There are few things as wholeheartedly satisfying as a bite-sized confection done right. It’s no wonder that macarons are one of the most beloved tiny desserts: created in Italy, popularized in France, and found all over the world.
In Toronto, it’s not hard to find a colourful array of desserts that look pleasing to the eye — but when you narrow down the search, the hunt becomes a little bit trickier. There’s a difference between the gentle first bite of a freshly-baked macaron, and crunching into one that has seen the inside of a package. Flavour, too, is crucial. The delicious possibilities for a macaron are endless, so why not get creative?
March 20th is Macaron Day, celebrated in cities around the world. In Toronto, participating dessert shops use the holiday as an opportunity to release creative new flavours, offer free samples, or donate proceeds to local charities.
Whether you’re partaking in the holiday, or just looking for a great spot to get your macaron on, you’re in the right place. I’ve narrowed down just a few of my favourite macaron places in Toronto, and what makes them stand out from the crowd.
Little Pebbles is a petite dessert café in Kensington Market, equal parts joyful and stylish. At the heart of the business is co-creator Dada Ahn and her passion for baking. Culinary-minded from an early age, the baker honed her craft by re-iteratively producing desserts. Her creations are experimental, yet detail-oriented — playing with ingredients and flavours to bring out optimal configurations of taste and texture.
Here, macarons are made in small batches of twenty; they will never see the inside of a freezer. The usage of sweetener is artfully minimized, trading sugary polish for a more organic texture, and favouring depth of flavour over pervasive sweetness.
I can’t get enough of the dainty, flower-shaped Sakura macarons. Rather than extracting faint flavour from cherry blossoms, the macaron is an abstraction of how a sakura flower ‘feels’: the filling is made with pomegranate jelly, gently infused with tea. The outcome befits the flower: a suitably dainty sweetness prevails.
The Red Velvet macaron is a smooth, subtle take on the flavour, complemented by its creamy filling. Yuzu plays to the same subtlety: the taste of citrus is cleanly subdued, yet pleasantly distinct. Kurosato is Dada’s gastronomical answer to a chocolate macaron: Japanese “black sugar” creates a malty sweetness, encased by a cocoa-flavoured shell. When it comes to Matcha, the beauty is in the details: a conscious choice of shade-grown matcha powder adds a smooth, nuanced flavour, both to the macaron and the corresponding latte — which is perfectly frothy and wholly delicious.
Though seating is limited, the jovial spirit of the café compels me to sit and stay. I compliment the macarons, and the space behind the counter lights up with the barista’s genuine smile. “My boss is a genius,” he declares fondly.
(I later find out that they are siblings, but the compliment still rings true!)
Over in Yorkville, Dessert Lady is always cooking up something different. This year’s contribution to the Macaron Day festivities? Macaron éclairs.
The five unique flavours were dreamed up just this week by the “dessert lady” herself, Mandy Kan. By fusing the shell of a macaron with the shape of an éclair, the combination creates vertical space not normally found in a standard macaron, allowing her to play with layer, texture, and composition in new ways.
I wouldn’t normally order a Piña Colada to drink, but the macaron éclair — embellished with a tiny chocolate palm tree — is like an edible ray of sunshine, melding coconut-infused buttercream and oven-roasted pineapple purée. Honey and cinnamon add depth to the first taste of pineapple, while the careful integration of coconut milk washes it down, leaving a pleasant echo of coconut rum at the finish.
The same careful integration is evident in the Matcha Apricot, pairing flavours that are rare to imagine working together — the sweet mascarpone, the tart apricot, and the undertone of bitter matcha all harmonize beautifully. Hazelnut Mille Feuille shines with its interplay of textured layers: the creamy hazelnut filling is grounded by a layer of tough pastry, and complemented by chocolate ganache. Ube plays a starring role: Mandy spent two days exploring the purple yam, experimenting with how best to bring out its flavour. Boiled and pureéd, the ube filling finds its subtle sweetness in the addition of condensed milk. The Smoked Vanilla is completely delightful — sweet vanilla bean, rich chocolate, and an experimental integration of applewoood smoke coalesce into what feels like a mature take on a campfire s’more.
“I was born to be a foodie,” Mandy declares, taking pride in the culinary curiosity that pushes her to innovate. She says this with the utmost happiness — happiness that is consistently evident in the dishes she creates, happiness that resonates back to me.
