While I am at the IACP conference I won’t have a chance to write new posts, so today I am sharing one of my favorites:
Macaroon cookies have been a favorite of children for centuries. The original version was a delicate combination of whipped egg whites, sugar, and ground almonds, similar to an amaretti. The actual origination is blurred, but they were likely first created in an Italian monastery in the 1500’s. The monks joined the pastry chefs of Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henri II of France (also known as Henry VI of England), bringing these treats to France. During the French Revolution, two Benedictine nuns paid for their room and board by baking these delicious treats. The cookies became favorites all across Europe and eventually were brought to America.
The original cookies are meringue-like and vary based on what region they come from. In England they are called macaroons, in France it is macaron, and both come from the Italian maccarone or maccherone. In America, when you hear the word macaroon, you assume that it will be a mounded coconut cookie, very sticky and exceptionally sweet. It isn’t known when in history coconut was added to the recipe, but most likely it was done to give them more body and as a stabilizer. In the past few years Macarons have had a resurgence of popularity and can be found in patisseries and other high-end bakeries in a variety of flavors.
Today’s recipe comes from The Bakers’ Dozen Cookbook, compiled by members of the Bakers’ Dozen, a group of professional and amateur bakers. Recipes were submitted by members and reviewed and assembled by some of this country’s finest professional bakers and cookbook authors. It is one of my most treasured and utilized cookbooks, full of recipes that make everyone look like a pro. I am lucky to be a member of the San Francisco chapter and was one of the recipe testers. I tested this recipe and was thrilled to discover it is much less sweet than normal coconut macaroons. The use of unsweetened coconut is the real secret – the cookies are dryer, cook more evenly, and aren’t cloyingly sweet. They are by far the best macaroons I’ve ever had and I’m certain they will become a family favorite for you too.
Desiccated or Dried coconut comes in a variety of shredded widths, from coarse to very fine. The coarser the grind of the coconut, the more the cookies look like haystacks. I like a blend of fine and medium grind, so I have some chewy pieces and then smaller pieces that blend together more like a dough. If you can’t find a small enough grind, you can always put the coconut in a food processor and chop it yourself. Using unsweetened coconut reduces the sugar content so that the coconut flavor is more pronounced. The addition of pecans, although extremely subtle, offsets the sweetness a little and adds an appealing flavor that enhances the coconut. If you want a flavor closer to the original Italian version, use almonds.
Because macaroons are made with raw egg whites, the cookies need to be cooked all the way through to be safe. Most are fist-sized and remain gooey in the center. Making them small allows the inside to cook before the outside gets too brown. You wind up with a tender, moist cookie with a delightful crunchy exterior! I use a very small spring-loaded ice cream scoop which makes them extremely easy to get onto the baking sheets and exactly the right size.
These are definitely best on the day they are baked, but do hold up well if kept in an airtight container at room temperature. You can keep the “dough” overnight, covered, in the refrigerator. I usually bake half on one day and the rest the next day. Just make sure you stir the “dough” very well after it has rested to reincorporate the egg whites.
If you know people who have dairy or gluten sensitivities, these cookies are perfect for them. And because they contain no flour or leaveners, they are often the dessert of choice for the Jewish Passover holiday. They travel well and are a great choice for sending overseas or to your children at college. The only problem with these cookies is that because they are only a bite or two each you just keep popping them in your mouth, one after the other, until they are all gone, LOL. Enjoy!
Kitchen Skill: How to Separate Eggs
Separating eggs means you are supposed to separate the yolks from the whites, placing each in a separate bowl. The easiest way to do this with the least risk of breaking the yolks is while holding your hands over a bowl, break an egg into one hand and gently toss the yolk back and forth between your hands, letting the whites drip through your fingers into the bowl. Drop the yolk into a separate bowl. Be extra careful if you are whipping egg whites, even the slightest amount of yolk in the whites will ruin them.
- Position racks in the center and top third of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly butter the sheets. Combine the coconut and pecans in a large bowl and set aside.
- Combine the sugar, egg whites, corn syrup, vanilla, and salt in a heavy-bottomed small saucepan. Stirring constantly, heat over low heat just until hot to the touch (carefully dip in your finger to check). Do not bring to a boil. Pour over the coconut and pecans and mix well with a wooden spoon.
- Drop by rounded tablespoons (or use an ice cream scoop) onto the prepared sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Bake, switching the position of the sheets from top to bottom and spinning back to front halfway through baking, until golden brown, about 17 minutes. Transfer to wire cooling racks and cool completely.
- The cookies can be stored at room temperature in airtight containers for up to 1 week.
- Yield: about 5 dozen cookies
- MAKE AHEAD: The “dough” can be made a day ahead and baked off the following day. Stir well to reincorporate egg whites before baking. These are best on the day they are baked, but do hold up well. If you are planning on shipping them to someone, wrap them individually before packing.