The true test of a good bakery isn’t in the first bite of a chocolate chip cookie so warm the chocolate strings as you pull it away or the gooey center of a sticky bun bloated with butter and brown sugar. Those things are almost always pretty good – even when they’re flopping down the chute of a rest stop vending machine.
No, the true test is in how much love the bakers put into the most humble sweets. The moist, soft crumb of a lemon pound cake. The sweet vanilla sandiness and snap of a sugar cookie done right. And the delicate, not-too-sweet balance between crispy and chewy in a Coconut Macaroon.
A few weeks ago, I tried the coconut macaroon at Flour Bakery + Cafe in Boston – a place better known for its “Throwdown”-winning sticky buns, homemade Oreos and milk chocolate-hazelnut cookies – and it was close to a religious experience. Forget those cloyingly sweet, grocery-store macaroons so rubbery, they make you look like a cow chewing its cud. Flour’s macaroons are quarter-cup mounds of coconut and pastry cream that look heavy enough to use for an eight-ball break, but they are so much lighter. Crisp and caramelized on the outside. Fall-apart soft inside.
Try them in all their humble glory, or dress them up with a quick dip in melted chocolate and a pinch of chopped nuts or pretty pastel sprinkles on top. Or, just stir a cup of chocolate chips into the dough. The end result won’t be as pretty, but if you close your eyes, it won’t matter.
Slightly adapted from Joanne Chang’s “Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe” (Chronicle, 2010)
Makes about 24 cookies
- 1/2 cup (120 grams) whole milk
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
- 2 tablespoons cake flour
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Two 14-ounce (400-gram) bags sweetened shredded coconut
- 6 egg whites
- 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
- Pinch of kosher salt
- For the Pastry Cream: Pour the milk into a small saucepan, and warm it over medium-high heat until you see bubbles forming around the edge of the pan. (The milk shouldn’t be boiling.)
- Meanwhile, grab a small bowl, and stir together the sugar, flour, and salt. Set aside.
- In a separate medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until blended, then slowly add the flour mixture.
- Remove the milk from the heat, and slowly add it to the egg-flour mixture, a little at a time, whisking constantly.
- When all of the milk has been added, pour the mixture back into the saucepan, and place over medium heat. Whisk continuously and vigorously for about 1 minute, or until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil.
- Remove from the heat, and stir in the vanilla. (It will look like a thick paste.)
- Cover the mixture with plastic wrap, placing it directly on the surface of the pastry cream, and let it cool completely.
- Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat®.
- In a large bowl, combine the coconut, egg whites, sugar, salt, and pastry cream. Stir with a wooden spoon until well combined. (At this point, you can store the dough in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.)
- Using a 1/4-cup dry measuring cup (preferably with a rounded bottom) or large spoon, scoop the dough in rounded mounds onto your prepared baking sheet. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown all over. Let them cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes. Then transfer the cookies to the rack to cool completely.
Storage: You can store the macaroons in an airtight containers at room temperature for up to 3 days.
Chocolate Chip Variation: Add 1 cup (165 grams) semisweet chocolate chips to the dough, and mix until evenly distributed. Bake as directed.