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Sunday
Apr062008

In Defense of the Coconut Macaroon: Ode to an Ugly Cookie

Macaroons

Cakespy Note: Although the terms macaron and macaroon can be used interchangeably for the French version of the cookie, to avoid confusion we have referred to the French version as macaron and the American version as macaroon below. Additionally, thank you to Cake Gumshoe Christine, who made the cookies pictured above.

 

In magazines, online and in fancy restaurants these days, it's hard not to run into the macaron--you know, that delicate little French sweet-burger of a cookie. And while yes, the macaron does have a certain je ne sais quoi, we at Cakespy can't help but feel for their ugly little sister, the coconut macaroon. It's quite different from its French counterpart--usually a lumpy, coconut-rich confection, often dipped in chocolate. No, they're not pretty, but there's something unpretentious and charming in their unabashed excess: they're extremely sweet, extremely rich, and extremely...coconutty. And so, we'd like to take a few moments to rediscover the coconut macaroon, and why it ought to be loved:

 

 

First things first: how in the world are these two cookies related? While they don't look or taste the same, they are indeed part of the same family tree. While there is evidence of meringue-type cookies going as far back as the 1500s, the macaron in its current form is accepted as taking shape in the late 1700s when two Benedictine nuns, Sister Marguerite and Sister Marie-Elisabeth were seeking asylum in the town of Nancy during the French Revolution, and paid for their housing by baking and selling the macaron cookies. However, these original macarons were simply cookie rounds--it wasn't until the 1930s that fancy tea room Ladurée began serving the cookies in a new way, with a sweet ganache filling between two of the traditional rounds. Naturally, the sweet filling and flavor and texture contrast caught on, and the l'il Luxembourgers began to take the world by storm (read more about the Frenchie ones in this fantastic writeup by one of our favorite foodies, Robyn Lee).

 

 

However, veering on a different path than Ladurée, the cookie also gained popularity with the Italian Jewish population because it requires no flour or leavening (the agent that raises and lightens a baked good, like yeast, baking powder and baking soda—instead, macaroons are leavened by egg whites) and can be enjoyed during Passover. Naturally, due to a high level of deliciousness, it gained popularity all over Europe as a year-round sweet, and regional variations popped up. The coconut macaroon seems to have gained popularity first in Glasgow, Scotland; it is most likely from here that it hopped over the pond and captured the hearts of Americans.

So, that's the story of the macaroon, or at least the best we could piece it together (our sources listed below). But more importantly, why should you love the coconut macaroon? Well, here are several points in its favor:
Transportability: With its lumpy texture and dense shape, this is an easily transportable treat, ideal for packing in a lunch or carrying in a bag for an on-the-go snack. Try doing that with a macaron, we dare you--those babies are so delicate they'll crack if you look at them wrong. So high maintenance!
Shelf Life: The French macaron, with its meringue-y outer shell, is not only delicate, but it goes stale very rapidly; in our opinion, its texture and taste are severely compromised if they are not consumed the same day they are made. On the other hand, coconut macaroon seems to last longer if stored properly; we've had fantastic macaroon experiences even two or three days after baking. Whether it's due to their higher fat content or its denser texture, we don't know, but we like the idea of a cookie that's not gonna love us and leave us the very next day.

Nutrition: Coconut is very high in Manganese, a mineral that is part of many different enzymes working throughout the body. Manganese deficiencies can cause weight loss, nausea and vomiting, poor growth, and abnormal reproduction. Clearly, you don't want any of that! By simply adding some sugar, egg whites and flour to your coconut, you have thus created a pleasurable way to increase your Manganese intake.
Brownies, combining with: Though perhaps you haven't thought much about browniefication (the art of combining brownies with other baked goods), clearly the coconut macaroon is a fine choice when you're considering what cookie addition might give your brownies a little "oomph". As proven by the Macaroon Brownie at Dish D'Lish in Seattle, it is a marriage made in heaven. Try that with a macaron.
Pop Culture: Coconut macaroons have made several appearances in film and TV:
  • They play a major role in the 1994 black comedy "Freaked" when one of the main characters complains of the coconut being "skimped on" in his macaroon. So sad!
  • In the first Season of The Sopranos, Tony tries to play peacemaker by presenting his mother with a box of macaroons, which he knows to be her favorite. Though it's clear that Livia Soprano wants those cookies, she's one manipulative mom and ultimately turns them away. Quel dommage!

