What does chemical engineering have in common with French baking? A lot, according to The Sweet Lobby's Winnette McIntosh Ambrose. They're both methodical, both require exact calculations and both require experimentation. While most people don't see an overlap with the two, Ambrose has built her career around it.
While a chemical engineering and French student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ambrose spent a semester in Paris and discovered Ladurée's most famous creation: "le macaron." The colorful, flavorful French confections intrigued Ambrose enough that after years of baking in her home kitchen, she joined brother Timothy (a fellow MIT chemical engineering graduate) to open The Sweet Lobby in Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C. Along with a rotating selection of daily and seasonal macarons (check out their Twitter feed for daily specials), the sweets shop also serves cupcakes, madeleines, shortbread and more.
After just over a year of business, The Sweet Lobby has already been crowned champion of the Food Network's Cupcake Wars and the siblings recently returned to Cupcake Champions to debut their new MacTop: a cupcake with a macaron on top. (Yes, it's as decadent as it sounds. Yes, it's worth it.) If you can't make it to the D.C. shop, you can recreate the Cupcake Wars-winning Sesame Chestnut Mountain Cupcake in your home kitchen.
When Ambrose isn't running the show at The Sweet Lobby, she works as a postdoctoral fellow studying retinal cells at the National Institutes of Health.
So what's Ambrose's favorite Sweet Lobby macaron flavor? Passion fruit milk chocolate, which brings back memories of her Trinidadian roots.
At a recent macaron-making class exclusively for MIT alumni and their guests, the Ambrose siblings opened up their kitchen and demonstrated the macaron-making process from beginning to end.
Check out a Parisian macaron how-to in the slideshow below, try your hand at this Food & Wine recipe for Raspberry Macarons and let us know -- what's your favorite flavor?
Prepping the dry ingredients
Sifting the dry ingredients: confectioner's sugar and almond flour.
Boiling a simple sugar syrup
Piping batter onto parchment-lined baking sheets
Each macaron should be about 1" round
Macarons baking in an industrial oven
Pairing up the macarons by size
Filling each macaron with ganache
Final step: sandwiching the ganache (primarily heavy cream and butter) between two cookies
Et voila! Les macarons parisiens.
Watch The Sweet Lobby's audition tape for 'Cupcake Wars':
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