It's an old story: On a visit to Paris, Sarah Walley fell in love, and it changed her life.
Except this time the object of her affection was a cookie, an exquisite little French sandwich cookie called the macaron. Not to be confused with chewy coconut cookies, they're delicate wafers with creamy ganache or other filling inside.
Back in Western New York, Walley, a bank manager by day, decided to go into the macaron business. She never had been a professional baker but she loved cooking and wanted to be a part of Buffalo's blooming food scene. How hard could it be?
A year and a half -- and many, many failed batches of macarons -- later, Walley's macarons are available at Zillycakes (1008 Elmwood Ave., 883-0365) for $2.25 a crack. She also makes them for events such as wedding receptions. Her holiday flavors included eggnog, pistachio and quince, plus classics like her salted caramel.
So far, her best work might have been white truffle macarons she brought to a dinner celebrating Italian white truffles. "For me, that was the trick: How do you put a mushroom into white chocolate with some nuts and get something that's a delicious dessert?" she said. "But it all balanced out really nicely."
What is it about macarons that would make you start a company around one cookie?
"I love everything about them. I love the texture. It should have that give on the outside where it's a little crisp, and a little marshmallowy on the inside. Then the flavors -- if the flavor's done right, it just makes it.
"Visually, they're just gorgeous, really pretty to look at. And I love something you can eat for dessert in a bite or two. Some people will finish a whole piece of chocolate cake if it's in front of them. Me, for dessert, this trend of bite-sized desserts has been right up my alley."
So why doesn't everyone make them?
"Everything can go wrong when you're trying to make macarons. If you don't fold the macaron mixture enough, miss one tiny streak of egg white, it will crack. If you overmix it, they will be flat as a pancake and never rise. If the temperature of your oven is off, they will crack. If you underbake a macaron, it's ruined. You throw them out and start over."
You mentioned you took some classes, but it was basically trial and error much of the time?
"I can't tell you how many times I've put the time in, piped them out, and I know just by looking at them -- I can tell something's gone wrong. I scrap them and start over.
"I'm so fortunate to be where I am now, a year and a half in, it rarely happens anymore. But when I started making them, 50 percent of the time it wasn't working, and I threw them out."
What's it like to be in the business of selling cookies at $9 for four bites?
"I haven't had problems. I think people have been excited to be able to get them. I make a product people want."