My first ever macaroon was an utter disappointment. Our first Passover in the United States brought to our table a lot of surprises. We could just walk into the supermarket and buy our matzo there. Imagine that! Just like people buy bread and eggs and milk – there it was, in a special isle (its own isle!) with a big bright sign that said “Passover Foods”. We were in shock, amazed that this kind of blatant display was in full view of everyone to see.
Back in St. Petersburg, my family would go to this one particular spot in the city where you could get matzo. We would then transport it back where it would reside in our kitchen, among all the regular food items. No one in Russia cleaned out their kitchen free of “chametz” for the holiday – it just wasn’t a practice back then. Plus, on your way back from the matzo pick-up, you kind of had to be discreet with it. Being Jewish in Russia wasn’t particularly hip and if you were too vocal about it, it was downright dangerous.
Speaking of dangerous, I have this vivid memory, when we still lived in Russia, of my father going to the synagogue for Rosh Hashana with my mother pleading with him not to walk down the street wearing his makeshift yarmulke in broad daylight. She was afraid he wouldn’t make it home – but he did it anyway, in a brave act that borders on careless. If something had happened to him, he would have left a wife and a little child behind. It is ironic that my father, who doesn’t believe in god, made it a point to go to temple in Russia on the High Holidays. It is also lucky for all of us that nothing happened to him in the process.
Back to our first Passover supermarket experience – you can only imagine our shock when we walked into the supermarket to find boxes upon boxes of matzo, jars of gefilte fish, a kosher for Passover orange juice (!), candies, soups, matzo meal, and boxes of cookies named macaroons among many other items. My father decided we should give macaroons a go and put a box in our grocery cart.
Later at home, when we dug into our holiday-appropriate foods and it came time to sample the macaroons, I bit into one tentatively. I spat it out. It was gummy and sugary and had a chemical aftertaste. Not knowing better, I blamed the coconut and decided that perhaps these chewy cookies were not for me.
It was decades before I tried them again. And it’s all because of Andrew.
Casually, a few months ago, he mentioned that the single reason he looks forward to Passover is the prospect of eating macaroons after a seder. I attributed his nostalgic love of irrational comfort of childhood treats, but he persisted and I wound up promising him macaroons for Passover. I leafed through many a cookbook and read up on what makes for a satisfying, tasty macaroon. The most helpful of cookbooks was Alice Medrich’s latest “Chewey Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies” – an amazing cookie book (whose pages I sometimes want to eat) with instructions specific enough to satisfy the most meticulous minds. Alice Medrich (who’s blog I adore), knows her desserts, and she is painstakingly exact about them – providing you volumes and weights, telling you what to look out for in recipes. It is one of her recipes that I wound up adapting – with spectacular results – from the two dozen macaroons I made, we ate everything within two days. Let’s not consider the caloric impact of such a move – some might deem it a mistake, but what a delicious mistake that was.
So delicious, it blows those little boxed macaroons out of the water – and to smithereens.
Currently, I’m experimenting with adding a bit of melted butter into the mix here. Obviously, you might want to skip it if making this for a seder, given that brisket is often the center of the seder meal. However, if your seder is meat/bird free, you could try adding a couple of tablespoons of melted butter. The results are heavenly.
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
3 cups unsweetened dried coconut flakes
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup demerara sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Place all the ingredients in a large heatproof mixing bowl (stainless steel is best) and set the bowl in a skillet with barely simmering water and stir the mixture with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom to prevent burning. Stir for 5 to 7 minutes until the mixture is very hot to the touch and the egg whites have thickened a bit. They will turn from translucent to opaque. Set the egg white mixture aside for 30 minutes to thicken up more.
2. Preheat the oven to 350oF and place the racks in the upper and lower thirds in the oven. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
3. With two tablespoons, place the coconut mixture in neat heaps on the lined cookie sheets – 2 inches apart from one another. Bake for 3 minutes and rotate the sheets from front to back. Bake another 2 minutes, and switch the baking sheets from top to bottom and vice versa. Lower the temperature to 325oF and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the macaroons are a mix of cream and gold colors and the edges get slightly brown. Cool baking sheets on cooling racks and let cool completely before peeling away from the parchment paper.
4. Serve, preferably, on the day the macaroons are baked – they’re best day one. However, they’re still delicious for a few more days, though it’s doubtful they will last that long in any household that loves a macaroon.
This is such a lovely post, Olga. Thank you for sharing those memories – and I totally agree, that book is delicious!
This was a fascinating read–thank you for the story. And those macaroons look like they have an especially high tasty to effort ratio–I’ll try them tonight!
Thank you for sharing your memories of life in Russia, and for the recipe. Macaroons were one of my favorite treats as a child!
How did you know I had coconut macaroons on my mind? I made almond ones last week, but I have soft spot for this kind. A lovely post and story, as always too. Miss you!
Tara – thank you, and Happy Birthday!!
Max – yes, the tasty to effort ratio is quite favorable!
Jennie – maybe I was talking your ear off about them and planted the evil macaroon seed? Miss you too. Let’s see one another soon!!
One of my favourite types of small caked treat! Thanks for posting and telling a great story!
Your father is a very brave man.
This morning I opened a can of macaroons (the first of many I suspect) and set them on my desk. God help me if I can last the day without going through the entire thing. I might have to bookmark this one until after the holiday is over, though. I have but one of the coconuts, one of the sugars and one of the extracts you call for. I’m building my must-buy list for next year off of the posts I’ve been reading. Also on the list: almond flour and tapioca balls.
Fresh and Foodie
I love macaroons and these look like absolute perfection. Love the perfectly browned and chewy edges.
I love the story you shared, too. Nice post.
I’ve never had a macaroon! I love coconut tho so I’ll have to attempt to make these.
I adore macaroons! So glad you found a recipe you like and were able to enjoy them.
Mairi @ Toast
I love coconut and those look like delectable little morsels of chewy coconut goodness.
I found this recipe while googling for pesach recipes. I adore macaroons! I have always baked them home made, either plain coconut and /or chocolate coconut macaroons. Ina Garten has a good dairy recipe with sweetened condensed milk that is good for breakfast with some coffee, or to put out with tea at the end of a dairy meal.
I am mainly commenting though because I am inspired by what you wrote about your father. He is indeed brave and courageous. As an orthodox Jew(who mind you is a scardy cat ad never would have herself had the courage to do it or support it!) that said, your dad decision really moved me. It was also psychologically smart. Defying the communists is what gave people strength to sustain their identities and empowered them to keep desire for freedom alive. Read “Fear No Evil” by Natan Sharansky where he expounds on this. Even once Sharansky was freed and was commanded to walk in a straight line across the Berlin bridge to his freedom, he intentionally walked crookedly, just to defy them and show his independence.
Good y”t and Chag Sameach!
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I will make these for Easter as well. Maybe some almond mararoons too. Both are high priorities in my life (year round). Thanks Olga.
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