Ottawa's Macarons et Madeleines makes mornings marvellous

pain au chocolat

Passion is a difficult thing to describe. While it might not be easily defined, it is certainly easy to spot. When you meet him, Stéphan Ethier’s passion is immediately apparent and instantly enchanting, just like the sensational aroma of baking that overtakes you upon entering 46 Lorne Ave.

Ethier is the Mâitre Pâtissier of Macarons and Madeleines, a home based bakery tucked into a century-year-old house at the foot of Nanny Goat Hill. It takes a lot of courage to open a small business, but the modest Ethier laughs, “I don’t have much of that.” Lucky for us he does have passion, and because of it Ottawans now have a place to source any pâtisserie française their heart may desire.

The bakery has only been formally open since June, but Ethier isn’t a new comer to the Ottawa food scene. He trained here at Le Cordon Bleu and worked in what once was their infamous Signatures Restaurant, before advancing to full-time pâtissier at the renowned Le Baccara. I could tell you about why he left one of the best restaurants in the region, his time spent in Paris, or his decision to renovate the kitchen of his heritage home, but I won’t. It’s best if you go in and hear these stories from Ethier himself, or from his gorgeous wife Julie (who often tends the front counter and welcomes everyone as warmly as an old friend).

Okay…I might mention Paris. After living there for a year, Ethier wanted to bring home not just the culinary secrets of the French masters he studied, but also the feel of the local pâtisseries. So everything he makes is baked in small batches, right in the very kitchen you’ll walk into. The whole operation is just Ethier, Julie, and the lovely Marie, who steps in on occasion to help with measuring. He’s been approached about selling his confections in other places but says, “I won’t. I want people to come in, and talk with us, and have this experience.” So please do. As the sign in front states, “don’t be shy,” go in and feel free to ask questions. That passion I talked about? You’d be hard pressed to miss it as Ethier explains his process or offers you a sample, and you’ll likely leave feeling like one of his neighbours.

Speaking of, it might seem like an awfully small neighbourhood to support a pâtisserie, but Ethier noticed a lot of foot traffic on Lorne Ave, since it’s an artery to the Transitway. That’s why he decided to open at 7am every morning, offering viennoiseries for breakfast to make your commute a tiny bit sweeter. On the daily menu are classic French pastries such as croissants and pain au chocolat. As an homage to his favourite breakfast in Paris, Ethier also offers brioche parisienne: a slightly sweet bread that goes marvelously with jam (conveniently, he makes his own). Other items you aren’t likely to find elsewhere in the city are the flan parisien, galette bretonne and cannelé bordelais. Then, as if you weren’t already spoiled for choice, the weekend brings croissants aux amandes, pain aux chocolat et amandes and le diplomat.

That’s really just the tip of the meringue. Also available daily are the two namesakes: macarons and madeleines. When asked why he chose that moniker Ethier says, “everything exists because of its opposite. People think macarons are SO difficult to make, and they aren’t easy, but to make a good madeleine…?” He goes on to explain that the complicated things you make, like macarons, will impress people, but to really show your skill you need to make the simplest things, because there are no complex flavours in which to hide mistakes. In theory madeleines are quite simple to bake, made from only a handful of ingredients, but many a connoisseur is still searching for their perfect one. Ethier wouldn’t describe anything he makes as perfect, but there’s a reason these sell out. His madeleines have a lovely crumb, supple but substantial enough for dipping into tea, and an ever-so-subtle hint of salt. He suggests choosing the ones with especially browned edges, joking, “that’s the best part. I eat the edges and just throw away the rest.”

As for the macarons, it’s a treat I find people tend to either adore or despise. Keep reading if you’re in the latter camp: more than one person has taken back their dislike for macarons after trying one of Ethier’s. The flavours available vary day to day, but range from classics like vanilla or raspberry to exotics like passion fruit or salted caramel. If you’d like a box as a hostess gift you are best to call ahead. It’s no trouble to whip up a batch in the flavour of your choice, but the macaron magic takes 2 days to complete.

These daily offerings have been bringing people in, but Macarons et Madeleines is first and foremost a custom pâtisserie. Even though he specializes in cakes and tartes, you won’t see any on the counter. Ethier wants to create the cake you want, for you, when you want it, so “you are buying exactly what you want, not just what is being made available to you.” He invites people to stop by for a chat with an idea, a flavour, a colour, anything really, and be involved in the creative process. He can also create plated desserts, where he prepares everything and sends it with you to plate, “so you are adding your own touch and not just presenting something from a box.” Maybe you need 100 éclairs for an event, and a yule log for Christmas dinner? No problem, he can do that too. Ordering from Ethier is like having your own personal pastry chef, but thankfully the dishes stay in someone else’s kitchen.

Macarons et Madeleines is located at 46 Lorne Ave, open Tuesday to Sunday from 7 am until sold out. Appointments outside of these times and custom orders can be arranged via phone at 613-422-6215 or e-mail at They accept cash or personnel cheque.

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