Macaron Melee Part 2: Essence vs. 21 Cakes

The macaron craze of 2010 may have died down -- we haven't seen quite as many photos of the colorful sandwich cookies flavored with everything from salmon to strawberry gracing the pages of our favorite food porn sites -- but the Parisian treats haven't lost their elegant appeal.

And that leads us to this week's battle.

Recently, we received a press release from Scottsdale's 21 Cakes that stated they have people "waiting at the door" for head baker Linda Schneider's macarons and that the little cookies (available Thursday through Saturday) sell out the day they hit shelves.

Wow! Those must be some good macarons!

Last summer, when we saw that Scratch Pastries was making macarons, we put them up against those from Essence Bakery, which has been making the French cookies before most of Phoenix even knew what they were. Essence won that battle, and now we want to see if they can still reign supreme now that newcomer 21 Cakes has entered the ring.

May the best macaron win!

In One Corner: Newcomer 21 Cakes

The Setup: Head baker and owner Linda Schneider follows the traditional French method of making macarons. She starts her process on Mondays, and by Thursday has 200 French macarons in three flavors ready to go. We stopped in last Saturday afternoon and picked up a bag that contained two key lime and two raspberry cookies.

The Good: The macarons were the perfect size for the mini cookies and had a nice hue. Both the key lime and the raspberry had the appropriately flavored buttercream, which was creamy and sweet.

The Bad: There is sweet and then there is sweet. These cookies were so sugary I could barely get through both bites. Both the key lime and the raspberry had an artificial taste. But the worse part of these little guys was the shells -- they were hollow, flavorless, and inconsistent in size and shape. And not just one -- all four of them were puffs of air with a sickly sweet buttercream smear.

In The Other Corner: Reigning Champ, Essence Bakery

The Setup: Eugenia Theodosopoulis developed her macaron skills in France and has been whipping up these delicacies daily since the bakery's inception in 2007. She has won multiple awards and even a few New Times Best Ofs for her classic confections. Essence also had key lime and raspberry (or so I thought) flavors available, so to make things fair, I snagged two of each.

The Good: Chewy, flavorful, and perfect. The Essence macarons had a crisp, vibrantly colored shell with perfect little feet that gave way to a chewy interior. The key lime was filled with a tangy filling that reminded us of the pie.

The Bad: There is nothing like biting into what you think is a raspberry macaron and finding out it's rose. Unfortunately, I think that roses belong in your garden (and maybe in your bath soap) and never in your cookies. They still were expertly crafted and beautiful, but I ended up tossing half of the overly floral cookie in the trash.

The Verdict: Essence, by a long shot. 21 Cakes macarons couldn't hold a candle to the amount of skill and experience that Essence puts into their cookies. Instead of standing in line for 21 Cakes macarons, we suggest you make the drive (long or short) to Tempe for a dozen of Essence's master-crafted treats.

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