Recently I got to thinking about some of the most polarizing food subjects. You know, the things that get people talking in a great, spirited love-'em-or-hate-'em debate. Cilantro, for starters. Sushi. Gin. Tomatoes. Rachael Ray. You get where I'm going here.
Coconut is definitely on that list, am I right? Its such a complex food that you can't really be on the fence about it. Its bold flavor, distinct scent and rough, chewy texture puts it in a category of its own. Other things taste like coconut, never the other way around. So if, like my husband, coconut makes you do that shuddery "I'm getting the heebie-jeebies just thinking about putting it near my mouth" thing, then I'll catch you next time. But if you are on Team Coconut, then I hope you'll try this recipe ASAP, because it makes one of the best dang macaroons I've ever had.
Typically, coconut macaroons are among the simplest, quickest cookies to make. Even if you decide to dip them in chocolate, the number of ingredients and steps is under five. The simplest recipes use egg whites, sugar, vanilla and sweetened coconut, and just like that they can be perfectly delicious. But so often, you can end up with something kind of clumsy and chewy and cloyingly sweet and it ends up taking a whole day to eat one, nibbling away at it here and there. Now, there's really nothing wrong with that, per se, but I love finding recipes that aim to create the perfect version of something, and in doing so make it totally craveworthy and render me completely unable to put the rest away for later, even if I've probably already had enough.
This is why I am totally obsessed with the recipes from America's Test Kitchen. They take stuff that's already good and somehow find a way to make it even better. Although they rarely provide the simplest way to get there, its so worth it. And maybe I should keep this to myself, but I get the biggest thrill out of having to hunt down a certain ingredient that I've never used before. Like the cream of coconut (not to be confused with coconut milk or unsweetened coconut cream) that has a full, round, creamy coconut flavor and makes these macaroons out of this world.
More greatness about the version of this recipe: it uses a mixture of unsweetened coconut and the sweetened variety usually found in the baking aisle, which makes for a much more balanced sweetness in the finished product. Plus the combination of textures of the two kinds of coconut (the unsweetened variety is dry and very finely shredded, unlike coarsely grated and almost wet sweetened coconut) makes the macaroon more like a cookie and less like the center of a candy bar.
The drier mix of coconut and the combination of the cream of coconut and sugar in this recipe create the most fantastic crunchy crust on the bottom of the cookies, a texture you don't always get with a macaroon. It makes for the most awesome textural element between the chewy coconut and the slick of chocolate on the bottom of the cookie.
When I sent some of these home with a friend, she and her husband thought there was some kind of wafer-like layer involved under the chocolate and made it seem like I'd put waaaay more effort into making these than I actually did. Ha! Awesome. I love when that happens. But then I always end up ruining the glamour by telling people the truth. I should work on that.
Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons
Adapted from Baking Illustrated
Sweetened cream of coconut, often used to make pina coladas and other cocktails, can usually be found in most supermarkets by the booze, canned and under the brand name Coco Lopez. Finding the sweetened coconut is no problem in the baking aisle, but for the unsweetened coconut, you may have to check the Asian foods aisle or a natural foods store. If you have no luck finding the unsweetened coconut, then use all sweetened coconut, but reduce the cream of coconut to 1/2 cup, omit the corn syrup, and add two tablespoons of cake flour to the coconut before adding the wet ingredients.
Makes 4 dozen
1 cup cream of coconut
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
4 large egg whites
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
3 cups sweetened shredded or flaked coconut
10 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate chips (I like Ghiradelli)
Place the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper sprayed lightly with cooking spray or silicone baking mats.
In a large bowl, whisk together the cream of coconut, corn syrup, egg whites, vanilla and salt until well-blended. In another large bowl, using your fingertips, toss together the shredded coconuts. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix with a rubber spatula until evenly moistened.
Drop the mixture by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets. Form the cookies into loose haystacks with your fingertips (moistening your fingers with water will prevent sticking). Bake until the cookies are softly set and golden in spots on top and your can see the bottoms are deeply browned, about 15-17 minutes. Cool on the sheets for about two minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
Line the baking sheets with fresh parchment paper or wipe the silicone mats clean. When the cookies are completely cool, place about two thirds of the chocolate chips into a microwave-safe bowl. Melt the chocolate on high power in 30 second intervals, stopping to stir after each interval. Put the remaining third of the chocolate chips into the melted chocolate, stirring again until all the chocolate is melted and smooth.
Holding a macaroon by its pointed top, dip the bottom of the cookie into the chocolate, using a spoon to gently coax the chocolate up the sides a bit if necessary. Place the dipped cookies on the lined baking sheets, and refrigerate until the chocolate is firm, about 15 minutes. Store in an airtight container.