Just add beer: Chocolate-stout coconut macaroons

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Chocolate-stout macaroons
I first tried Danny Macaroons in 2011 at Chicago's second annual Food Film Festival. The idea behind the festival, for those who aren't familiar, is that the audience members get to taste what they're seeing on the screen (offerings at this year's opening-night event included oysters, ramen burgers, and compost cookies). During a screening of the brief film Danny Macaroons: There's No Such Thing as Boring Coconut Macaroons Anymore, plates of caramel-drizzled macaroons—flown in from New York City by Danny Macaroons himself (aka Dan Cohen)—were passed down the aisles.

As Cohen mentions in the film, there are a lot of bad coconut macaroons out there. I'd personally had enough mediocre ones that I'd stopped seeking them out. His were great, though, and after the film festival I was motivated to try making my own.

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When I visited my parents for Thanksgiving that year, my mom and I looked at recipes and found a sort of standard one, listed in the Joy of Cooking and in many variations on the Internet, involving sweetened shredded coconut, sweetened condensed milk, whipped egg whites, and vanilla. Her copy of The Best Recipe (a collection of recipes from Cook's Illustrated magazine), on the other hand, explained in detail how most coconut macaroons were subpar in one way or another and offered as the gold standard a recipe involving not only sweetened coconut, but also cream of coconut and unsweetened shredded coconut.

Since we didn't have the ingredients for the Cook's Illustrated recipe on hand, we went with the first one—which turned out nicely, producing macaroons that were better than most we'd tried before (which really isn't saying that much, with the exception of the ones I'd had recently). They disappeared quickly, and a couple days later, after a trip to both the grocery store and Whole Foods to track down all the required ingredients, we made a batch of the Cook's Illustrated macaroons. We were skeptical that it would be worth the extra work, but they were a definite improvement on the first batch, with a better texture and stronger coconut flavor. That knowledge in hand, I proceeded to forget about coconut macaroons entirely.

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Last March, Danny Macaroons announced that it would begin distributing in Chicago (the macaroons had previously been available only in New York), and a few months later, Cohen released his first cookbook, The Macaroon Bible. I was sent a review copy, flipped through the several dozen recipes, including creations like ginger-coriander, coconut s'more, spiced pumpkin, and hibiscus macaroons, then mostly forgot about that too.

Eventually I remembered to bring the cookbook home, and a few weeks ago saw it while deciding what to bring to a Prohibition-themed book club meeting. A dessert with alcohol, obviously—and the Macaroon Bible offered several options, including bourbon macaroons, eggnog macaroons, piña colada macaroons, and "Oirish (Bailey's) mc'roons."

Watch the beer at the beginning, or it can boil over
  • Julia Thiel
  • Watch the beer at the beginning, or it can boil over.
I settled on chocolate-stout macaroons, which involved a stout syrup made by simmering 12 to 16 ounces of beer on the stove until it reduced to a few tablespoons (I chose Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro for its flavor and low carbonation). This process took about an hour, though I kept the heat low because I was doing other things while it reduced and didn't want to have to worry about it boiling over—it probably would have gone much faster with higher heat. The recipe also called for a half ounce of melted chocolate, such an absurdly small amount that I almost doubled it (but finally decided not to).

Adding the stout syrup to the sweetened condensed milk
  • Santina Croniser
  • Adding the stout syrup to the sweetened condensed milk

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  • Santina Croniser
Other than that, the recipe was very similar to the standard one I'd tried before, with one change: Cohen has reduced the amount of condensed milk in his recipe, which makes the macaroons less goopy than they would otherwise be. It's a good call, but the annoying side effect is that you end up with an extra three and a half ounces of condensed milk from a 14-ounce can. (Though if you like eating it with a spoon or adding it to your coffee, maybe that's a bonus.)

This is what a half ounce of chocolate looks like
  • Julia Thiel
  • This is what a half ounce of chocolate looks like.

Chocolate-stout macaroon batter
The macaroons turned out perfectly, crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, with a dark, roasty, not-quite-bitter flavor. I ended up being happy that I didn't add extra chocolate, because I think it would have overpowered the beer syrup, which is a really interesting addition. I would never have guessed that the macaroons had beer in them if I hadn't known—they taste like coffee, chocolate, and malt—but since I knew what the milk stout tasted like on its own, I could easily identify its flavors in the finished cookies.

Whether they're better than the Cook's Illustrated recipe, I don't know. But I'm not sure it matters.

I dont know if they taste the same as the ones that Danny Macaroons makes, but they look the same.
  • Julia Thiel
  • I don't know if they taste the same as the ones that Danny Macaroons makes, but they look the same.

Danny Macaroons' chocolate-stout macaroons

This has become one of my favorite macaroon recipes. I had the idea for it while I was in Hawaii drinking a Coconut Porter from the Maui Brewing Company. It was such a great beer with so much complexity that I thought a macaroon based on it would be fantastic. And it is. I absolutely love how the bitterness of the stout balances some of the macaroon's sweetness and how the chocolate rounds out the party.

Yield: 24 two-inch macaroons

One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
One 12-ounce or 16-ounce bottle of your favorite stout (mine is Brooklyn Brewery's Black Chocolate Stout, but if you don't have a favorite, Guinness will do), reduced to about 2 ounces (see note)
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1⁄2 ounce of chocolate, melted
One 14-ounce bag sweetened shredded coconut
2 large egg whites

1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the center of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

2. In an extra-large bowl, measure out 10 1⁄2 ounces by weight of the condensed milk. If you don't have a scale, use approximately 8 ounces (1 cup) by liquid measure. Add the stout, vanilla, and melted chocolate and incorporate with a rubber spatula. Add the coconut to the condensed milk mixture and combine until thoroughly mixed.
3. Add the egg whites and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer (or small bowl if you're using a hand beater) and whip on medium-high until very stiff peaks form, 2 1⁄2 to 3 minutes.

4. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture. After it's combined, push the mixture into one big blob to make it easier for you to portion out the macaroons.
5. Dip 2 spoons into a small bowl of water, shake them off, form the mixture into balls approximately 1 1⁄2 inches in diameter, and place them on the baking sheet about 1 inch apart. (You can also form them by hand, but be sure to wet your fingers frequently.)
6. Place the sheet into the oven to bake for 20 to 25 minutes. After about 22 minutes, start checking for coloring. Look for an even, light golden color and for the undersides to be nicely tanned.

7. Remove from the oven and let the sheet rest on a cooling rack, leaving the macaroons on the sheet until they're cool enough for you to pull off (about 2 minutes depending on how sensitive your fingers are). Transfer the macaroons to the cooling rack to let cool completely. The macaroons will keep at room temperature for 3 to 5 days, for about 3 weeks in an airtight container in the fridge, and for a few months if stored in an airtight container in the freezer.
Note: To reduce the beer, pour into a heavy saucepan and boil until it reduces to 2 to 4 tablespoons. Your goal is to create a syrup from the stout. Be careful at the beginning that the beer doesn't foam over the pot, and keep reducing it until when you tilt the pot, the reduction coats the bottom or when you dip
a spoon into it, the beer clings to the spoon like a thin maple syrup. It should be bubbling way more like a tar pit than a pot of liquid by the time you're finished with it.

Reprinted with permission from the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, from The Macaroon Bible by Dan Cohen. Photography by Alice Gao. Copyright 2013.

Julia Thiel writes about booze (and occasionally baked goods with booze in them) on Wednesdays.

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