French macarons are known as the world’s hardest cookie to make and perfect.
All the ingredients in the cream-filled sandwich cookies must be baked at the exact same temperature, from the flour to the egg whites to the sugar. The egg whites have to be aged a certain amount of hours before they can be used. And the pastry is very sensitive to moisture.
And yet, the macarons—not to be confused with the coconut-based macaroons—have become Emily Welk’s specialty.
Welk, owner of Hazel & Rye Artisan Baking Co., has made roughly 1 million French macarons in roughly 75 varieties, from classic vanilla to nontraditional savory tastes such as buffalo chicken wings.
She learned how to make them while working as a corporate chef for Giant Eagle in Cleveland, where she helped create menus and traveled to train employees.
“They never moved forward with it, but it was something that I fell in love with doing, so I haven’t really stopped since,” she said.
As the pastry chef at Hazel & Rye, Welk estimates she creates roughly 80 French macarons each day that the downtown Canton casual eatery is open (weekdays, 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.). Her most popular flavors are salted caramel, raspberry and birthday cake, which features cake inside the cookie.
She said the challenge of creating different flavors for the classic pastry continues to appeal to her.
“I wanted to make it my goal to perfect it, and I finally did,” she said.
The 2009 Minerva High School graduate never has been shy of a challenge.
At age 24, Welk, then Emily Grable, purchased Hazel Artisan Bakery in North Canton. It was the place that inspired her to go to pastry school.
She had started working at the bakery as a cookie scoop in 2010, just as she began to realize that she no longer wanted to pursue fine art in college and wanted to sculpt cakes instead. She transferred to Hocking College, where she earned a degree in French pastry art in 2012.
“Whenever they talked about selling the business, I decided to use all my business skills from my others jobs as well as my pastry chef skills and purchase the business,” said Welk, who also previously worked as the pastry chef at the Canton Woman’s Club.
She and her dad, Mike Moegling, reopened the business in May 2015 under the Hazel & Rye name with an expanded café menu and modernized desserts. Roughly a year later, in March 2016, they opened the second Hazel & Rye location at 220 Market Avenue S in downtown Canton.
Looking back, Welk calls it “divine intervention” that the owners of the Huntington Bank building sought her to open the café in the building’s spacious lobby and that it quickly developed such a loyal customer base.
“Just being in the downtown atmosphere blew the North Canton business out of the water,” said Welk, who closed the North Canton location in mid-2016. “… I like to say that downtown Canton saved my business.”
Welk estimates she serves between 80 to 200 customers a day, not including catering.
This year, Welk plans to expand the eatery’s vegan menu and wedding cake selection, as well as invest in environmentally friendly products. She plans to switch to compostable plastic bags and to-go containers and eliminate plastic utensils and Styrofoam.
“As I get older, those things become more important to me because I want to see the longevity of the earth but also of the area that I live in,” she said. “I feel like I can make a small impact, and that’s good.”
When she’s not at Hazel & Rye, Welk, now 28 and living in Massillon, enjoys oil painting, sketching and drawing, as well as spending time with her wife, Brianna Welk, who is a chef in Fairlawn, and their three dogs, Roman, Roux and Grady.
Emily Welk’s local favorites:
Top of the Viaduct Restaurant. “They always have the best ‘feel good’ food, and I always feel at home there.”
Favorite thing to do:
“I love to discover new locally owned businesses. Between new restaurants, shops, art studies, coffee houses and bookstores, Stark County never leaves me without something to do.”
Most admired CEO or business owner:
Jessica Bennett and Melissa Sherrill. “They brought something amazing alive with the Downtown Flea, and I look forward to it each month.”
Most memorable spot for you:
Canton Palace Theatre. “I’ve been attending events there since I was little, and some of the best times with my family were spent there.”
Favorite place to shop locally:
Print & Press Shop & Studios. “They always have things that make me laugh. They have such a wide range of artists that I’m always seeing new items in the shop, and I can never leave empty-handed.”
Favorite local coffee shop:
Muggswigz Coffee & Tea. “I have been going there for almost 15 years, and everything has always been consistent and delicious. Dirty iced chai is my go to!”
Favorite local spot to grab a drink:
Sandy Springs Brewing Co. “The beautiful atmosphere and variety always have me coming back for more.”
Favorite place to shop local for gifts:
Arrowhead Vintage & Handmade Goods. “They always have something for the hardest to buy for person on my list.”