Sunday, 7 February 2010

sweetly exposed: the coconut macaroon

Surface area is key. Do we risk exposing ourselves, increasing our showable surface of the world, for the sake of a thrill? A new experience? A challenge? Or do we sit back, curling into our own skin for the least amount of risk possible...

Exposure is something I've been thinking about recently. How large is our personal surface area that we show to the world, and what happens when we try to change it?

Generally, it seems as if it can go one of two ways: more surface area means more places to be touched, moved, and changed, for better or for worse. We try singing in public for the first time, despite lack of key and rhythm, and at the same time, we show our weak spots to someone who may exploit them, who may search them out and dig into them with manipulation and force. Though necessary for betterment and growth, surface area is risky, when it comes to people. Great changes, or great hurts.

Now, bear with me here. Because I've decided that these laws of surface area apply when we talk about macaroons. Coconut macaroons, to be precise.

You see, crispiness, enhanced by larger surface area, is extremely desirable. But at the same time, making a smaller macaroon for more exposure means if you don't watch carefully, they will dry out and turn into little brown rocks so hard they may break your teeth.

Truly, it's all about the amount of exposure. And coconut, like many people, is both hardy and delicate. When properly baked, a coconut macaroon holds itself together. Firm, chewy, brazenly delicious. Undercooked, the strands of coconut lose their grip on one another, unraveling at their egg white seams into something mushy and not appealing to anyone. Overcooked, and the coconut shuts down, overwhelmed by the intensity of heat and brought to its knees by exaggerated caramelization.

But, it is possible to make a perfectly baked, crispy macaroon that maintains a delicacy of chew and a subtlety of sweetness. And believe me, you want these macaroons in your life - they have been especially designed for those moments when surface area stretches thin, threatening to tear and shred. When we are worn down by the tired lines from "you've become redundant" to "we want different things" or even "you really should change that color of lipstick," we need a good macaroon with balanced exposure to sort us out.

Yes, it's these moments when coconut macaroons become your friend, and don't threaten to exploit vulnerability. The macaroon understands the dilemma of surface area, and hopefully, will show you that although sometimes painful, that risk of overexposure is exactly what makes it, and perhaps you, so great.

Coconut Macaroons
adapted from David Leibovitz's Room for Dessert

4 egg whites
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp honey
2 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp vanilla
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (optional)

1) In a medium saucepan, warm the egg whites, sugar, salt, and honey over medium heat, stirring. When warm to the touch, add the coconut, flour and vanilla. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to dry out. The bottom of the pan will begin to scorch, and the mixture will turn brown. This takes about 5 minutes.

2) Remove mixture from heat and let cool. Speed up the process by spreading the coconut mixture on a cookie sheet. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. When cool enough to handle, form 1 inch mounds with your fingers and place on a baking sheet. The macaroons won't spread, so they can be placed quite close on the sheet, but not so close that they are touching one another.

3) Bake 15 to 18 minutes. To check the macaroons are done, flip one over. When the bottoms are dark brown and caramelized, they are ready.

4) Optional: if you want your macaroons dipped in chocolate, melt the chocolate in a water bath, without scorching the chocolate. Take cool macaroons and dip in the chocolate. Refrigerate so the chocolate hardens. Alternatively, press one or two chocolate chips into the top of hot macaroons.

1 comment:

  1. Love the metaphor tess,
    and the addition of chocolate chips to coconut macaroons. Good writing, good work, dangerous recipe for me however, since i am so quick to set fire to food. I have never cooked egg whites. I'm gonna try....