Posts Tagged ‘Macaroons’

I really want world peace. And cookies.

Almond Macaroons

Gluten-free, Passover-friendly, sauce on the side...

People throughout the ages have commented on the apparent similarities between foods of many cultures. Take pasta as an example. The Japanese have soba noodles; Italians have spaghetti. Chinese throw wontons into broth; Jews throw Kreplach into broth—and with this last example you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference.

This year I am struck by the similarities between baking for folks on a gluten-free diet, and baking for folks observing Passover. Okay, calm down. Yes I know there is a glaring difference, but the higher-level view is remarkably similar.

Gluten-free folks avoid wheat, oats, barley, and rye. Passover folks avoid anything with leavening. But the similarity is that in order to bake something good for either group you must remove something (usually flour) and substitute it with something else. Believe it or not there are some substitutes that are perfect for both groups. No, what follows is not a recipe for gluten-free Matzos. I did see those in the market last year, so yes, they do exist. (Speaking for me and me alone, if I were gluten-free I’d just skip Matzo altogether.)

Many of the same problems overlap when you are baking for Passover or for Gluten-free diets. Flour can be a delicate item, and baking is (to be unglamorous for a moment) an exercise in chemistry. Upset the delicate balance and your end result will be (to use a highly scientific term) yucky.

If you’ve never baked for Passover before, allow me to introduce you to the traditional Passover substitute for flour: Passover Cake Meal. It is made by grinding matzo into a fine powder. Imagine grinding saltines (minus the salt) into a powder and using that to bake cookies. Imagine soaking a bowl of saltines in water. Mmmmmm. Smells good, eh? That’s what baking with matzo is all about.

Not that there hasn’t always been a certain “soul food” charm to the endeavor. I’m good for one plate of Matzo Brei (a/k/a, “Fried Matzo”—broken pieces of matzo scrambled with eggs) per year. It’s a treat and goes with the whole “fat and salt” aesthetic of soul food. More than one per year and I swear you are just looking for trouble.

Walk with me for a few minutes, would you? (it’s the middle of winter, we could use the air). Let’s walk down Madison…yeah, I know, I never get over to the East Side either. But there’s something over there I want you to see: les macarons. We won’t have to walk far because they are everywhere. You’ve seen them. You’ve likely even gotten a Groupon discount offer for them in your Inbox. They’re the beautiful, multi-colored, perfectly round macaroons that are usually filled with buttercream. They are to the 2010’s what Godiva chocolates were to the 1990’s. They’re also incredibly tricky to make at home. So I leave these to the pros. Trust me, I’ve tried.

But what I learned trying to bake macarons was that I can make a version that is less strict, and that is a happy treat for folks on gluten-free diets and folks celebrating Passover…and folks who fall into both categories.

It frustrates me that on paper they seem soooo easy. A few ground almonds, some sugar, a little egg white. But if the almonds aren’t ground just right, and the sugar isn’t mixed into the almonds just right, and the egg white doesn’t…well you get the picture. (Or shall I continue?)

But if your ultimate goal isn’t the perfection of les macarons, then you can combine the ingredients with abandon, add your own magic tricks, and end up with chewy, almond-scented macaroons that will make you skip the seder and head right for the dessert table.

I’ve taken some liberties here: well, a cheat actually. I’m using almond paste in addition to ground almonds. I’m also not expecting to end up with perfect disks, rather, I’m happy with toasty brown, irregularly-shaped cookies.

You can actually make these without the ground almonds, but using them adds a bit of structure to the batter that makes the job of dropping portions onto your cookie sheets less drippy and messy.

By the way there’s no dairy in these either, unless you include the egg whites. (I don’t.)

Amazing, eh? A “one-size-fits-all-except-those-who-are-allergic-to-nuts” cookie!


Here’s the Almond Macaroon recipe


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Nothing Up My Sleeve (Oops! Wrong sleeve…)

Coconut Macaroons

The can is purely ceremonial...