Where can you buy coconut macaroons? Online, here are a few spots: coconutmountain.com will ship coconut macaroons anywhere in the US from New Hampshire; Tripician's, who have been making macaroons since 1910, will ship them anywhere in the US from Southern NJ; The Macaroon Shop in Avon-By-The-Sea, NJ, will also ship within the US; online ordering is not available, but their contact information can be found at macaroonshop.com.

How can you make coconut macaroons? Well, you could use the recipe listed in this previous post from the Sweet Melissa Cookbook, which we've tried and is fantastic (photo top); or, you could give this exceedingly rich and delicious one a try (we love the sweetened condensed milk--so bad, but so good), from the Barefoot Contessa:

Coconut Macaroons
  • 14 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
  • 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Combine the coconut, condensed milk, and vanilla in a large bowl. Whip the egg whites and salt on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until they make medium-firm peaks. Carefully fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture.
  3. Drop the batter onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper using either a 1 3/4-inch diameter ice cream scoop, or two teaspoons. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool and serve.

 

Reader Comments (50)

I thought my manganese levels were down... now I get it. My body is telling me to eat more coconut macaroons, forget about the fancy-smancy and eat hearty!

I like the bit of history there. I had no idea!

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterAran

To me, the words "coconut macaroon" have only one connotation -- the horrible kosher-for-passover macaroons that come in an orange can, that used to pass for dessert in our house when I was growing up. They were rubbery, like chewing on a kitchen sponge, and to this day I cannot bring myself to eat anything that even remotely looks like them. Yours do look beautiful, though....perhaps it's time for me to try again.

mmm...your pictures are making me really really hungry...

April 6 | Unregistered Commentercotton candy

Oh my gosh - coconut macaroons are my favorite childhood cookie! I can remember my grandmother and I making these together in her kitchen when I was a kid. Thanks for featuring these! You rock Cakespy! xoxo

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterThe Cupcakery

You have performed an important culinary public service. Indeed, I have shunned the coconut macaroon for too long, and intend to correct that immediately!

An Ode to my Forbidden Weakness:
Chocolate Macaroons! I attribute my slender figure to the ill fate of migraines. If not for my strict diet, I'd be as big as a house! I LOVE SWEETS!!!

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterJaimee

I'm all for saving the maccaroon! I love them, even in it's ugly state.

April 6 | Unregistered Commenternoble pig

Love, love, love them. Hey, my mom used to make oatmeal coconut maccaroon cookies (that's what she called them), that were to die for. But they weren't very maccaroon-like. Still, now that I've remembered them... :-)

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

I love them all, altough, I'm shocked by the number of people who only know the coconut macaroon and not the macaron, so lovely.

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterGeggie

Oh YES coconut macaroons mmmmm!!! I just adore them and your pics are SO tempting!!

Rosie x

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterRosie

"Manganese...Most people don't even know what that is..." is also a quote in Caddyshack just for some more pop culture knowledge. Those macarons look good.

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterKrysta

Mm. I love coconut macaroons, but have never made them myself.

April 6 | Unregistered Commenteremilyrena

Give me that coconut brownie concoction NOW!

I am with Lydia. "Coconut macaroon" immediately makes me think of Passover and the nasty round balls of coconut that at at first look oh so good so every year you try it thinking, maybe just maybe, and then of course, are disappointed. Then again, that may be because I don't like coconut. But generally speaking, any food that reminds me of Passover (matzo ball soup excluded), is generally not something I want to eat the rest of the year.

