Once upon a time, macaroons were my culinary nemesis. I fought to transform their fluffiness into something rich and toothsome, to contain their tendency to collapse, and to tame their general unwillingness to conform to my idea of what a macaroon should be.
As the battle raged on, I increased the amount of coconut to an absurd degree. I experimented with different egg-beating techniques. I beat my head against the wall and asked the culinary gods to tell me what I could do to fix a recipe (Nigella Lawson's coconut macaroons from HOW TO BE A DOMESTIC GODDESS) that refused to work as written.
Finally, I changed the kind of coconut I used--and all at once, the whole thing came clear.
I grew up with sweetened shredded coconut. It was our go-to staple when a recipe called for the stuff, so I assumed it would do for macaroons, too. It does not. Sweetened coconut weighs the meringue down, exacerbating its tendency to collapse. It refuses to properly bond with the meringue, ensuring you'll have flat, fluffy macaroons studded with coconut instead of chewy domes in which the coconut provides structure and texture. My family insists fluffy macaroons are still delicious, but they aren't proper macaroons. They aren't what I set out to make.
If you value your macaroon-eating experience, use unsweetened stuff. You can probably find it in the bulk section at your supermarket, or perhaps in the baking goods aisle. Get regular/medium cut, not fine, and bask in the glory that is the perfect coconut macaroon.
I should note, too, that macaroons and macarons are different things. Macaroons obviously use coconut as a base, while macarons rely on almonds. I was shocked to discover how few Americans knew about them when I began to tweet about my epic culinary battle with the things.
Now I give you the results of that battle: coconut macaroons, slightly adapted from Nigella Lawson's recipe.
- 2 large egg whites
- pinch cream of tartar
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons ground almonds
- pinch of salt
- 1 tsp vanilla or coconut extract
- 1 cup plus two tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
- generous handful of chocolate wafers or good quality chips(optional)
Preheat the oven to 325ºF/160ºC.
Beat the egg whites until they begin to froth, then add the cream of tartar and continue to beat until they're almost, but not quite, at the firm peak stage. Add the sugar a teaspoon at a time, beating all the while until the peaks are definitely firm and shiny.
Fold in the coconut, almonds, salt, and extract, taking care not to deflate the meringue. Once everything holds together, with little bare meringue showing, form the mixture into eight high domes a couple of inches apart on a baking sheet spread with a piece of wax paper. Make them a bit higher than you think they should be; despite my best efforts, they still deflate a little as they bake.
Bake the macaroons for about twenty minutes, at which point they should be golden brown on top. Remove them from the oven and let them cool on the pan for at least half an hour.
The macaroons don't strictly need chocolate, but you're now ready to dip them if you are so inclined. Fill a small pot with water and place it over medium-high heat. Set a metal bowl or another, larger pot atop this (or use a double boiler if you're fancy) and plunk your chocolate into it, taking care to avoid getting even the smallest drop of water in there. Stir the chocolate with a rubber spatula until it's smoothly melted, then immediately remove it from the heat.
Dip the bottoms of the meringues in the chocolate and set them on a piece of waxed paper to firm up. Once they all have a thick coating of chocolate along their wee bottoms, use the edge of your spatula to drizzle the extra chocolate over their tops.