Thursday, March 29, 2012

Macaroons: Gluten Free, Kosher for Passover and irresistible

The usual in like a lion and out like a lamb of March has been turned upside down this year.  Outside there are crocuses and daffodils shivering in the sudden drop in temperature as March ends.  Even with March ending with temperatures reminiscent of Winter or Fall the end of March/beginning of April to me signals Passovers approach.  Every year I ignore the containers of macaroons in the "Passover shelves" in the grocery store.  Store bought macaroons are squishy throughout with a flavor that is more sweet then true coconut.

 A good Macaroon is a personal favorite, at their very best the tender inside contrasts with the crackly outside and their sweetness is subtle against a pronounced coconut sweetness.  I have baked up many versions of them, some with beaten egg whites and a long list of ingredients while others required a boxed mix and water.  However I was still in search of the perfect recipe.  Food52 posted a new macaroon recipe by Alice Medrich's that boasted  tiny wings of toasty brown coconut with soft and discrete inside layers,  As soon as I read the description I began searching out the large shards of coconut in the recipe.

After baking up a batch I found the inside layers to be almost tough, instead of the soft pillowy center I was craving.  Lewis loved them, calling them flannel macaroons because they have real texture to them.  However the boys both suggested I try again, but this time use the tiny shreds of coconut.  I might have switched out the coconut and then just followed the recipe, but then I would have had 8 egg yolks in my fridge.  So when the mixture appeared to be dry, I added 2 of the egg yolks back in.  I mean who said macaroons have to be made with egg whites only?  After all the richness and fat of the egg yolks would add the creamy texture I was after.  That is just what they did, there is a still a crackly crisp outer layer where the coconut crisped in the ovens heat, but the inside texture is softer, more giving and tender with a pronounced coconut flavor.  I tested the cookies again with all 4 egg yolks and found the extra yolk muted the coconut flavor.  So these will not eliminate the yolks in the fridge, but it will reduce it by 2.


3 cups medium shred coconut (preferably unsweetened)
3/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Mix all of the ingredients well in a large bowl.  Set the bowl in a saucepan of simmering water.  You are not trying to create a mock double boiler here, the bowl should be in the water.  Mix the batter well using a silicone or other heat proof spatula for about 2 to 5 minutes, just enough to dissolve the sugar and warm all the ingredients.

Set the bowl of cookie batter aside for 30 minutes so the coconut can absorb some of the liquid.  While the batter is resting place the oven racks in the upper and lower third of the oven and preheat to 350°.

Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper and scoop out tablespoon sized balls of dough spaced 1 inch or so apart on the sheets.  I used a 1 Tablespoon cookie scoop to portion the dough out.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the tray positions after 10 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown.  To cool either places the pans directly on cooling racks or slide the parchment paper on to the racks.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Building the Best Fruit Salad

Yesterday was Julian's 7th birthday, which meant it was time to bring in a treat to share with his class.  When Sebastian was in first and second grade any treats had to be gluten free and vegan with no nuts and no citrus.  I never baked a treat for his birthday during those 2 years that could be enjoyed by all his classmates.  When he was in first grade I tried to make gluten free vegan brownies but the results were terrible so I made regular brownies and 2 children had candy.  The following year I made Gluten Free Oatmeal Lace Cookies, which meant only his vegan classmate had candy.  I thought that was the hardest it would ever get, until this year when I was getting ready for Julian's birthday.  This year Julian has a classmate who cannot have fat.  Fat free brownies anyone?  No, how about fat free cupcakes?  Having watched this child have to eat cereal when everyone else was happily eating a muffin for breakfast I was not going to exclude him from my planning.

However Julian threw a wrench in any easy treats when he calmly informed me he did not want his treat to be candy.  So what would Julian love that all of his classmates could share?  Well, I could bake an angel food cake, but honestly the idea had no appeal to me and I was having trouble imagining Julian agreeing.  As soon as I suggested fruit salad Julian was excited and happy.  My children know when I make a fruit salad it will be something to celebrate, not a bowl of hard fruit that you eat slowly in order from most to least boring.  When we brought out the bowl Julian's classmates looked at the contents and were just as excited and happy as he was.  They were just as excited as they would have been for cupcakes.  The child who can't have fat, he was absent.

I could share the exact recipe for fruit salad I mede yesterday, but that would only help you if you found exactly the same fruits I did.  So instead I am going to share my rules for making a fruit salad.  If you follow these rules you can always have a fruit salad worth celebrating.  One that gets you invited to potlucks on the condition you bring a large bowl.

