Before this year I had never tried a French Macaron. While I had read about how they are the “new cupcake” and I watched shows featuring them on Food Network, I was always skeptical of the hype. But, in March I found out that they are amazing and that’s all thanks to Sarah Walley who has single handedly brought French Macarons to Western New York. Since making the first trip to Zillycakes (currently the only shop you can find Sarah’s Macarons) to pick up several of her macarons over 6 months ago, I still can’t get them out of my head and find myself going back for more frequently. From the amazing texture to the creative flavoring, it’s one of the best little treats you may ever have.
We got a hold of Sarah and asked her about where she likes to eat in Buffalo, why she started baking French Macarons and if she will ever start her own shop. Here’s what she had to say…..
Right now, where do you like to eat in Buffalo?
Sarah: So many places! If I had to narrow it down, my husband and I are avid fans of Bistro Europa. I specifically love the lobster PLT (pancetta, lettuce & tomato), but I can’t imagine there’s anything the Gedras could make that I wouldn’t love.
We also visit Romeo & Juliet’s on Sheridan Drive quite frequently. You can’t beat one of their thin crust pizzas and a glass of red wine after a long day. I love the cozy, intimate atmosphere there. Other things that make me go “mmmm”: corn & zucchini fritters at Soho Burger Bar, the cookie cup at Hutch’s, Lloyd’s pork tacos, the miso dressing at Sue’s Deli, T-Meadow pork chops at Carmello’s, bibimbap at Arirang, and fiery Thai udon at Papaya.
Where do you like to grab a drink with friends and just relax?
Sarah: If I can get my baking done by kickoff, I love to spend a Sunday at Buffalo Brew Pub. They have Old Speckled Hen on draft, which I can only find there and at Sterling Tavern. Bingo’s Dim Sum is also a weekend favorite for us. We can just sit back and chat over tea and dumplings. Bingo’s has really inspired me to step out of my comfort zone with food. I had tripe there for the first time and loved it. I don’t think I would have been willing to try the sweetbreads on my vacation last week if I hadn’t had a good offal experience with Bingo’s.
If you had a friend visiting from out of town, Where would you take them for a good “Buffalo” time?
Sarah: It depends on who’s visiting! We love hockey (Go Sabres!), and the games are a fun way to show off our city’s pride. As clichéd as it may be, the falls are always a “wow” for out-of-towners, and on the way back, Dick & Jenny’s on Grand Island has a really nice tasting menu plus a great local wine list. For dinner, Mulberry in Lackawanna tends to be one of our go-to choices, but we also love to take people to Papa Jake’s for fish fry if they’ve never had one.
What are some food memories you have from your childhood?
Sarah: My mom had an international job when I was a kid, so she would always bring us home really fun foods from her travels abroad. I used to love the strooopwafels from Holland, with the crispy cookies on the outside and the gooey caramel filling.
The first time she took me to NYC, I was seven years old. We stayed at the Helmsley Palace hotel and had fresh croissants and raspberries for breakfast. I remember ordering shrimp and scallops for dinner on that trip, and being stunned at how large they were. The chicken salad we had for lunch was not the diced chicken and mayonnaise concoction I was accustomed to, but a romaine salad with chicken and goat cheese. Mind you, I’m from Horseheads, so this was a big eye-opener. I realized there was a whole world of food I didn’t know existed, and I still can’t decide if it was the best thing that ever happened to me, or if it ruined me forever.
What do you wish Buffalo had more of, food wise?
Sarah: The first thing that comes to mind is Ethiopian. I love the huge platters spread with injera and little piles of delicious curries and stews; it’s all about the great variety of flavors one can create with ingredients as simple as cabbage and lentils.
Second runner up: Venezuelan. Cachapas, patacones, fresh passion fruit juice, and the darkest, strongest coffee I’ve ever had. It takes practically a full cup of heavy cream to lighten the stuff. Every time we go to Orlando, there’s a tiny Venezuelan restaurant in a strip mall where we load up on it. I would be in heaven to have that for brunch on Sundays. (No thinner, mind you, but happy.)
How did you get started baking French Macarons?
Sarah: Macarons were all over the wedding magazines I was reading when we were planning our reception, but I couldn’t find them locally, and they’re notoriously fragile. I tried making them at home, and while I could get some decent results, I failed often. I love a challenge, and this was the first time in my life I had tried to make something in the kitchen that I couldn’t eventually master with practice, so I found classes in Toronto. Even after that, my first hundred batches or so were still a work in progress. Some were hollow or not perfectly round, some were too chewy. It took a lot of trial and error. I’m happy with the way they’re turning out now, but I’m always inspired to keep improving. I had some macarons from Pierre Hermé this past week that rocked my world.
Do you have any interest in starting your own shop?
Sarah: I find that as soon as you start a food-related business, everyone wants to know when you’ll launch a brick & mortar establishment of your own. I’ve seen a lot of people rush into it without the knowledge that comes from experience, and that’s what Zillycakes is giving me. I’m learning so much about things like sourcing quality ingredients on a commercial scale and working with county and state licensing codes. The day will come when that’s the next logical step, but my current situation is where I belong at this moment.
We’d like to thank Sarah for taking time out of her busy baking schedule to answer some of our questions. If you haven’t tried one of her delicious French Macarons you are truly missing out. Sarah will be releasing her Autumn flavors this week, which means you’ll see Cinnamon Raisin, Quince, Chestnut and Scotch and German Chocolate for sale along with the regulars (Salted Caramel and Vanilla Bean).
On top of baking Macarons, Sarah also designs dessert tables for special occasions and you can see some of her work on her facebook page here. You can also follow Sarah on twitter or check out her website/blog for more updates.