2012: The year of the macaroon?

by piecurious

I’ve never really been one to indulge in year-end reflections.  Nor have I been one to establish New Year resolutions.  Perhaps it’s because my life for the past eight years has been timed with the school year and therefore the future was always to some degree pre-established.  2011 changed all that.  But 2012 will bring me back.

At the end of June I finished my Master’s degree, stopped thinking about a PhD and walked away from academia and into the professional bakery.  I spent three months working the night shift baking bread, and three months working the early morning shift preparing basic pastries, fillings and quickbreads.  The motivation was my passion for baking; the objective was to learn.  The learning experience has been both memorable and invaluable. But as it turns out, it’s my passion for learning that I’ll be pursuing into the New Year.

2012 will bring me back into the realm of higher education, this time as staff rather than a student.  I’m stepping out of the bakery and back into the university.  But the baking will continue and piecurious will remain relevant.  The underlying premise of piecurious is the exploration of life through baking—the documentation of life events through the manipulation of ingredients to create baked goods that are indulgent or rejuvenating, comforting or celebratory, simple or complex.  Because life is all of these things and what we eat—what we consume and allow to become a part of us—often both reflects and highlights life.

Take the macaroon, for instance.

I’ve never liked macaroons.  But that might be because the only macaroon I was previously familiar with were the cheap, boxed confectionary-type: plasticized chocolate enrobing a small lump of heavily processed sugared coconut.  However, that all changed when, following the interview for the new position I’ll be fulfilling this coming January, I decided to visit a nearby café I once enjoyed on a weekend getaway two years ago.

As I ordered my espresso, I eyed the pastry display case searchingly.  Job interviews are uneasy to decipher and the aftermath can be a tightrope.  You want to feel positive but not get your hopes up.  Reflecting on your responses, it’s easy to fixate on what now might seem like glaring missteps and stutters.  I was searching for something that would be indulgent and rewarding, as well as soothing and comforting.

And there it was.  This white triangular tuft of coconut with burnished edges.  The decadence of coconut is both rewarding and comforting.  It’s triangular shape—unique and positive, reaching for success, aiming for the sky.  Its size?  Utterly indulgent.

I eyed the macaroon nervously on my plate.  This was not the time for disappointment.  I peeled back a crusty edge.  It was sticky sweet and chewy, like toffee.  My heart sank.  Sticky sweet is not a characteristic I generally enjoy.  But I persevered into the heart of the macaroon.  It was soft and moist.  It warmed my soul.  It said “Well done!”  But it also said, “If it doesn’t work out, it only leaves room for the exploration of more opportunities!”  Indulgent, uplifting and positive.  Future-focused, forward-looking.

It only seemed fitting that I should start off 2012 with a macaroon.  I made three different versions before I felt the recipe could provide you with a macaroon that would both propel you into the New Year with ambitious high hopes, as well as provide comfort should  you encounter any disappointments or roadblocks along the way.

For you, dear readers, a macaroon to inspire and comfort.  All the best in 2012!

Future-Positive Macaroons
(makes six large, soft & fluffy macaroons, or 12 smaller, chewier, stickier macaroons)

6 oz (2 cups) fine desiccated coconut
½ oz (2 tbsp) finely ground coconut*
6 oz organic cane sugar
1 oz (2 tbsp) honey
2 ½ oz egg whites (2 egg whites)
¾ tsp sea salt

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Combine all ingredients together in a skillet.  Heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture is hot to touch.  Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.** With moistened fingers, take golf-ball sized amounts of the mixture and form them into a triangle on a lined baking sheet, spaced 1 1/2” apart.  Bake for 10 minutes.

* Many recipes call for the addition of a small amount of flour.  I used finely ground coconut instead, but I believe that using either an equal amount of regular desiccated coconut or forgoing the amount altogether would work as well.

** This step can be skipped if simplicity is desired.  I tried both pre-cooking the batter, as well as using a raw batter, but I found using a raw batter provides a stickier and less moist macaroon.