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Ecumenical Party Dept.: Vietnamese Passover Macaroons

Mr. T. and I went to a “Seder” last-last weekend. While a lovely event, it wasn’t QUITE the real thing though, and not just because it was a week behind schedule. There were pork and shrimp spring rolls next to the kugel and gefilte fish, and the only bitter thing there might have been me (I kept missing the latkes). Given that our host and hostess were Vietnamese- and Jewish-American, the menu makes a bit more sense–even if it was an evening of tasty syncretism that would make the more Orthodox blanch in horror.

That’d be a shame, though, as everything was really tasty. Ok, almost everything was really tasty. The gefilte fish was… edible. And, given it’s peerless provenance, I can only shudder at the thought of rank and gefilte fish. Ech. Nevertheless, the guests demolished 10lbs of toothsome brisket, stacks of matzo schmeared with chopped liver and charoset, and fastest to dissapear were the fleets of spring and garden rolls handmade by the host’s mom and aunties. And, in an impressive feat of group adventuresomeness, even the gefilte fish got eaten.

In talking to the hostess in the week before the party, I’d offered to bring sweets–after convincing her that a) there was going to be enough food and b) kugel was going to be waaaay easier to serve at a cocktail Seder than tiny shots of matzo ball soup. The obvious choice, even for a shiksa goddess such as myself, was coconut macaroons. I also included tiny bite-sized versions of my favorite flourless chocolate torte, but more on them later.

For the macaroons, I turned of course to Rose, whose christmas cookie book (ironically) has a lovely recipe for coconut macaroons… that started out with baking a whole coconut and then shredding it by hand. *sigh* Rose, Rose, I love you, but I am NOT dealing with a whole coconut. Speaking from experience, the blood and broken crockery just isn’t worth it.

So, stepping back from that whole Robinson Crusoe ordeal, I elected to mix sweetened and unsweetened coconut and add a judicious tot of rum to the traditional sweetened condensed milk that binds it all together. Still sweet, but not throat-closingly so, they were met with serious acclaim at the party, with far better Jews than I calling them the best macaroons ever. I’ll take it.

Provisioning the unsweetened coconut is probably the hardest part about this recipe. A trip to a Whole Foods or other health food store will likely set you right, though. Don’t be tempted, though, to just dump everything together and expect it to combine well. You’ll end up with coconut all over the floor and a shaggy, half mixed batter that will make the pandas cry. (Or doves, I suppose, if you’re a Prince fan.)

They’ll be lightly crispy right from the oven, but they’ll soften over time. I actually prefer them like this, a day or so after baking, in their slightly more yielding form.

Coconut Macaroons
Yield: ~26 cookies
Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum

14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
2 tbs dark rum
2 tbs lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt

14oz bag sweetened shredded coconut
8oz bag unsweetened coconut
3 tbs cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two cookie sheets with baking parchment.

In a small bowl, combine the sweetened condensed milk, dark rum, lemon juice, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the coconuts. Mix thoroughly with your (thoroughly clean) hands, breaking up and clumps of the sweetened coconut and evenly disbursing the unsweetened. Add the cornstarch and work it into the coconut with your hands until evenly absorbed.

Scrape 3/4 of the milk mixture into the bowl with the coconut and mix very well till the milk is evenly distributed and everything is tacky but not gloopy. If the coconut looks dry, add in the rest of the milk mixture. (I generally have to.)

Place a small bowl of water by the prepared cookie sheets and lightly moisten your fingertips and a rounded 1 tbs measuring spoon. Scrape a heaping tbs of the coconut mixture into the measuring spoon and press gently with your moistened fingers just enough to flatten out the bottom and compress the coconut into a rounded shape that will release neatly from the measuring spoon when turned out. Repeat, remoistinging the measuring spoon and your fingers, forming the cookies and placing them about 1″ apart on the prepared cookie sheets.

Bake in the preheated oven for 12-16 minutes, till the tops are browned in little patches and the bottoms are evenly golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on the cookie sheet for a minute or so before using a spatula to transfer them to a rack to finish cooling.

Keep well wrapped in plastic or in an airtight container.

Beranbaum, Rose Levy. Rose’s Christmas Cookies. (New York: William Morrow, Inc.) 1998.

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