Recipe: Coco Rochers
Twice a month, Berkshire County native Alana Chernila, mother of two, and author of the cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making (Clarkson Potter), contributes a thoughtful and heartfelt essay/recipe created exclusively for Rural Intelligence readers. Her first cookbook has achieved top-seller status, and Chernila has a new one in the works, titled “The Homemade Kitchen,” due out in 2015.
I have been to Paris twice.
I was eighteen, just starting out on a few months of wandering. I met up with a friend from high school who was studying in London, and we spent the week exploring the city. We had so little money between us, but I was optimistic that Paris (Paris!) would show us her riches anyway. We succeeded in finding what I’m sure was the most disgusting hotel room in Paris, but every day we set off early, roaming the neighborhoods and just feeling happy to be there. We lived off of canned tuna, baguettes, and one carefully chosen pastry every day. It was cold and rainy, and we skipped everything that cost money, which was mostly everything. At night, I went to sleep listening to the creaky beds and tiny rodents all around me, and I dreamed of the next day’s pain au chocolat. Those pastries never failed to live up to my expectations.
Three months later, I was back. I was at the end of my trip, and this time I met up with another friend who had come to visit for the week. We stayed in her friend’s 5th floor apartment. It had a tiny elevator that seemed to be on its last trip every time, and there was a bathtub in the kitchen. Knowing I was on my way home, I spent every penny I had. We drank cheap and delicious wine from the wine store on the corner, ate fries and perfect steak whenever we were hungry, and spent our extra change making funny faces in the photo booths in every metro station. And this time, I allowed myself an unlimited pastry budget. That week, I ate sweets that would spoil me forever. And although I have faint slivers of memories of the city, it’s the sweets that filled each bakery case that really stayed with me.
I know better than to attempt to recreate most of them. But every so often, a book comes along that gives me the courage to try. Dorie Greenspan’s warm and beautiful new book, Baking Chez Moi, has done just that, and the fact that its focus is mostly the sweets of Paris home kitchens is just perfect for me. I haven’t been back to Paris since then, but spending time with this book has helped me travel just a little bit, if only through butter and flour and the smells in my kitchen.
This cookie might just be the simplest in the book, and I know it’s going to become a staple recipe for me. It produces a simple and light coconut macaroon, quite similar to the Jennie’s Macaroons my family loves. They’re fancy enough to serve with dessert, but basic and not-so-sweet enough that they’re perfect for lunchboxes, too.
2½ cups unsweetened shredded coconut
4 large egg whites
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Stir together the coconut, egg whites, and sugar in a medium saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium-low heat, until the mixture is hot to the touch, 7 to 10 minutes. The goal, as Dorie explains, is to fully heat the mixture without coloring the coconut.
Scrape the mixture into a heat-proof bowl, stir in the vanilla, and press a piece of plastic over the dough. Chill for several hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Stack two baking sheets one on top of the other. (This prevents the bottom of the cookies from burning.) Line the top baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Scoop out about 2 teaspoons of dough at a time, packing it firmly into a spoon or cookie scoop before releasing it onto the sheet. Leave about ½ inch between the cookies. Bake until the cookies are lightly golden and a bit firm to the touch, 20 to 25 minutes. They’ll firm up as they cool, too.
Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.