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Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Macaroon for the 21st Century! (And holiday cookies, too)

These are rough times. From our European vantage point, the Old Country seems to be unraveling (tax cuts for the rich, billions being spent on two wars, Wiki-leaks shenanigans). Meanwhile, over here, climate change has made it colder not to mention snowier, which has resulted in late, overcrowded trains. And in our Berlin neighborhood, even as the grimy snow piles up on the sidewalks, so, for some reason, does the garbage. It looks a bit like an ugly bomb exploded here. So, in order to bring some more balance and sweetness to the world, I figured I'd spend this Sunday baking holiday cookies and some macaroons, and then sharing the recipes with you (because I'm all about redistribution of wealth). That doesn't make much sense, I know, but either does anything else going on these days.

Here's something that does make sense: My new macaroon invention! I had set out to make the Barefoot Contessa's coconut macaroons, which are ridiculously simple: Mix up 14 oz. sweetened shredded coconut with 14 oz. sweetened condensed milk. Add some vanilla and some whisked egg whites. Bake. Thing is, I had come home from the store with unsweetened coconut and unsweetened condensed milk. And this being Germany, stores aren't open on Sundays (don't get me started).

Luckily, macaroons are marvelously flexible. And luckily, yesterday when I was cruising through Punjab's market, which is an amazing mixture of Indian grocery store, Halal butcher and "Afro Shop" (one entire row is dedicated to hair extensions and associated products), I picked up this huge container of vacuum packed dates for next to nothing. I had found the sweetness for my unsweetened ingredients. The super sweet dates alone probably would have sufficed, but I wanted to push the macaroon envelope. So I made this magic sauce: Start with some butter or ghee in a pan, throw in some fresh ginger, add two sliced bananas and a handful of pitted, chopped dates. Sautee it all until the bananas and dates shine with the butter, then add enough water to cover the fruit. Cook, stirring, until it all turns into an unappetizing-looking mash (a few chunks are okay). Add more water if necessary.

Date banana sauce. Looks bad, tastes great
Now taste. Yum-mo-lishious, no? Save a bit to sweeten tomorrow morning's oatmeal, then add the rest to your 14 oz. of unsweetened condensed milk and mix it up well (it wouldn't hurt to cook this a bit, too, if you want). Add the 14 oz. unsweetened coconut and stir it all up. If it seems too watery, add a bit more coconut. In a separate bowl, whip two egg whites until they have firm medium peaks (mine never peaked, and it didn't seem to wreck things). Fold the eggs gently into the coconut milk mix. Scoop into little piles onto a baking sheet. Bake in a 325 degree oven until the little tips of your coconut bergs are burnished brown. Keep an eye on the bottom of the macaroons, as they might burn if you have a crappy baking sheet. Let cool. Eat. Want to experiment? Try using coconut milk in place of the condensed milk. I can't wait to try that one.

The finished macaroons with their earthier color and more complex flavors.
Okay, macaroons are not really traditional holiday treats, so the kids and I threw together some great little cookies with which they can bribe their teachers, too. When I make Christmas cookies, I prefer to make a big hunk of base dough, and then add variety at the pre-baking/decorating stage. And my favorite base dough comes from Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook. I take Alice's lemon-clove cookies and remove the cloves (because cloves don't quite go with everything, while lemon pairs well with everything from chocolate to chicken -- and no, I'm not making chicken cookies. This time).

So, if you want to try these, go to the link and follow the recipe. You should end up with a couple of logs of dough in the refrigerator (I like to double the recipe and get four logs). Now's the time to get creative. As the dough chills, come up with your own mixtures for topping the cookies. We did: Lemon zest-black pepper-salt-sugar; candied ginger-dried cranberry; sugar-lemon zest; walnuts-chocolate. Though it sounds weird, my favorite by far turned out to be the lemon zest/black pepper one. To make it, I covered a plate with freshly ground pepper, sprinkled some turbinado sugar onto the pepper, added just a tiny pinch of salt, and some lemon zest. I then took one dough log and rolled it in the mixture, pressing hard so that the spices all get stuck in a fairly even layer on the whole log. Then, I sliced the log into 1/4" slices (each one a cookie) and put them on a baking sheet. If you want some more flavor, top the cookies with the same mix you put on the sides. Bake at 350 F until the cookies are golden brown.

Rolling the cookie dough log in chocolate/walnut/cranberry topping
Give a few away. Eat the rest. Feel better about the world.

1 comment:

Natty-G said...

gorgeous recipe, JT.
AND you were in IKEA on a Monday! your life rocks.