From macaroons we go to macarons.
I see them often whenever Rockwell holds its Bakers’ Fair. Attractively arranged, they’re truly an arresting sight blanketing the table in their colored glory and pride pulsating in a pastel rainbow. Ambitiously named Empire, the business sells macarons and cheesecake bites. Though I’ve not tasted the latter, I thoroughly enjoy the macarons. I dare say that I like them even better than Bizu’s but the credit for introducing these meringue minis to Filipinos will forever be theirs.
When I’m told that George (Georgia) Rocha is the empress of Empire, I’m more than a little surprised. I used to catch her on TV giving the basketball courtside report and bantering with my brother in law, Jude Turcuato, also a sportscaster. Basketball to baking sounds like a huge leap of faith but George tells me it isn’t really. “I’ve actually been baking since I was a child. With my two older sisters as my biggest influences, we often tried new things in the kitchen.” The product of their combined efforts would then be marketed to classmates, relatives, and later on, to officemates. But it was a profitable chocolate chip cookie venture some years ago that gave ”“ as George says ”“ “… [me] that nagging feeling to have my own food business.”
The best home bakers create their own niche by choosing a distinctive product (usually one or two) and making it better than anyone else. Instead of blurring into the background of bakers with their multitude of revel bars and yet more decadent chocolate cakes for instance, for George, she chose macarons and coated cheesecake bites simply because, “… they’re not easy to find in Manila.” And she adds, “I’ve only seen chocolate-covered cheesecake balls on the internet and macarons weren’t common in Manila but they’re so yummy! I could easily see that we could do many things with those products [in terms of] flavors, sizes…”
An old, old confection, macarons ”“ echoing the Mentos tagline ”“ which are “crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside” (or is the other way around?) are made with nothing more than ground almonds, sugar, and egg whites. Derived from a recipe from Italy, macaron comes from the Italian maccherone, “meaning fine paste.” The recipe for the macarons of Cornery, France is said to be the oldest ”“ they’ve been made in the monastery there (and still are) since 791. Legend even has it that the circular sweets used to be patterned after the monks’ navels . (Hmm, there’s a thought!) As a curious aside, the 17th century Carmelites who made these sweets did so because they adhered to St. Theresa of Avila’s tenet that “… almonds are good for girls who don’t eat meat.”
Though one’s meat eating manners (or not) are meaningless now when it comes to macarons, what’s more important is how varied they are. Notoriously difficult to make especially in Manila’s merciless humidity, George tells me that her macarons are the product of “…tears, tantrums and many sleepless nights, not to mention precious pesos spent on ground almonds.” More impressive is that she taught herself how to make macarons although she admits that “…learning it from someone would have been a more peaceful route!”
I’m never really sure which flavors I’m getting whenever I buy a box of George’s macarons. I usually gravitate towards the chubby ones, the ones whose edges are rougher, their colors a bit more whimsical. But my all-time favorite is pistachio because I like anything pistachio (and because green is a color I wear often). When it comes to dessert, simpler is better for me. When I’m feeling more expansive, flavor-wise, I go for the caramel-pecan and the lemon.
Obviously, a business with the name, Empire, needs to fulfill a self-decreed prophecy. “My first products were the cheesecake balls, which are baked cheesecakes otherwise known as a New York Cheesecake,” recalls George. “And when I thought ”˜New York’ I thought Empire State. I simply thought ”˜Empire’ would be a fitting name and, personally, having a brand called Empire keeps pushing me to improve. It’s something to live up to. Corny.” I think not.
George plans to add to her “empire” by opening a shop soon. She reasons that, “… a home-business called Empire? Parang hindi bagay.” Among other things, she’s already working on new products and improving what she already has. “I really enjoy making desserts that have rich history (like the cheesecake and macarons) so I’d really want to stay on that track. This isn’t a childhood hobby anymore. I want to stick around for a long time.”
Empire by George Rocha
Original (from P30/piece ”“ P350/dozen)
Premium (from P35/piece; (P110/3 pcs) ”“ P400/dozen)
Original (from P30/piece ”“ P270/box of 9 pcs)
Premium (from P35/piece; P315/box of 9 pcs)
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