The assignment was for a “pick-up” dessert for the wedding shower I was co-hosting with three other friends. Looking for something easy to handle, My mind went first to bar cookies; brownies, blondies, maybe something using a little dulce de leche. Then in the cookbooks and magazines I was looking at I saw it, macaroons, nothing fancy for certain, but a cookie I had been meaning to try.
Macaroons had their ancient roots in amaretti, traditional almond meringue cookies made from almonds, egg whites and sugar. Possibly originating in an Italian monastery, the name is derived from the Italian “ammacare” meaning to crush or beat, referring to the main ingredient of amaretti, ground almonds.
Tradition says that macaroons arrived in France by way of two Benedictine nuns seeking asylum during the French Revolution. The nuns, referred to as the “Macaroon Sisters” paid for their housing, baking and selling the confection.
Since the leavening in these cookies comes from egg whites, not flour, they were adopted by Italian Jewish bakers as a Passover sweet. The move in later years to shredded coconut was either the product of adventurous bakers or possibly because the almond cookies were often too delicate to transport and coconut made for a sturdier cookie.
The French translation of macaroon is macaron. The macaron is an entirely different cookie with essentially the same basic ingredients. The macarons we have come to be familiar with in the last few years are the multicolored darlings of the Parisian pastry shop. They are an elegant cookie, with a crisp smooth meringue exterior and a filling sandwiched between the layers. Macarons can be filled with jam, fruit curd, ganache or any variation of buttercream.
This recipe is a very easy to make coconut macaroon. The sweetness of the shredded coconut is balanced with the slightly tart dried cranberries and almonds. Like most macaroons, they are gluten free. Though the recipe called for the cookies to be shaped into pyramids, I scooped them out into balls and flattened the bottom. I drizzled bittersweet chocolate over the top, I think they look like little berets. You could also dip the bottoms in chocolate for a neater presentation. The one problem I had with the recipe is a continuation of the ever shrinking package size. The recipe calls for 3 cups or 8 ounces of sweetened shredded coconut. The standard package of that size now is 7 ounce or 2 2/3rds cups. You can decide if you need to buy another bag, I didn’t. Variations are endless. A tropical version using chopped dried papaya and macadamia nuts drizzled with white chocolate sounds like a delicious possibility to me.
Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons
Makes about two dozen medium sized macaroons
- 3 c (lightly packed) sweetened shredded coconut
- 3/4 c sugar
- 3/4 c egg whites (about 6 large)
- 1/3c sweetened, dried cranberries, roughly chopped
- 1/4c sliced almonds
- 1 3/4 t vanilla extract
- 1/4 t almond extract
- 9 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 6 T heavy whipping cream
- Mix first 5 ingredients in heavy large saucepan. Cook over medium heat until mixture appears somewhat pasty, stirring constantly, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Mix in 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract and 1/4 teaspoon almond extract. Spread out coconut mixture on large baking sheet. Refrigerate until cold, about 45 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 300°F. Line another baking sheet with parchment. Press 1/4 cup coconut mixture into pyramid shape (about 1 1/2 inches high). Place on prepared sheet. Repeat with remaining coconut mixture. Bake cookies until golden, about 30 minutes. Transfer cookies to rack and cool.
- Set cookies on rack over rimmed baking sheet. Stir chocolate and cream in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Mix in remaining 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract. Spoon glaze over cookies, covering almost completely and allowing chocolate to drip down sides. Refrigerate until glaze sets, at least 2 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Transfer cookies to airtight container and keep refrigerated.)