Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cardamom Birds' Nests

I am a big fan of Monica Bhide's A Life of Spice blog. I first encountered here as a writer for NPR's Kitchen Window, and she continues to entertain and educate at NPR and through her own independent venues.

I'm not particularly fond of coconut, but Will is, and so when Monica posted this recipe for cardamom macaroons, and I faced the ever-growing supply of egg whites in my freezer, I decided these would be worth a try. I saved it for a couple weeks, but it wasn't until today - Easter (not otherwise on my radar except for discount Cadbury eggs the day after) that I decided to finally try them. I think it was the recollection from childhood of those horrifyingly-green-dyed "birds nest" confections made by Russell Stover that my grandmother would always put in my easter basket. I didn't like coconut then, either, but as a five- and six-year old, I thought it endlessly fascinating and clever that a candy would be shaped like a bird's nest so it could hold tiny jelly bean "birds eggs." If you don't know what I'm talking about, I found this photo on the Russell Stover website.

(I also, disappointingly, found some online reviews from supposed "food bloggers" who adore these things...)

So, these birds nest of yesteryear emerged from some blissfully long-supressed part of my memory to inspire me today to make coconut macaroon cookies. And sadly, my childhood glee of clever candy led me unwisely to dye my macaroon batter. I do not know why I would do such a thing. But I haven't decorated eggs for many years now, it perhaps it was simply pent-up and mis-directed food coloring energy. In any case, Easter aethetics aside, these cookies are very good, even for a professed coconut non-appreciator.

The recipe is small, only making "24 mini" (and I only got 22 out of my batch). I would think it could easily be doubled. And while the flavor ratios are good, I think the ingredient proportions might be slightly off... the recipe says to "stir 2 minutes over medium heat until slightly dry" - my batter was very liquidy even after 4 minutes. I used it all anyway, and it led to pools of sticky liquid around the base of each cookie. Next time I think I will cut back the maple syrup to 1/4 cup.

Besides my disastrous dying effect, I also personalized this recipe by substituting almond extract for the vanilla, and adding an additional dash of nutmeg to the cardamom spice. When I went to serve them, I was able to pull off some of the melted puddle, so they looked like actual macaroons on the serving plate. I will make this recipe again, with the changes outlined above, because they have a really nice sticky sweetness from the maple, and an exotic flair from the cardamom, and a chewy center like a good macaroon should. Plus, they are terribly easy.

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