I’m beginning to feel self conscious: I’ve been boiling so much sugar lately that I’m afraid my neighbors must be thinking I’ve started a rum factory in my kitchen. The true explanation is quite innocent: I just happen to be baking things that require boiled sugar as part of their magic.

Let me tell you a little story. (Have a seat.) Many years ago I worked with a talented sleight-of-hand artist. While that sounds like the opening salvo of a very old-fashioned dirty joke, it is the truth. Sleight-of-hand artists differ from regular magicians in that everything they do is designed to be witnessed from very close range. While you watch an illusionist pull a rabbit out of a hat, part of your mind is usually doing the work to reverse engineer how the illusionist may have made this happen. At the very least you  know there’s bound to be something special about that hat—some way of hiding the rabbit.

With a sleight-of-hand artist all you see is a few coins, and a couple of pairs of hands, one pair of which likely belongs to you. My usual startled reaction to my co-worker’s tricks (and I use that word with a great deal of guilt) was, “How did you do that?” The answer was always, “It’s magic.” I could never figure out a better explanation.

I get the same zing when I boil sugar to 238 degrees: It never fails to amaze me that a saucepan of clear, dangerously hot, boiling syrup can magically transform into so many different things. Magic.

Sugar boiled to 238 degrees is commonly referred to as being at “soft ball stage.” It is called that because if you put a drop or two of the sugar syrup into a glass of cold water it should form a soft or malleable ball shape. This is cooking chemistry at its simplest. Boil the sugar to a hotter temperature and you get “hard ball stage.” You guessed it: a few drops in a glass of cold water would be hard to the touch.

If you’ve ever had Salt Water Taffy then you’ve had something that didn’t stray that far from soft ball stage sugar syrup. They cool the hot syrup on a marble slab, add a few drops of flavoring and coloring, then stretch and pull the mixture (usually by machine) until enough air has been incorporated that it has the soft milky quality that has pulled us in from the Boardwalk for so many years.

Remember the Scooter Pies I made a few weeks ago? The marshmallow I made to fill them is simply soft ball syrup whipped into gelatin. The frozen soufflé I made for Valentine’s Day had an Italian Meringue base made with egg whites and the very same soft ball syrup. The silky but rich buttercream on your cousin Debbie’s wedding cake likely started life boiling in a sauce pan (cousin Debbie may have her own dark secrets.)

Naturally if I didn’t have a Kitchen Aid-type stand mixer these things would not be in my repertoire. So it is only natural that I should find myself in front of the bubbling sauce pan again, this time so that I can resolve some unfinished business from last year.

A year ago in preparation for Passover, I decided to make Coconut Macaroons. I have an aversion to the kind they sell in the little cans. When I eat those I taste nothing but sugar and the can. I used a recipe I found that employed a generous dollop of coconut milk, a couple of egg whites, and some confectioner’s sugar. On paper it all sounded delicious. On the cookie sheet it was a loose, runny mess. I kept adding things to firm up the mixture: more confectioner’s sugar, a bit of Passover potato starch, even a touch of almond flour. Nevertheless the liquid from the cookies ran, dripped and burned onto the bottom of the oven. Have I ever told you about my fool-proof trick for ridding your kitchen of smoke? That’s because I don’t have one.

I tried that recipe a couple of times. While the resulting macaroons tasted okay they were also a bit greasy from the coconut milk. They were moist, but had no texture because the coconut was so wet it never got a chance to toast while the cookies baked. They were also far too rich for Passover dessert.

Back to the drawing board. This year it occurred to me to follow the k.i.s.s. rule: keep it simple, stupid (the latter referring to yours truly.) One package of sweetened coconut. One small batch of Italian meringue. Done. The result is a cross between a classical French Coconut Meringue (the crunchy kind) and the inside of a Mounds bar. The bonus is that they are relatively very light (as light as anything with coconut can be), and they are painless to make in quantity (you can easily double my recipe.)

Yes, by all means feel free to dip these in chocolate.

If you miss the can, you can supply your own as I did in the picture above.

It is part of the ceremony, right?


Click here for the recipe for Coconut Macaroons.


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