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterHilary

now you have me feeling sorry for the coconut macaroon too. I do have the sweet Melissa cookbook. Who knows I might just give it a try! Great history by the way.

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterVeron

coconut also helps prevent goiters, which is personally why i eat it.

ten points for you if you recognize this tv quote:
What's bothering you? Is it my goiter?
Goiter? What goiter?
This football shaped growth jutting out of my neck!
Oh, no--it's distinctive. As a matter of fact I wish I had one!

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterGrace

Excellent historical summary Cakespy! I had recently been curious of the origin of the coconut macaroon. I do enjoy the coconut version, but only with chocolate chips. Much easier to make, in my opinion, than the macaron.

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterSwellCakes

I adore coconut macaroons! And they are one of the easiest cookies to make, ever.

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterElle

They've never been a favorite of mine (maybe because they're ugly.) But I was actually just looking at a macaroon recipe in one of my cooking mags today...pondering whether or not I should give the recipe a go!

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterRecipeGirl

Brownie macaroons!! Oh my. I really want to try those.

Great post... quite interesting the history. Funny, we were just pondering this at work (really!). A co-worker came back from a business trip to Paris and brought us back French Macarons. Which lead to the discussion about the "two type of macaroons."

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterHeidi A

I always equate macaroons with Mounds, which means I usually love macaroons if made properly. Actually, it's been a while since I've eaten a macaroon.

If you were to add sliced almonds to a macaroon with mini chocolate chips, it would be similar to an Almond Joy and also a good cookie to take for hiking and such!

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

Aran: Yup--this is important for your health!! And of course, more on those macarons later :-)

Lydia: These ones were fantastic--Cake Gumshoe Christine made the top ones from that Sweet Melissa recipe, and man were they good.

Cotton Candy: I look at them and even though I consumed the items, they still make me hungry!

Cupcakery: Ooh, glad to bring back those memories! Time to make a batch!

T.W. Barritt: Yes! Do your part! :-)

Jaimee: Sweets give you migraines? Goodness, that is terrible! Good for the waistline I suppose...but so sad!

Noble pig: YES! Hail the ugly cookie!

Ann: Your mom's cookies sound fantastic! Is this one that you have put on your site? Sounds like macaroon meets oatmeal cookie = delicious.

Geggie: Yes, it is unusual! It seems like the macaron was nonexistent in the US til fairly recently! But we shouldn't forget the macaroon!

Rosie: Yay! Glad you enjoyed! :-)

Krysta: Awesome!! Fuzzy animals, pop culture and manganese! We adore you!

Emilyrena: Maybe it is time to try!?

Obsessive Foodie: Come to Seattle and we will go get some!

Hilary: Yes, I suppose that can happen--there are certain cookies that were ruined for me during childhood. But now you've got us thinking about wonderful, wonderful matzoh ball soup...

Veron: Try that recipe! It is fantastic!

Grace: I want to say the Simpsons because I remember when Homer was getting anger-goiters, but I don't know for sure!!!

Swellcakes: Yes, they are much easier to make--fewer ingredients and steps. And a bit more forgiving, I think!

Elle: Yes, they are very easy--and so good!

Recipegirl: DO IT!

Heidi A: How funny! Yes, it was interesting to find out the connections--it always seemed like they were two totally separate entities!

Christina: Mm, mounds and almond Joy. You're right--a great chocolate covered macaroon would be like some sort of divine, supreme Mounds. Le sigh...

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

Manganese! Finally, an excuse for me to eat more macarons and macaroons. For years the coconut and ugliness put me off the treats, but I recently got over my coconut/ugliness hang-ups and found a whole new world of sweet.

But I have to say: they don't hold a candle to a good cupcake. No matter how French, pretty or delicious. Cake reigns supreme!

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterGP

Rediscover the macaroon???? Some of us have never been away.....

www.thecakedcrusader.blogspot.com

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