A CIA-Trained Baker Crafts the Most Mouthwatering, Gluten-Free Macarons
Amanda's Macaron Shoppe in Highland whips up brightly colored, wheat-free treats in flavors like Italian rainbow cookie and s'mores.
Photos by Arben Tomaj
It all started with an Italian rainbow cookie...dressed up as a French delicacy.
Chef Amanda Giacalone has been baking macarons since she studied Baking and Pastry Arts at the Culinary Institute of America, but it didn’t become a full-time pursuit until she brought home a test batch of Italian rainbow cookie macarons from work one night. Her boyfriend Vin and friend VJ decided that the world needed to taste these cookies, and the three set to work opening up Amanda’s Macaron Shoppe. This Highland-based company sticks to exactly what its name implies: macarons, macarons, and more macarons.
After graduating from the CIA in 2012, Giacalone worked for a while as Head Baker at the swanky White Barn Inn Restaurant in Maine, but the Hudson Valley soon lured her back. Her next stint at Mill House Brewing Company lasted for about five years, at which point she moved over to Lola’s Café in New Paltz, where she has worked as Executive Pastry Chef for the past two years. Her latest endeavor officially opened in February, and Giacalone says that juggling the new business with her current job is certainly keeping her busy, but her two co-owners are invaluable.
“If I was doing the business myself,” she says. “There’s no way that I’d be able to do it. Vin and VJ have been a huge help. They run the social media and the shipping and everything.” On her days off, Giacalone spends nearly all her time in the kitchen making “macs,” as she affectionately calls them.
Every macaron is a work of art, Giacalone explains. A complicated dessert to prepare, they begin with a meringue base constructed from egg whites that must be whipped on their own, then mixed with sugar, bit by bit.
“The process to make them is very challenging. I still mess up batches every once in a while. There are a lot of factors that go into it. It has to be perfect. I think that’s why they’re so expensive. There’s a lot of love that goes into that.”
Complicating matters further, there is more than one way to do it. The French method has fewer steps and mixes raw sugar with the egg whites, but it produces a less stable meringue. While most macaron bakeries use this method, Giacalone prefers the Italian method, in which sugar is cooked into a syrup before being mixed in to create a more stable meringue that will produce macarons with a smoother shell and a softer, more satisfying mouthfeel.
“It’s all about the bite,” she says.
Flavors at Amanda’s Macaron Shoppe rotate regularly, often matching up with current holidays, but exciting new summer picks include s’mores (with a toasted marshmallow nestled into a swirl of dark chocolate ganache) and Fireworks (with raspberry and lime, just like the classic popsicle). The shop takes the French treat one step further, allowing customers to design a macaron to fit their needs — color, flavor, and design included.
A recent example? Giacalone made PB & J and rose macarons painted with initials on top for wedding favors not too long ago.
Giacalone decided to specialize in macarons when she realized that they are hard to come by north of the City, and almost nowhere is a shop dedicated entirely to the dessert. While Giacalone’s macarons are at the same culinary level as the high-end treats in New York City, she strives to keep her prices lower than the macarons at luxurious bakeries like the famed Ladurée.
Amanda’s Macaron Shoppe is currently online only, but plans for a physical location are in the works. Giacalone hopes that in the next two years, she and her partners will set up a real storefront. In the meantime, locals can get their macaron fix by ordering online or looking for the gluten-free treats at local businesses like Samuel’s Sweet Shop in Rhinebeck, Laura’s Family Restaurant in Poughkeepsie, and The Beacon Daily.
As for the flavor that started it all? Keep your eyes peeled — Giacalone says those Italian rainbow cookie macarons may be making a comeback in the coming months.