Passover, or Pesach, has a number of dietary restrictions related to eating leavened or fermented grains. You can’t eat any wheat, rye, barley, oats or spelt unless they have been completely cooked within 18 minutes of coming into contact with water. Most people simply don’t eat any of those foods unless they have been prepared under rabbinical supervision and are deemed “kosher for Passover.” European Jews also forgo eating rice, corn and beans during Passover because they are prone to fermentation and swell as they cook. The dietary restrictions relate to the belief that when the Jewish people fled slavery in Egypt, they had to leave so quickly that they did not have time to let their bread rise. To commemorate the liberation from slavery, people observe the restrictions for the 8 days of Passover. No bread, no oatmeal, no cupcakes, no hot dogs with filler, no lasagna, no sushi rice, no corn syrup in your processed food, no beer. Even your dog food is supposed to be kosher for Passover.
But Passover is not all privation. There is a full panoply of elaborate dishes made specifically to keep the dietary rules while eating to Thanksgiving-like excess during the seders on the first two nights of Passover. Dessert is my favorite part of the meal because I absolutely love one of the dessert standards: the beautiful and simple flour-less, baking powder-less coconut macaroon.
However, there is a macaroon controversy. I have two competing macaroon recipes. One is the suburban American macaroon made with sweetened coconut and sweetened condensed milk. It is the macaroon of my childhood. The other is what I think of as a modern macaroon, with unsweetened coconut and sugar. This year, I decided to finally settle the issue of which macaroon is best by baking both of them and having a panel of unbiased judges declare a winner. I didn’t complicate it by making the chocolate versions, just stuck to no-frills vanilla.
The Suburban Macaroon
2/3 cup condensed milk
1 egg white
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
pinch of salt
3 ½ cups sweetened coconut
Combine the first four ingredients in a bowl, add the coconut and mix well. Drop by tablespoons about 2 inches apart onto a cookie sheet lined with baking parchment or non-stick aluminum foil. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes, cool completely on a rack. Makes about 2 dozen.
The Modern Macaroon
1 cup sugar
3 ½ cups shredded unsweetened coconut
3 egg whites
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
pinch of salt.
Combine everything in a bowl, mix with your hands (wash them first!). Carefully place heaping tablespoons of the mixture about an inch apart on a cookie sheet lined with baking parchment or non-stick aluminum foil. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes, cool completely on a rack. Makes about 2 dozen. After the macaroons are baked, store them in an air tight container or they will tend to dry out.
I thought the Suburban Macaroon was much prettier, maybe because the coconut flakes were bigger and the whole cookie looked airy and complex, with surfaces to explore. The Modern Macaroon was kind of stubby and squat in comparison. However, in a taste test in which no one was told which recipe was which, the Modern Macaroon won hands down. Unlike the suburban model, it has pure coconut flavor and chewy texture without any after-taste of condensed milk or slimy goo in the middle. We knew the 1950s were a culinary nightmare, here is yet more proof.
Enjoy the holiday and remember those still living in slavery.