At Changing Gears, we want our Great Lakes region to be known as much for its food as the South, the New England States or the Pacific Northwest. To make that happen, we’ve asked chefs and food purveyors from across the region to give us their Reinvention Recipes — fresh twists on classics dishes. This week, Michael Nagrant visits with Nate Meads of Fritz Pastry and Adam Seger of Hum Spirits in Chicago.
Fritz Pastry, an 18-month old bakery in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, isn’t the kind of sweets shop you grew up with. Sure, it has the usual assortment of French specialties, like croissants and brioche, and there is a full line up of cakes, cookies, and tarts. But look a little deeper and you’ll find a whole slew of exotic lesser known pastries.
There’s Gateau Breton, a rich butter cake and Springerle, traditional German anise-flavored cookies. Fritz also makes a dynamite chocolate and black pepper cookie. But the stars are clearly the macarons.
Macarons, spelled the French way, and not to be confused with the dense coconut kind, are an airy meringue and almond flour based cookie, filled with butter cream. They’re everywhere in Paris, and they’ve also become Chicago’s current “it” dessert.
The depth and breadth of Fritz’s offering is a testament to the pedigree of Nate Meads, the chef and partner in Fritz. Mead was a pastry chef for some of Chicago’s top restaurants including Tru, Brasserie Jo and Blue Water Grill. Rather than work at another high-end place, however, Meads decided it was time to go out on his own.
When Meads left the restaurant world behind to open his own bakery, one of his goals was to expand Chicago’s pastry horizon. He started out serving traditional macaron flavors like chocolate, vanilla, and pistachio, just like you’d find in a typical Paris patisserie. While customers liked them, Meads figured he could take more chances. So, he reinvented his macarons, offering more exotic tastes like mixed berry and cardamom hibiscus (Fritz Pastry regularly tweets its macaron of the day).
Coincidentally, I’d tasted these cardamom hibiscus macarons at a party a few months after Fritz opened and they blew my mind. I’d wondered if someone had flown them in from Paris. The flavor was a mouth-tingling combination of Indian spice and tropical warmth.
It turned out they were made by Meads and flavored with a botanical spirit, Hum, made by local notable mixologist Adam Seger.
Seger, also a veteran of Tru, the Seelbach hotel in Louisville, and Chicago’s nuevo latino spot Nacional 27, is part of a spirits movement that is spreading across the upper Midwest. Some other standout companies include Koval , North Shore Distillery, and Death’s Door out of Wisconsin.
To make those distinctive mauve macarons, Meads was leveraging this bounty of local spirits — and producing the best local macarons I had ever eaten.
Nate Meads and Adam Seger
Meads and Seger got together recently in the tiny kitchen at Fritz to mix up a batch of Meads’ cardamom hibiscus macaroms, which Seger calls “Humarons.” Watch Meads at work, and then try them at home. Or, take the easy route and pick some up at Fritz.
500 g. almond flour
500 g. powdered sugar
180 g. egg whites
1 T Hum
½ c. water
500 g. sugar
180 g. egg whites
Mix first four ingredients in small stand mixer with paddle attachment. Bring water and sugar to 240 F making sure to brush down sides of pan to prevent crystallization. When sugar is at correct temperature, set aside to let the bubbles settle. Whip whites to soft peak using whip attachment. Pour sugar in a thin stream while whipping on medium speed in between the whisk and the bowl. Turn stand mixer on high until meringue is cooled. Fold into flavored paste and pipe onto a lined sheet tray. Rest for 10 minutes to form a shell. Bake @ 320 on low for 8 minutes(every oven is different so adjust as needed). Wait until cool, peel off, fill and sandwich.
4 egg whites
1 c. sugar
to taste salt
12 oz. butter (soft)
to taste hum
Place egg whites, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk over simmering water until it’s hot to the touch and the sugar is dissolved. Place onto stand mixer and whip until thick and cool. Add butter a little at a time. After butter is incorporated add hum and season to taste.