“It’s all about happiness,” Mandy agrees.
This summer, the 12-year-old Toronto dessert shop will see the opening of its sister café, which will feature savoury creations alongside its trademark desserts. While this new venture is both a chance to expand and experiment, the café represents something more poignant: the realization of Dessert Lady’s original dream.
French bakery Delysées is no stranger to Macaron Day. This year, their rainbow of sweets welcomes a new addition: hand-painted macarons unlike any I’ve seen before.
The brush-painted floral design, dusted with a shimmering layer of glitter, draws inspiration from the runways of Toronto Fashion Week, creator Fred Naggar tells me — the pattern is based on a textile that they requested for reference.
On top of the usual process to prepare a macaron — painstaking in itself — these custom flowers take another four minutes of painting to achieve. That’s an extra four minutes per macaron. It’s an extravagance, but the result is mesmerizing.
While these glittery creations will only be in stock on Macaron Day, they can be made to order for events. Shortly after posting a sneak peek online, the bakery received a tall order: 300 of the hand-painted macarons for a wedding.
I quickly do the macaron math: that’s 20 hours of painting alone.
Stepping into Bobbette & Belle — whether in North York or East York — is like entering the realm of a crafty event planner’s inspiration board. Every corner is decorated with romantic flourishes, gilded accents, and framed chalkboards.
While I enjoy the classics like Chocolate and Vanilla, I find myself extremely pleasantly surprised by the Mint Chocolate macaron. I’m a known hater of minty flavours, utterly repulsed by mint chocolate-chip ice cream — but this macaron is on another level. The filling is a dark chocolate ganache, gently infused with mint tea — a pleasant Moroccan note — and the two converge into a mature, subdued take on the pairing.
This year, Macaron Day will introduce a new combination: Salted Caramel Sesame, adding a nutty undertone to the popular flavour.
It’s a cold stroll through the snow to get to Petit Nuage, but the clouds in the sky urge me on. This sweet micro-shop is one of many retrofitted shipping containers that make up Market 707 off of Dundas West, giving it a unique, compact vibe.
The team is just as compact: owner Stephanie Lao runs the one-woman show. A typical day starts in a rented commercial kitchen, where she fills the day’s stock of macarons. Days off mean even more time in the kitchen, baking for the days ahead.
Everyone’s palette is different — and if yours is partial to sugar and candy, Petit Nuage is your spot. I get the sense of indulging at a confectionery; of sinking one’s teeth into marshmallow-like levels of sweetness. I feel like a happy kid on Halloween.
The Hojicha macaron is addictive: toasty, pan-fired tea pairs uniquely with the chocolate ganache into which it’s infused. Earl Grey goes down like a strong sip of the titular tea, fragrant with bergamot, and extra sugar. Salted Caramel is a pronounced blend of caramel and buttercream; a nostalgic connotation with the toffee candies of my childhood. Likewise, Vanilla Rose has me dreaming of cold rose kulfi on a summer day. The syrupy sweetness of Amarena Cherry feels like a juicy candy at first bite. Macaron Day will introduce a new, fruity flavour to the mix: Banana Milk.
While being a part of the market has its perks — a small retail space reduces risk, and the artistic shipping crate adds a certain coolness factor — Stephanie notes the downside: just off the main stretch of Dundas West, it’s slightly hidden. Most of her customers find her and her macarons through social media.
“Thank God for the internet,” she laughs.
Though tiny, time-consuming, and difficult to execute well, people love macarons. Torontonians seem to have a constantly-growing appetite for the tiny confections, and a healthy curiosity for new innovations.
“Toronto is very multicultural, and there are so many different flavours,” muses Mandy Kan of Dessert Lady. “If someone asks what kind of bakery we are, we don’t like to limit ourselves to one thing — we’re very Torontonian. People here are more and more open to trying new things.”
This is true. Even though this week’s macaron adventures had me trying some flavours I wouldn’t have chosen myself, I discovered pleasant surprises among the unusual combinations, or new interpretations of flavours that I already thought I knew.
A macaron can be filled with nearly anything — so try something new! This miniature dessert is a delicious way to explore new ideas, and expand your expectations.
Which of these places would you most like to visit? Did I miss your favourite spot? Let me know in a comment below!