If you pop into Olde Kensington’s Liberty Kitchen these days, a batch of colorful macarons in a glass display may very well catch your eye.
They are from Mac’n! by Mari, a one-woman macaron operation run by Mari Terise, a North Philly resident who hails from New York.
“It’s striking how many different flavors she can make at once,” Matt Budenstein, co-owner of Liberty Kitchen, says. “She’ll have a box with 12 different flavors, which blows my mind.”
Terise launched the business in 2018 with recurring appearances at vegan pop-up markets held at Tattooed Mom on South Street.
After operating out of The Dorrance H. Hamilton Center For Culinary Enterprises between 2018 and 2019, Terise moved to the commissary at Liberty Kitchen in January 2020 for more space after an uptick in sales. Terise now sells her conventional and vegan macarons primarily online.
“Macarons take a lot of trial and error and attention.”
—Mari Terise, owner of Mac’n! by Mari
Before the pandemic, she sold her macarons at the East Falls Farmers Market and through partner bakeries like The Frosted Fox Cake Shop in Mount Airy and Flying Monkey Bakery in Reading Terminal Market. These direct sales were complimented by a steadily growing number of online orders.
Once she switched to mostly online sales, she added her most popular option: a Build-A-Box that lets customers select 12 of her non-vegan macarons. Orders can be delivered to customers or they can pick them up on Fridays at Liberty Kitchen, where the macarons are also available for walk-up purchase.
One flavor available speaks to what inspired her love of baking: red velvet cake with cream cheese filling.
“It’s something that’s nostalgic,” she says of the confection. It’s a nod to a cake that her mother made for birthdays and special occasions. It was also this cake’s popularity that got her mother into starting her own side business, Ritzy Bakes, where Terise assisted with cake decorating.
“Helping her would always challenge me,” Terise says.
Her cousin left her business (Biggies Cakes in Connecticut) to make Ritzy Bakes a family triumvirate for a while. The family baking affair goes back to Terise’s grandfather, who sold pies wholesale to restaurants on Long Island. One of Ritzy Bakes’ top sellers, macaron drip cakes, eventually led Terise to macarons.
“My mother, although she would bake the majority of the items, had no desire to bake macarons because they’re finicky,” Terise explains.
So, in 2017, rather than continue to drive over an hour to source the only suitable macarons they could find in Central Jersey, Terise began making them herself.
A one-day class on macarons at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in Manhattan helped smooth out any remaining kinks after so many hours of test batches while Terise taught herself the way of the macaron.
“Honestly, it’s all about technique,” she explains. “When I did the class at ICE, everyone’s macs came out differently even though it was the same recipe. It really is a testament to knowing your oven, understanding your process.”
She pivoted to baking macarons exclusively once the pandemic hit and her mother ended her baking business out of caution. Both Terise and her mother work remote day jobs in public health.
Focusing solely on macarons has its merits.
“Macarons take a lot of trial and error and attention,” Terise says. Something as quotidian as a shift in humidity, for instance, can punish the inattentive baker. Besides ample patience, she says note-taking is key.
“Sometimes you don’t have that time [to be so focused] when you’re making a great variety of goods. Only selling macarons allows me to provide a better pastry,” she adds.
Her many repeat customers are a testament to the consistency of her macarons.
“The texture, that’s what’s really important,” says Stacy Levy, a recurring online customer from Morristown, New Jersey, who says she frequently has them shipped to others as gifts. “Soft inside but just perfectly crunchy, like a meringue cookie. Not too hard, not too soft on the outside.”
Shipping the macarons on ice packs and in cradling packaging enables Terise to fill orders from anywhere in the country. To keep their texture intact upon arrival, she stresses refrigerating for up to a week and, critically, letting them come to room temperature before serving.
But while the waiting may be the hardest part, she says the lag time in shipping aids an often overlooked aspect of macarons: the marriage of flavors between filling and shells as they mature.
What flavors, you ask?
Besides the red velvet cake, another nod to her mother’s business is the dulce de leche. Her love of Reese’s led to a peanut butter cup flavor, while an affinity for tea led to three flavors: caramel chai, matcha lime ginger and orange Earl Grey.
For her vegan macarons, she uses aquafaba (chickpea water) to stand in for the egg whites that normally form the basis of macaron shells. On offer are strawberry, passionfruit, s’mores, espresso, vanilla and chocolate ganache.
“They take three to four times longer to make,” she says of her vegan macarons. “They’re very difficult. They’re actually a labor of love. I keep them on the menu mainly because I started doing markets in Philadelphia with my vegan macarons.”
If customers can’t choose between her 17 flavors (plus the additional six vegan options), they can do custom orders. Or they can go to Instagram, which Terise has turned to in the past for new flavor suggestions, including for her featured flavor of the month. Tiramisu was her favorite featured flavor of 2020.
Customer Erin Urffer of Roxborough attests she always orders favorites such as the pear brûlée, but seeing new options on Instagram keeps her ordering frequently.
“Every time I order, I try to get something I haven’t had before,” Urffer says.
Urffer, like Levy, found Mac’n! by Mari in the summer of 2020 while searching for Black-owned businesses to support.
“I’m pleasantly surprised that a lot of that business has been sustained,” Terise says, referring to customers brought her way by SHOPPE BLACK, a business development company that promotes Philadelphia’s Black-owned enterprises.
After removing any caps on ordering at the start of April, she hopes to expand production incrementally in the months ahead while eventually adding staff that she can mentor.
“I don’t necessarily have aspirations to have a retail location,” Terise says. “In the future, I’d love to have my own [production] kitchen and team.”
Order for delivery from mac-nbymari.com.