. This lovely moment let us all discuss what we found challenging, what we were doing differently (for those who had attempted the macaron before) and best of all, chat to Rachel about her wonderful macarons!
We baked Rose, Chocolate, Orange, Vanilla and Pistachio flavours, and got all the recipes to take home to boot. Well worth the money I can tell you. Rachel kept just a few secrets close to her chest – how to flavour the Lavender macarons, and the Earl Grey and Salted Caramel too. We wouldn’t want to spoil the magic!
All who tried the macarons were mightily impressed. There’s something about a truly perfect macaron that demands a sort of quiet contemplation, after the initial shock of ‘oh-so-good!’ subsides. The way the Rose takes a moment to melt and then… the flavour blooms in intensity across your tongue as the ganache dissolves. The first bite into the Orange instantly smacks you with a pleasant tang that squeezes your cheeks just as it mellows, and turns into pure fresh fruit. And the Salted Caramel…
I strongly urge you to pop along and sample the treats! If only to indulge in one or two macarons with a cuppa and take in the stunning view of the castle. Even the view out to the theatre is worth a look – with its ornate, white-washed stone walls you could be sat in the centre of Paris itself.
Some things to look forward to!
The New Year will see some exciting new developments at Mademoiselle Macaron. Rachel will be adding a Champagne bar to her café which will cater for (sophisticated) hen parties and glam lunches and she is also in the process of setting up a new online shop which will be up and running in the spring. There may well be a second premises in the not too distant future too...
At the age of 25, it's incredible to see Rachel juggling the café, macaron classes, catering for weddings, selling at markets and keeping on top of all the new developments - all with the focus and poise of an expert. And that’s not including the two novels she aims to have published by the time she’s 30!
Rachel, I think, may well be the woman who gets to have her cake and eat it.