Macaroons are simple to mix, quick to bake and gluten-free. They’re easy to wrap, to stack and drop at Temple Sinai Synagogue, in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, a few blocks from the Tree of Life. Hard to know how many will show up for the first Shabbat since the Oct. 27 shootings that left 11 dead. But bakers are guessing a lot. Sometimes, after services, boxed chocolate-chunk will do. This week, says one congregant, we need to bake with love in our hearts.
Rolling the moist, lumpy, coconut mounds is soothing work. Don’t focus on what happened, says a contributor, just do something good. So they toast coconut and level sugar and whisk egg whites, saving the yolks to knead into loaves of challah for grieving families.
When the macaroons have been plated, along with their brethren — the chocolate-chip cookies, the brownies, the pumpkin squares, the squirrel-shaped gingerbreads, the renegade fudge stripes — they recline in a tableau of easy-reach abundance. It may be the single point of overlap between Pittsburgh’s hungry-steelworker food culture, which includes the wedding cookie table, and the city’s Jewish food traditions.
The sanctuary, accustomed to 125 on a Friday evening, overflows with 1,200 members and guests — many Muslim, Christian, Buddhist. Short on chairs, adults sway; children, in pained restraint, eye the macaroons.
After a service of song and prayer, the cookies prove equal to their job. Even in this moment of sorrow, each offers one bite of sweet.
Prep: 40 minutes
Bake: 18 minutes
Makes: 18 to 20 cookies
1 bag (14 ounces) flaked sweetened coconut (about 5 1/3 cups)
4 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon almond extract (or substitute vanilla)
3 ounces bittersweet (70 percent) chocolate
Toast: Set rack in the lower third of the oven. Heat to 350. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread out coconut on parchment. Slide pan into the oven and let coconut toast, stirring once or twice, until lightly browned, 15 to 17 minutes. Keep oven on.
Whisk: Meanwhile, in a large bowl, briefly whisk together egg whites, sugar, salt and extract. Slide in toasted coconut. Mix with a fork.
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Shape: With damp hands, roll batter into 1 1/2-inch diameter balls. Set balls on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 until set, 18 to 19 minutes.
Gild: Break up chocolate in a shallow bowl. Microwave, 1 minute. Stir; microwave, 1 more minute, if needed. Stir smooth. When macaroons are cool enough to handle, dip the flat side of each into the chocolate. Let set, flat-side tipped up. (Alternatively: chill.) Share.