Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Coconut: Beauty or Beast?

Coconut -- that much maligned ingredient seems to be having a do over or perhaps a makeover.

Oil, shredded, water, extract -- all forms of coconut seem primed for a comeback of sorts.

I first noticed coconut popping up in articles that proclaimed coconut to be the new trendy drink -- available now! -- on supermarket shelves.

Then articles describing that most Midwestern of desserts -- the coconut macaroon -- started appearing with recipes "from the archives". Recipes for coconut cream pie soon followed.

But I knew coconut was really having its moment when writer Melissa Clark wrote about coconut a few weeks ago in her New York Times Good Appetite column with the headline, "Once a Villain, Coconut Oil Charms the Health Food World."

An endorsement indeed!

I have found that most people either love or hate coconut. Although I'm a fan, my husband and daughter are not. So coconut desserts seldom make an appearance at our house.

But along with the spritz cookies on the cookie platter at our holiday gatherings were always coconut macaroons. When my mom passed away, my sister shouldered the responsibility for both the spritz and the macaroons so I feel obligated to have them at least once a year (what a hardship!).

I must admit though, those macaroons are lovely, large sugar bombs!

The typical ingredients in a coconut macaroon from the Midwest include sweetened condensed milk, sweetened shredded coconut, egg whites, vanilla extract and salt. Much like this recipe from cookbook author Ina Garten.

Sweet and simple indeed!

But really, with all those egg whites, a coconut macaroon is really just a meringue cookie. Is there a need for the sweetened condensed milk AND sweetened shredded coconut? Perhaps a less sweet cookie would continue to encourage a macaroon comeback.

In fact, in searching through some of the vintage cookbooks I own, I found that many older recipes for coconut macaroons used either sugar or powdered sugar instead of the condensed milk but all still used the sweet shredded coconut.

I had recently made the national dessert of New Zealand, lamingtons, which use dry (sometimes called desiccated) coconut. Perhaps I could swap out the sweet shredded coconut for the dry.

I continued my cookbook trawl and came upon just the recipe I wanted from the latest offering from blogger, cookbook author, ice cream expert, etc. etc, David Lebovitz's, Ready for Dessert.

His recipe adds a few more ingredients than the typical macaroon recipe -- honey and flour -- and substitutes sugar and unsweetened shredded coconut for the condensed milk and sweetened coconut.

He combines all the ingredients together in a large saucepan then dries the mixture out over low heat.

I didn't form my dough into small pyramids like he did but instead used my smallest cookie scoop to form small cookies. After they had baked and were cool, I dipped a few in bittersweet chocolate.

Even with the addition of the chocolate, these macaroons were far less sweet than the cookie of my childhood. Addictive really. I usually only ate one macaroon from the Christmas cookie platter but I ate two of these in a flash.

This coconut macaroon recipe from David Lebovitz's blog is similar to the one in his new book.

And best of all, several non-coconut lovers gobbled them up as well. Which makes me think that it wasn't the coconut they disliked, just the overwhelming sweetness of the cookies and perhaps even the gooey texture.

So I'm happy to say that coconut appears to have made a comeback -- even at my house.

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