Erin Powell knew she needed to make desserts with whimsy when she took a job as the pastry chef last year at Tacoma’s Dirty Oscar’s Annex.
She knew dessert at Dirty Oscar’s Annex had to appeal to an off-kilter palate, considering the restaurant’s silly name, penchant for bacon candy, and famous peanut butter-bacon-banana burger.
She settled her pastry chef brain on the delicate cookies called macarons. Those are different than similarly spelled, but vastly different tasting coconut macaroons.
Macarons are fragile cookies made from almond flour with puffed, domed shells and colored in vibrant tones or pretty pastels. The cookies start out crisp like a sturdy meringue, but break to a rich, luxurious center. They usually come sandwiched with buttercream, ganache or caramel.
At Dirty Oscar’s Annex, Powell started by modeling the cookies after the bar’s cereal-themed French toast. She created a macaron made with Fruity Pebbles and another with Cocoa Pebbles. After she tore through the Pebbles family of cereals, she turned her attention to Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Golden Grahams and Cocoa Puffs.
And then came Halloween. That was a fun one: Candied apple, buttered popcorn and candy corn flavored cookies.
She became so interested in the flavors and composition of the famously fickle Parisian cookies, which are difficult to make even for experienced chefs, that she decided to turn it into a side business: A small-batch bakery focusing primarily on macarons.
Beginning in June, she started baking around 250 macarons a week to sell at the Steilacoom Farmers Market. She calls her business Girl Loves Cake Desserts. Find her booth every Wednesday at the market, which operates in downtown Steilacoom, from 3-7 p.m.
“The first two weeks I sold out; which was fantastic,” said Powell, who previously spent six years as the pastry chef at Pacific Grill.
Now, she is a pastry chef for both Dirty Oscar’s Annex and the cocktail lounge and restaurant, En Rama. She’s a culinary school graduate with a degree from Johnson & Wales University (she also has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Washington State University).
The flavors she features at the Steilacoom Farmers Market are slightly more straightforward than those she bakes at Dirty Oscar’s Annex, but still palate stretching.
They’re also colorful. There’s vivid blue, electric green, saturated pink and color duos including pink-and-green and brown-and-blue.
One week featured dual flavors of passion fruit and cocoa nibs, the buttercream delicious and rich, but also tart. Prickly pear was another intense flavor, as was the bright red strawberry cheesecake macaron with a tangy buttercream inside.
Her macarons also trend decadent. A Snickers-themed macaron was dense and loaded with peanuts, caramel and chocolate. Dulce de leche carried a glimmer of salt. A chocolate macaron was glued together with a generous swirl of creamy chocolate ganache.
She offers at least nine flavors every week.
Don’t worry. She has more straightforward flavors, too, including chocolate or raspberry. For those who avoid dairy, Powell has macrons in her lineup that will appeal to that diet.
Macarons are priced $2 each, six for $11 or $22 a dozen. She also sells cake-by-the-slice with a revolving list of flavors and frostings.
Will she revisit the cereal macaron series she created for Dirty Oscar’s Annex last year?
She has her eye on a flavor or two.
“I probably will do the Cinnamon Toast Crunch,” Powell said. “Oh, and I’ll definitely do another go of the Cap’n Crunch.”