Every week, FOOD52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.
Today: Macaroons go punk rock.
We can be anything we want to be, if we have learned anything from macaroons.
Murkily defined, they can be made from almond or coconut (or both) and take many forms: the haute French prom queen macaron, the ragged Italian brutti ma buoni, or the sweetly decadent American coconut ball we know and love.
Even the coconut ones show shifts in personality -- from the tinned version people either recall fondly or ultimately reject; to 2-ingredient home cook recipes (sweetened coconut + condensed milk); to glossy, crackling pyramids from the likes of David Lebovitz. All are proud macaroons; all have their strengths.
So we may as well keep riffing. Alice Medrich, chocolatier and author of scads of baking cookbooks, is famously a little wild with her desserts. She often veers away from traditional cakes and cookies in the most thrilling way, adding white pepper to her marble cake, and buckwheat to her butter cookies -- making both not just more interesting, but simply better. Such is the reward for her risk-taking; and the incentive for us to follow in her offroad macaroon adventures.
What seems in part to define macaroons is what they (usually) lack: flour. Which makes them perfect for Passover observers and gluten avoiders -- and just about everyone else too.
Medrich's macaroons do fall in line here by abstaining from flour, relying on little more than coconut for heft, and that magical brew of egg whites and sugar to hold it all together. There's also a bit of salt and a bit more vanilla, but deep down this recipe is a vehicle for eating piles of coconut.
And this is where Medrich gets experimental. She developed this recipe not with the standard bag of sweetened, angel flake coconut in mind, but those wide, sloping unsweetened shavings, often called coconut chips and sold at health food stores nowadays. (We've talked about these before.)
They're an incredible ingredient, as welcome in granola as in the thing I call trail mix (a.k.a. a bowlful of chocolate chips and pecans, a dried cherry or two, and, most importantly, this coconut). It richly deserves to have a cookie designed around it. (Medrich found the recipe also works wonderfully even with the angel flake coconut, in case you can't get your hands on some of the nice stuff.)
To make that cookie, all you do is mix up five ingredients in a bowl over some simmering water, then set the bowl aside for 30 minutes "to absorb the goop," as Medrich says. Then you simply heap it attractively onto your parchment-lined baking sheet and bake until the tiny wings of coconut toast up crisp and brown, while the inside layers stay soft and discrete.
Amanda said they looked armadillo-like in their defenses, but the toasty spires are easy enough to breach, if we are to gauge by how quickly all our test batches were torn through.
Naturally, Medrich offers two even more exotic upgrades: 1) Instead of painting a little chocolate shoe on the bottom of each macaroon, why not jam a piece of chocolate in each still-hot cookie and watch it melt? 2) For that matter, why not lace it with lime zest and shower it with cinnamon? Who are we to say that's not a macaroon?
Alice Medrich's New Classic Coconut Macaroons
Adapted very slightly from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich (Artisan, 2010)
Makes about 22 cookies
4 large egg whites
3 1/2 cups unsweetened dried flaked, not shredded, coconut (also known as coconut chips) or 3 cups sweetened, dried shredded coconut
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Slightly rounded 1/4 teaspoon salt
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].
Photos by James Ransom