unusually good, these ones. try them. you’ll like them.
Friends of ours have a chef in the family. A good one. Which means dinners at their house tend to rival those eaten in restaurants; a fact I consider equal parts intimidating and thrilling. First, there was Mexican night, with slow roasted pork shoulder and an impressive array of flavorful sauces, prepared days in advance. Then came pizza with crust to rival all crusts, resplendent with big, beautiful air bubbles, crackly on the surface, chewy inside, scattered with toppings such as caramelized apples and onions and my favorite, roasted beet greens and shaved parmesan. In the summer, we feasted on Provencal-style grilled mackerel, straight from the garden spicy arugula tossed with lemon and olive oil, and thick slices of country bread. Another time, we devoured plump, juicy homemade apple sausages, delicate pasta salad with figs and tarragon and perfectly roasted vegetables. The list goes on and on.
Needless to say, I feel the need to step up to the plate when said chef friend dines at our house. In my book, good ingredients make up for lack of ability, so that’s pretty much been my mantra. And truth be told, I win some, I lose some. Regardless, I enjoy the kitchen camaraderie which generally ensues when we share a meal. More than likely, I am a better cook now than I was before I had a chef for a friend. And I like to think I’ll always be the better baker.
For our upcoming dinner prepared by ‘the chef’, Indian cuisine is on the menu and, you don’t have to ask me twice, I’ll be there with bells on. At our house we are huge fans of Indian food, though we’ve never experienced the homemade variety. In fact, Indian friends once explained to us that many dishes served in Indian restaurants are rather labor intensive and infrequently cooked at home. Maybe they were speaking for themselves. I really don’t know. Regardless, I imagine we are in for a treat.
Never one to adhere to the ‘just bring your appetite’ command, I soon took to the kitchen and whipped up a batch of masala spiced carrot macaroons to complement our Indian feast. I first sampled one of these macaroons at a book event for a new cookie cookbook written by formidable baking maven, Alice Medrich. The macaroon was everything it claimed to be, only I wasn’t sure whether I would ever make them. Other cookies showcased at the event did more to float my boat. The whole carrot-Indian spice thing was a tad unusual. Intriguing, yes. Out of place, to be sure. I just couldn’t think of an occasion or meal that would warrant such an exotic little cookie.
When I heard homemade Indian, these little gems immediately came to mind. The wild card was the use of an Indian spice blend, Garam masala, which I easily located in the bulk section of my local natural foods store. The recipe is straightforward and quite simple. There is an air of confidence in the way it is written as if Ms. Medrich knows you will have doubts about the end result, as I did, and intends to reassure with her no-nonsense approach . Save for swapping out ground almonds for additional unsweetened coconut, I did not stray from the recipe. The almond omission was done in consideration of a food allergy and did not affect the outcome of the cookies.
My hopes soared as I formed tiny beehives with a teaspoon. On the tray, they began looking more like cookies and less like wood pulp. Sweet relief. As the macaroons cooked, they filled the kitchen with an exotic, spicy sweet aroma. When the bottoms of the cookies reached a deep, golden brown, their tops were still rather pale, so I turned the oven off and browned the tops on low broil for about 2 minutes. That did the trick.
After they cooled slightly, I popped one in my mouth and marveled at the myriad of textures and flavors. Crisp, lacy caramelized edges gave way to an unctuous coconut center, then came the delicate sweetness of carrot followed by the subtle heat of masala. I ate another. Field work, mind you, justified by carrots which are by all accounts good for you. On second thought, these spicy one-bite wonders transcend exotic; they are simply delicious.
carrot masala macaroons
yields 36 bite-sized cookies
3/4 cup whole almonds (substitute unsweetened coconut, if desired)
2 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon Garam masala, pumpkin pie spice or ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 – 1/3 cups lightly packed, finely shredded carrot
3/4 cup unsweetened dried shredded coconut
1/4 rounded teaspoon lemon zest (Meyer lemon, when available)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit with racks in the upper and lower thirds.
In a food processor, pulse the almonds until finely chopped with some variation in texture. Set aside. Skip this step if you are omitting the almonds.
In a medium stainless steel bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy. Stir in the sugar, masala and salt. Add the carrot, almonds and lemon zest. Stir until well combined. Set aside for 10 minutes to allow the sugar to dissolve and the coconut to soften.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside. Fill a large, flat bottomed skillet with about one inch of water and set on a burner to lightly simmer.
Place the bowl directly in the pan of simmering water and stir the mixture with a silicone spatula, scraping the bottom to prevent burning. Once the mixture is hot to the touch and most of the liquid has thickened or been absorbed, about 5 – 7 minutes, remove from heat.
Drop heaping teaspoons of the mixture 1 inch apart on the parchment-lined sheets. Form hive shapes with your fingers, if desired. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until the bottoms of the cookies are deep golden brown and the tips of the carrot shreds begin to color. Rotate the pans from top to bottom and front to back at the halfway mark. If the bottoms are brown and the tops are still pale, turn off the oven and broil the tops on low for 1 – 3 minutes, keeping a close eye on them to prevent burning. Transfer the cookies while still on the parchment to wire racks to cool. Best enjoyed with a steaming cup of spiced tea, such as Market Spice or Masala Chai.
Be sure to cool completely before storing. Cookies keep for 3 to 4 days, loosely covered rather than airtight, to avoid sogginess. Do not freeze.
Recipe adapted from ‘Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy Melt in your Mouth Cookies’ by Alice Medrich