Macarons or macaroons? We may struggle with the pronunciation but however you say it, we can’t get enough of them. Whether it’s for a posh afternoon tea or adding a show-stopping talking point at a wedding reception or family celebration, they are flavour of the month.
Which is good news for Tony Patrick, aka Hull’s Macaronman, who’s adamant we’re talking macarons not macaroons – the latter, he says, are something entirely different. But more of that later.
What’s not in dispute is that Tony is fast gaining a national reputation for producing the very best examples of these dainty French delicacies. Word of his macarons has spread far and wide. They’re already on the menu of many of East Yorkshire’s top restaurants, have attracted the attention of a Michelin-starred chef in Liverpool and been hand- delivered to a hen party in London.
His latest success has come in the form of a BBC Good Food Show bursary award, which recognises producers of the very best British speciality foods. As part of the process his macarons had to undergo a rigorous tasting; the result being that Tony has been invited to attend the Good Food Show’s spring event in Harrogate next weekend.
It means he will be rubbing shoulders with celebrity chefs Michel Roux Jr, Tom Kerridge and The Hairy Bikers as well as Great British Bake Off host Paul Hollywood. Is he worried Mary Berry’s sharp-tongued co-judge will be a hard man to please? Not at all; in fact, he relishes the opportunity to put his hand-made macarons, which currently come in 30 different flavours, into one of the biggest shop windows of all.
“I’ll be working flat out the week before the Harrogate show to ensure we have enough and they all look their very best. I’m expecting to sell at least a thousand macarons every day I’m there,” he says.
Tony’s route to the top of this particular confectionary tree has been far from traditional. “I’ve had no formal training and the only cookery lesson I’ve ever had was at junior school,” he says. It’s a statement issued almost as a badge of pride, although he admits he has “always been a serious foodie”.
“I’ve always done all the cooking at home and have a serious obsession with cookery books and cookery programmes on TV. In fact, my idea came originally from watching television and thinking ‘I could do that’.
Picking one of his cookery books at random, it turned out to be recipes from the world-famous Ladurée tea shop in Paris, often credited with sticking two of the meringue discs together with a creamy ganache as a filling. To see them filling the window of their Champs-Élysées shop is, says Tony, “almost an excursion into fantasy”.
Although the recipe is relatively simple (ground almonds, free-range egg whites, icing sugar), making macarons is, he says, labour-intensive. “Made properly it’s a time-consuming process, which is why not many people are making them, and they can spoil easily.
“I often joke I’ve got the best-fed dustbin in East Yorkshire but I’m a perfectionist and pride myself on producing the perfect macaron. They have to be right or I won’t let them out of the kitchen.
“The elements are folded together until you achieve the right consistency and are then piped to form shells, which are left to skin over – depending on the humidity that can take between 30 and 90 minutes.”
A perfectly smooth and polished hard surface is the desired result; from there a filling can be added and once again Tony makes his own. Salted caramel is one of the most popular, so much so he also sells jars of it, and other varieties include Yorkshire forced rhubarb and custard, strawberry, raspberry and rose, as well as Palma Violet, Pina Colada, mango, peanut butter and jelly and Black Forest Gateaux and apple pie flavours.
“The Black Forest has a chocolate ganache filling with Kirsch and is drizzled with white chocolate. I make the salted caramel myself with condensed milk and Himalayan sea salt, which takes about four hours. Although taste is important, so is the presentation, as people see the macarons first. I try to match the shell colour to the flavour and mix and match. I’ll never stop exploring new combinations,” says Tony.
He originally began making them for friends and family; orders for special occasions quickly followed and from there the beginnings of an idea to make them professionally began to form. “I’ve been a frustrated cook all my life and I really thought it’s now or never…”
An art college graduate with a long career in product design, working for companies with credits including the original Jorvik Centre in York and The Deep in Hull, Tony finally ended up following in his father’s footsteps working in the building trade before the lure of the ovens beckoned.
“I think old age was beginning to set in,” jokes the 52-year-old. “But it really has paid off beyond my wildest dreams.”
Combining his cookery, design and joinery skills, he decided to make a batch of macarons for the team at the award-winning Hull restaurant 1884 Dock Street Kitchen, where he and his wife, Jane, had held their wedding reception in 2012.
“I made a wooden box with a glass lid to present them in. I told them I had big shoulders and to be honest with their feedback. I needed honesty. But the staff couldn’t believe I’d made the macarons and that a commercial chef hadn’t made them. They were very impressed and placed an order. And they still have them on the menu today.”
It was a turning point and one from which he has never looked back. “I decided to take the plunge and go into it full-time,” says Tony, who founded Patrick Macarons and Patisserie in 2014. It’s a business he literally runs from the kitchen table of his home in Anlaby, on the outskirts of Hull.
“Because I was so into cooking we already had all the basics, including double ovens side by side. Believe me, they’re so handy when you’re cooking different things at different temperatures, but for what I wanted them for they were ideal.”
Given the go-ahead after a food safety inspection, his week is now split into baking and piping and then distributing orders throughout the county; sometimes further afield. As well as 1884 Dock Street Kitchen, Tony’s macarons feature on the menu at the Star at Sancton, the Westwood in Beverley, Drewton’s in South Cave and Vanessa’s deli and cafe in Beverley.
“I don’t have a shop but regularly attend events, including the monthly Humber Bridge farmers’ market. And people can place individual orders via my website,” he says.
Weddings are proving big business, with his macaron towers popular as a centrepiece and talking point. They are bespoke creations, ranging in size from 100 macarons to 250 and can be made to fit in with a specific colour theme.
Wedding favour boxes are another popular line; either complete with a mixed selection of 10 macarons or as a “love box” with four.
“I love doing weddings and seeing the delight on people’s faces,” says Tony. “The towers can be real show-stoppers.”
So what next? “I’d love to concentrate on weddings and events like christenings, birthdays and private parties but I’ll always be out there at events like the farmers’ market and local food festivals,” he says.
Certainly he’s a man much in demand at the moment and someone, it seems, who can do no wrong. In the recent East Yorkshire Local Food Network Awards, he was a double winner – both for his macarons and a new product, hand-made nougat.
“Macarons will always be the bedrock of the business but I’m always trying new things that fit well; the salted caramel was an easy one and I’m literally test-marketing the nougat now.”
So, macaron or macaroons – what’s the difference? “If I had £1 for everyone who asked me what question I would be very rich right now,” says Tony, explaining that it’s not just one being an English version of a French word, although both delicacies have crossed paths over the past 500 years.
“Many think they are the same, but despite what people might call them a macaroon is actually a very different thing altogether; once upon a time they would be something all our mums would bake.”
An English macaroon recipe for what are small circular cakes instead or meringues appears in Isabella (Mrs) Beeton’s original Book of Household Management published in 1861 and are made using desiccated coconut instead of ground almonds.
Often topped off with a glacé cherry, both Tony and I remember our mothers pulling trays of them out of the oven and eating one, including the rice paper they were baked on, as a special treat on arriving home from school.
Macarons (and he makes sure to pronounce them ma-ke-rons) are a whole different proposition, both looks-wise and taste-wise.
“I never tire of making them. They are a monumental faff and labour-intensive, having to get the mixture just right and pipe the shells so they are exactly the same size, before carefully sandwiching them together; it’s alchemy in a form,” he says.
And with that we both take a satisfying crunch and let the moment linger. Luxury on a plate.
• Tony Patrick trades as Patrick Macarons & Patisserie (macaronman.com). He will be appearing at the BBC Good Food Show Spring at the Harrogate International Conference and Exhibition, which runs from April 8 to 10. bbcgoodfoodshowspring.com