Not your average Passover macaroons

From honey and butter to tomato confit and hummus, holiday desserts are getting glam.

Rows of macaroons are seen at the Brussels Chocolate Festival (photo credit: REUTERS)
Rows of macaroons are seen at the Brussels Chocolate Festival
(photo credit: REUTERS)
We always thought of macaroons as Passover treats until we moved to Paris, where we found they were a beloved treat year round.
Unlike the Passover coconut macaroons we were used to, the French macaroons displayed prominently in the windows of top patisseries were made with ground almonds and were light and airy. They came in different colors and flavors and were usually sandwiched in pairs. They gave us plenty of ideas for new Passover sweets.
In Les Petits Macarons, Kathryn Gordon and Anne E. McBride focus on these classy cookies and note the interest in them has increased in the US because they’re gluten-free. They point out these macaroons have four main ingredients: almond flour (finely ground almonds), egg whites and two kinds of sugar. They use confectioners’ sugar to contribute to the macaroons’ smooth texture, and granulated sugar to help the egg whites whip to a stiff, glossy meringue. When baked, the dainty macaroons have a slight crunch.
Gordon and McBride sandwich the baked cookies in pairs with a filling such as buttercream, jam or chocolate ganache. Some of their favorite combinations are mint-flavored macaroons filled with chocolate-mint ganache, green tea macaroons paired with sesame buttercream and cinnamon macaroons sandwiched with cinnamon apple butter. They even make savory macaroons, baking the cookies with less sugar and pairing them with fillings ranging from tomato confit to hummus.
Another category of French macaroons, which are sometimes called country style or moist macaroons, are less sweet and nuttier. They are usually not filled and are easy to make – the batter can be simply blended in a food processor. For our macaroons, we have used a variety of nuts in addition to almonds, including hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans and macadamia nuts.
Dan Cohen, author of The Macaroon Bible, traces the macaroon’s origin to seventh- century Persia, where treats were made from sweetened almond paste. The Arabs brought these kinds of sweets to Sicily, where people made maccharruni, or “sweet and savory pastes made from different combinations of flour [wheat or nut], water, butter and honey... The Sicilians... began to incorporate the Arabian-Persian sweets into their [maccharruni]... At some point eggs were introduced into the recipes...
and the core ingredients of contemporary macaroons [nut flour, sugar and eggs] have remained fundamentally unchanged.”
When coconut was brought to Europe, some Europeans used it in macaroons.
“Coconut macaroons started appearing in the United States with more frequency in the 1800s and finally hit a broader market in the 1950s with ... Kosher for Passover macaroons,” wrote Cohen. “Why coconut macaroons for Passover instead of amaretti [Italian-style almond macaroons]? Probably because they’re more delicious!” For his bakery, Danny Macaroons, Cohen makes all his macaroons from shredded coconut, although for some variations he adds nuts too. Instead of using sugar, he sweetens them with sweetened condensed milk. To make vegan or parve macaroons, he replaces the condensed milk with coconut milk and coconut cream.
Popular American combinations inspire many of Cohen’s macaroons. His spiced pumpkin macaroons have pumpkin puree, pumpkin seeds, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Chocolate banana nut macaroons have hazelnut paste, mashed bananas and vanilla, and are drizzled with chocolate after baking. Rocky road macaroons have mini marshmallows and toasted walnuts and are coated with chocolate.
Macaroon-type batters can also be turned into cakes. Some of the contributors to a just-published cookbook, A Taste of Pesach by Yeshiva Me’on HaTorah, bake cakes from macaroon-like mixtures of ground nuts, egg whites and sugar. For their chocolate hazelnut roulade, a rolled cake with a filling of white and chocolate parve whipped topping, they bake a light cake from ground toasted hazelnuts, whipped egg whites and light brown sugar, and drizzle the filled cake with melted chocolate.
Their “Shehakol freezer cake” is made of a hazelnut macaroon mixture lightened with whipped egg whites and baked with a bittersweet chocolate topping flavored with coffee and vanilla sugar.
Such luscious creations ensure that macaroons and macaroon-based desserts will keep their place of honor on the Passover sweet table.
Faye Levy is the author of Fresh From France: Dessert Sensations and of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.
Instead of buying almond meal or hazelnut powder, we blanch the almonds and toast the hazelnuts, and then grind both nuts to give the macaroons an even better flavor. It takes time, but the results are delicious. To blanch almonds, see the note following the recipe.
To keep the macaroons moist, use this trick we learned at La Varenne cooking school in Paris: Bake them on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet and pour a little water under the paper before removing the cookies from the sheet.
Makes about 30 macaroons
❖ 1¼ cups blanched almonds (see note), either whole or slivered
❖ 1 cup hazelnuts
❖ 1½ cups sugar
❖ 3 large egg whites
❖ 1 packet or 1 to 2 tsp. vanilla sugar
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 180°C (350°F). Toast hazelnuts on a baking sheet, shaking the sheet once or twice, about eight minutes or until their skins begin to split. Transfer to a strainer.
While nuts are hot, remove most of skins by rubbing nuts energetically with a towel against strainer. Cool nuts completely. Leave oven on.
Move rack to upper third of oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or waxed paper; grease paper lightly with margarine.
Grind almonds and hazelnuts with 4 Tbsp. sugar in food processor until mixture forms fine, even crumbs. Add egg whites and vanilla sugar and process until smooth, about 20 seconds. Add remaining sugar in two additions and process about 10 seconds after each or until smooth.
With moistened hands, roll about 1 Tbsp. mixture between your palms to a smooth ball. Put on prepared baking sheet. Continue shaping macaroons, spacing them 2.5 cm. (1 inch) apart.
Press each macaroon to flatten it slightly so it is about 1 cm. (about ½ inch) high. Brush entire surface of each macaroon with water. If both baking sheets don’t fit on rack, bake them one at a time. Bake macaroons until very lightly but evenly browned, 18 to 20 minutes; centers should still be soft. Remove from oven.
Lift one end of paper and pour about 2 Tbsp. water under it, onto baking sheet; water will boil on contact with hot baking sheet. Lift other end of paper and pour about 2 Tbsp. water under it. When water stops boiling, remove macaroons carefully from paper. Transfer to a rack to cool. Keep them in airtight containers.
Note: To blanch almonds: Boil enough water to generously cover almonds. Add almonds, return to a boil and boil about 15 seconds.
Remove an almond with a slotted spoon. Squeeze one end of almond with your thumb and index finger; almond will come out of its skin. If it doesn’t, boil them a few more seconds and try again.
When almonds can be peeled easily, drain them and peel the rest.
Spread blanched almonds in one layer on shallow trays lined with paper towels and pat them dry. Almonds should be thoroughly dried before they are ground.