Coconut Remix: Salted Sesame Caramel Macaroons

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As I said last week, I wasn’t planning to bake for Passover this year because I wasn’t going to or hosting a Seder. But then Robicelli’s Tiramatzu came into my life, so I had to try a homemade version. So that was it, right? Well… There I was, minding my own business, when the new issue of Fine Cooking magazine randomly arrives in my mailbox (I do not have a subscription), with a Chocolate-Orange Cannoli Cheesecake on the cover, so HELLO, of course I have to investigate further. What do I find inside? A magnificent spread on coconut macaroons! Macaroons are a staple dessert on the Passover table, though they all-too-frequently come out of a container rather than fresh out of the oven. But these were no ordinary macaroons, mind you—they were macaroon flavors I have never seen, nor would have conceived of. It became immediately apparent that my baking projects would have to be adjusted to make room for a couple of these, and I quickly zeroed in on one flavor in particular: Salted Sesame Caramel Macaroons. There are also gems like pistachio, cherry-lime, and others– check them out here. No really, please do– and let me know how they turn out! I did try out the Chocolate-Stout as well, but those were slightly problematic (more below).

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If you celebrate Passover, you have more than likely been subjected at some point in your life to the ever-present Manischewitz coconut macaroons, which can be easily recognized by their trademark canister. Growing up, these were always a part of our Passover celebrations, and only when I got older did I learn that it doesn’t have to be this way. Coconut macaroons (not to be confused with the similarly-named, labor-intensive, and infamously fussy French macarons) are possibly the easiest type of baked good that one can make. Macaroons generally consist of shredded coconut, sweetened condensed milk, egg whites, and whatever flavoring agents you choose, which all get folded together and shaped into little mounds for baking. Seriously, it is that simple. So Fine Cooking took it up a notch and added some interesting mix-ins. And yes, at this point as we verge on the month of May, you’re probably like, “Why are you still trippin’ on Passover, girl?” But you see, sweetened coconut haystacks can and should be eaten all year ‘round, not just for Passover. They are delightful little mounds whose flavor can be transformed on a dime, plus they’re a great option for gluten-free dessert!

As mentioned above, I also made the Chocolate-Stout variety in addition to the Salted Sesame Caramel. These did not come out the way I had hoped, even with two attempts; the extra liquid from the stout made the mixture looser, and therefore a lot of the milk/egg white mixture seeped out, even though I tried to drain the second batch a bit (which yielded drier macaroons). I tried using shredded coconut the second time, as opposed to flaked coconut, and these finer strands did not hold on to the liquid as well as the flaked coconut. As for choice of beer, I used Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout for the first batch, which turned out more chocolaty and had a nicer flavor; I used bottled Guinness (not draught) for the second batch, which was fine, but did not contribute much to the flavor. If you wish to try these, the recipe is here— I probably won’t make them again personally, but it’s a promising idea.

So let’s focus on the ones that I loved– Salted Sesame Caramel! They had a lovely chewy, almost creamy texture. The macaroons held together well, though I had some seepage, but this was mostly because I was too lax in shaping and packing them. I should have packed them more tightly into my ice cream scoop and tucked in the stray coconut strands. There is a bit of tahini (sesame paste, which can be found in many grocery stores and definitely at Middle Eastern markets) mixed in with the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla, which lends a certain what-is-IN-there? flavor, but somehow works perfectly, though it might not sound like a natural flavor combination.

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But it’s the salted sesame caramel that makes these very special. You make a simple dry caramel and stir in toasted sesame seeds, which completely transforms it into a Middle Eastern caramel! I, for one, had never sampled a liquid sesame caramel– sesame candy, yes; a drizzle-able caramel, no. The unique flavor is nutty, sweet, and salty, and it could not be a more perfect accompaniment to those tahini-scented macaroons. These will be on my Passover table every year from now on, and I might need to make them several times during the year just because they’re fabulous—no holiday needed!

My husband always teases me about all the “descriptors” in my baked goods, like there’s never anything as simple as “chocolate cake”. He’ll ask, with punctuations, “Are you making salted. malted. chocolate. caramelized. toasted cookies?” This one does fit the bill. 🙂

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Salted Sesame Caramel Macaroons
Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine – Issue 134
Yields 20-30 cookies

I used a smaller cookie scoop (about a heaping tablespoon) to yield more macaroons. If you do this, double the amount of caramel.

For macaroons:

  • 1 cup sweetened condensed milk (note: this is not a full can)
  • 1 tablespoon raw tahini (sesame paste)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 14 ounces (4 ½ cups) sweetened flaked or shredded coconut
  • 2 large egg whites
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

For caramel:

  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat an oven to 350°F and place a rack in the middle position. Line 2 rimmed half-sheet pans with parchment paper.

Place the condensed milk, tahini, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl; whisk to combine. Add the flaked/shredded coconut and fold it in with a large rubber spatula until it is evenly mixed in.

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In a small bowl, beat the egg whites and salt on medium speed with an electric mixer for about 4 minutes, or until stiff peaks form; do not overbeat. With the spatula, gently fold the whites into the coconut mixture in two additions, making sure they are completely incorporated.

Using a medium-sized ice cream scoop, two spoons, or wet hands, form mounds of batter about 1 – 1½ inches in diameter. Pack them neatly into the scoop (not like my photo). Place them about 2” apart on the prepared baking sheets.

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Bake each pan for 20-25 minutes, rotating halfway through the baking time. Keep a close eye on them starting at around 19 minutes, as they get very dark quickly towards the end. The macaroons should be golden brown in spots and the bottoms well-browned (but not burned). The original recipe says to bake both pans at the same time on two racks, but I prefer baking one at a time.

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Set the baking pan on a wire a rack to cool for 5-10 minutes, then slide the whole piece of parchment off the pan and directly onto the rack to cool the macaroons completely. Repeat with the second pan if baking separately.

While the macaroons cool, make the sesame caramel. Place the sugar in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over medium-low heat. When it has mostly melted, start moving it gently around the pan (try to avoid getting sugar up on the sides). Keep stirring; cook until the sugar is fully melted and has turned a handsome shade of amber.

Remove from the heat, then stir in the butter, sesame seeds, and salt. Using a spoon or whisk, drizzle the caramel over the macaroons and let cool.

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The macaroons will keep for a good week at room temperature in an airtight container, refrigerated for up to 3 weeks, or frozen for up to 6 months. But mine definitely didn’t last long enough to test either of the 2 latter situations. 😀

Nutrition information from Fine Cooking (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 160; Fat: 8g; Fat Calories (kcal): 70; Saturated Fat: 7g; Protein: 2g; Monounsaturated Fat: 1g; Carbohydrates: 21g; Polyunsaturated Fat: 0g; Sodium: 110g; Cholesterol: 5g; Fiber: 2g.

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2015.

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