Fruit Salad Rules:

Do not add any fruit that is not ripe and flavorful.  I know for many of you this one is obvious, but I have been served many fruit salads with unripe melon, mango, etc in giant oversized chunks.  It is better to serve less fruit salad instead of bulking it up with pieces of fruit that really should be fed to the compost.

Large fruits should all be cut into bite sized pieces

Do not use frozen fruit

A really good fruit salad will be beautiful and the colors will be well balanced.  Honestly, if you look at a bowl of fruit salad and you notice that it has predominately one color family that is a sign it will not be as tasty.

Fruits to include:
Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc), peaches, nectarines, cherries (pitted), mango, melon (watermelon, pineapple, honeydew, cantaloupe, gaia, crenshaw, etc), kiwi

No: Apples, pears, grapes, bananas (I know some folks who love bananas in their fruit salad, but many folks hate bananas and when added to fruit salad they contaminate everything around them with their flavor), fruit that is not perfectly ripe (I had a friend once serve a bowl of fruit salad, apologizing for the unripe and flavorless honeydew melon.  Ummm, if it isn't good, don't add it)

When a small amount of alcohol is not a problem (note: No, I did not do this for Julian's class!) I add 2 tablespoons of cointreau or other good quality orange flavored fruit liquor to every 10 to 12 or so cups of fruit salad.  This boots the flavor and helps to preserve the fruit.  This trick can improve underripe or flavorless watermelon, although it does not work with other melon.

If you cannot add alcohol use the freshly squeezed juice of orange colored citrus (oranges, clementines, tangerines).  This will also help with underripe or flavorless watermelon, however it will not preserve the fruit at all.

If you have strawberries that are not perfect you can cut them up and sprinkle them lightly with sugar and stir them.  Allow to rest for 5 minutes or more, until the strawberries start to release some juices.  Then you can proceed with adding other fruit.  Unfortunately this only works with strawberries.

Julian enjoying his birthday breakfast of a chocolate croissant at Mirabelles

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sesame Honey Cookies

It was the week before school vacation and we were working to clean our house for a visit from our friends the Gatherers.  I heard Sebastian explain to Julian, "We need to clean the house for them because they ALWAYS clean their house when we visit."  I decided that 9 years old is too young to explain they just keep their house clean at all times, rather then living like slobs until they have friends come over.  As part of cleaning we carefully ate the last of the peanut butter cookies, Malcolm, their 4 year old, has a peanut allergy.  Once the peanut cookies had been eaten I began to think about creating a peanut safe version.

I don't stock any of the peanut butter alternatives in my house like sun butter and soy nut butter because we can eat peanut butter, which is cheaper and tastier.  So I decided to make a tahini cookie, one that would be safe for Malcolm and help with the many containers of tahini stacked in my fridge.  Apparently I am often worried that I don't have enough tahini when I go grocery shopping.

The peanut butter cookies I made used maple syrup in addition to sugar, for the tahini cookies I used honey instead.  Honey is a traditional accompaniment to tahini, paired with it in many desserts and other dishes.  As I mixed and baked them I was reminded of the smell of halvah, a traditional middle eastern confection.  The first few I scarfed down continued to remind me of halva, probably because I had the idea in my head, or because they taste different when they are warm.  When Sebastian took a bite he thought for a moment before telling me they reminded him of honey sesame candies.  The flavor of these cookies is indeed reminiscent of honey sesame candies, the ones I steal every year from my kids Halloween bags.  However these are more substantial and chewy and they don't get stuck in your teeth.

If you are searching for desserts to make during Passover think about baking a batch of these cookies.  There is Kosher for Passover baking powder which does not contain cornstarch, all baking soda is kosher for Passover.  The dietary restriction on leavening refers to a rise that is from fermentation, sour or sharp.  Commercial yeast is still off limits but baking soda is, "just minerals.  What do we care about minerals?"

Sesame Honey Cookies

1 cup tahini
1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg 1 tsp baking soda
2 Tbsp honey
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment (I did one pan without the parchment paper and I was able to remove all but one cookie in one piece with a spatula. However after that experiment I made the rest with parchment).

In a large bowl, stir tahini and sugars together until well combined. Add egg, baking soda, honey, vanilla, and salt and mix well. Stir in the sesame seeds.

Measure out 1 tablespoon of dough either with 2 tablespoons or a One Tablespoon measured scooper. Roll the dough in your hands to form a ball and place on the prepared cookie sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart. I placed them 3 across and 4 down.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool for 10 minutes on the trays so they will began sturdy enough to handle before serving or transferring.