Friday, June 4, 2010

Not Talkin' about those Pretty Little French Things: Chocolate-Filled Coconut Macaroon Sandwich Cookies

Let's be clear from the get-go, these are not the pretty little French macarons that are being created as of late by everybody and their second-cousin in an array of spectacular colors.

Those are beautiful, no doubt about it, but I haven't yet mustered up the fortitude to attempt such temperamental delicacies. Every time I turn around, though, I find myself reading about them or watching demonstration videos that stress the contortions required to successfully produce them.

I suspect all the fuss only makes me more hesitant to try them. I do, however, anticipate that I'll learn to make them in Pastry 1 class next fall, and I figure it's best I just sit tight until I can observe first-hand how an expert actually cranks them out. So, for now, I'm in fancy-macaron waiting mode and that's okay with me.

These, however, are a splendid variation on the basic American macaroon--that coconut laden, chewy-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside, white and golden institution that's frequently cloaked in melted chocolate. These wouldn't scare anybody away. They're as approachable as baseball, apple pie, and Uncle Sam himself.

Adapted from a formula that originally came from my fabulous Aunt Florence (and she really is fabulous) via my late mom's recipe collection, my revised version of these macaroons turned out exactly as I'd hoped. What makes these distinctive? Well, the presence of a small amount of  butter and cream cheese to start with. Aside from my aunt's version, I don't know if I've ever seen a macaroon recipe that includes cream cheese, let alone butter, but one can't deny that they both lend positively to the taste and texture.

Besides adjusting the proportions for most of the ingredients, I did some customizing by adding in a couple ounces of grated almond paste, which--I think--lends cookies like this a distinctive aura that they wouldn't otherwise possess. Yep, it's the almond paste that makes these truly macaroony (a non-technical term not to be confused with macaroni), and not just coconutty. I also decided to use one whole egg versus just the white or just the yolk, and I substituted a smidgen of milk for a bit of orange juice. My instincts also steered me toward the use of superfine sugar as an alternative to regular granulated; it gets a gold star for always mixing in so cooperatively.

The resulting cookie was absolutely delicious, with all the texture and flavor qualities I was aiming for. I am sure I will be making these again and again. I sandwiched the cookies with melted semisweet chocolate, but they can be sandwiched or dipped in any type of chocolate you like. Of course, if the chocolate aspect isn't your thing, they're perfectly pleasing unadorned, too.

(They kind of look like little hamburgers, don't they?  But really yummy hamburgers . . . )

Chocolate-Filled Coconut Macaroon Sandwich Cookies

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup superfine sugar
1 large egg
3 Tbsp. milk (I used 2 percent)
1 tsp. almond extract (I used Penzey's brand)
1 cup All-Purpose flour (I used unbleached)
scant 1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups finely shredded dessicated coconut (this is dry, unsweetened coconut; you can find this in health food/whole food stores if it's not in your supermarket)
2 oz. almond paste, grated (make sure it says almond paste; don't accidentally use marzipan)

In a large mixer bowl, combine the cream cheese, butter, and superfine sugar on low speed until well blended. Add in the egg, milk, and almond extract on low speed until combined.

In a small separate bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Add this into the above mixture and beat on low speed just until blended. Continuing to beat on the lowest speed, gradually pour in all of the coconut; mix until combined. Pour in the grated almond paste and mix just until evenly blended.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and press it into a disk. Chill it in the fridge for about an hour or until firm.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Using a portion scoop (I used size 40, which holds just about 1 and 1/2 tablespoons), portion the dough evenly onto the parchment, leaving a couple of inches between cookies.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until they just begin to turn lightly golden on top. Let them cool on the cookie sheet on a rack for about five minutes before removing them to the rack to finish cooling completely.

If you like, slowly melt about 1/2 cup of chocolate chips/pieces of your choice in the microwave, or in a small bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water on the stove. Use about 2 tsp. melted chocolate to fill a pair of cookies by sandwiching them gently together. Let the filled cookies stand undisturbed so the chocolate can cool and set before serving them. Store the cookies in an airtight container; they'll stay fresh for days if well covered.

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