Just like the macaroons you grew up with, only way better…
Dan Cohen (AKA Danny Macaroons) had no interest in writting a cookbook. He recently talked to booksaboutfood.com about us about his book, The Macaroon Bible, that he never planned on doing, coconut and his art degree.
BAF: How long you’ve been making macaroons?
Dan Cohen: I’ve been making macaroons for 14 years.
BAF: Commercially the whole time?
Dan Cohen: No. Commercially we’ve been in business for just over three years.
BAF: How did the macaroon fascination come to you?
Dan Cohen: I grew up in a Jewish family and went to college with very few Jewish people and I had one Jewish friend. Not that it was a thing that I was looking for but I happened to have one Jewish friend. My freshman year in college he said, this was before Passover, he was excited to go home and have macaroons for Passover, traditional Passover dessert and I said, “Okay, macaroons, sure. I guess, I don’t know.”
He looked at me says to me, “What do you mean you don’t know? That’s what you have at Passover, macaroons.”
I said, “Okay. My family never really did that.”
I went home and ask for mom why we never really had macaroons for Passover and she said, “I don’t know. If you want macaroons, you should make them,” so I started making macaroons. I don’t know, people liked them. I’ve pulled together a bunch of different recipes, made macaroons for Passover; people liked them, asked me to make them again in the next year and the year after that. I tried one year not making them and got yelled at for not making them. Then I keep making them. Then, ten years later made them again for Passover and my uncle’s mother-in-law, ate them for the first time.
She’s 93 years old from Brooklyn and she said, “Oh, this is so delicious. You should sell them.” It’s a terrible idea but I kind of do like them. Two weeks later I brought them to a coffee shop and trying to trade for some coffee and said that I would sell them. Now, three years later, here we are.
BAF: How many varieties do you currently have in the catalog?
Dan Cohen: I’ve got about 45. We’ve got a lot of flavors.
BAF: You’ve got new flavors coming out all the time?
Dan Cohen: Yes, pretty much. There’s no end go in site in terms of flavors. I don’t know when we have enough. We probably will never have enough flavors. We’ll probably have too many flavors and that’s probably the same. As these versions come up with nuance but out of the 45 flavors, eight of them sell probably. Probably not even eight. It’s probably five flavors sell, make up 80% of the sales. It might even be 90%.
BAF: Tell me about the cookbook. How did that come about?
Dan Cohen: The cookbook simply came about because I have a savvy agent who e-mailed me out of the blue. Actually, she saw, or her associate saw a Food Curated segment and said to Carla, my agent, said, “Hey, why don’t we see if Dan’s writing a book or interested in writing a book.”
And so Carla shot me a note and now and I said, “No, I’m not writing a book and no, I’m not really interested in writing a book but if you’re going to take time to e-mail me out of the blue, I suppose that if you think you could sell a cookbook so let’s talk.” We talked and she made it sound like an interesting an idea and so we said, “Let’s write a cookbook.”
I suppose that had I not been, doing the things that I was doing and had Liza for sure not made that little video, I never would have been reached, no one ever would have reached out through probably. The whole path has been very fortuities and I don’t know. Lots of things keep happening that I didn’t plan to start a company making macaroons for sure and writing a cookbook was another one of these unplanned happy accidents.
BAF: You didn’t have an agent already?
Dan Cohen: No, that’s correct. I was contacted by my agent and she made a good case for being able to sell a coconut macaroon cookbook, should there be one. I put together some thoughts and she forwarded them out to a publisher and the publisher thought it was good. Then, we were off and running.
Very fast turnaround, I think. From the time that she e-mailed me, right, so from the time I received the kernel of an idea was there to the time that the book actually, the finished product came out was less than two years.
BAF: What was the writing process like?
Dan Cohen: Well, it’s interesting. The process of writing something that when you didn’t necessarily set out to write something is challenging because you have to figure out what it is that you actually want to say when you didn’t necessarily want to say anything in the first place. The reality is that it actually was a lot of fun. I got to experiment with lots of different recipes and found some things that were surprising to me. Flavors that were really surprising to me and delicious. I think that’s a new favorite, a new macaroon flavors that I hadn’t tried before that become favorites.
Writing head notes is a lot of fun, just trying to pull in quick little stories if I could, that may or may not have anything to do with the recipes but they just might be interesting to people. It’s a short book. Then, we’ve got 40 something recipes in there and it’s 160 something pages but there’s not a ton of text and I don’t think that it’s meant to be some great literary work. It’s a really, I think, beautifully done cookbook about a single topic and I tried to make it fun where I could. The drawings were a lot of fun to do.
BAF: You did the artwork yourself?
Dan Cohen: Yes. I had to somehow make use of degree in fine arts. My publisher was kind enough to let me feel like I actually did something with that.
BAF: Macaroons don’t seem to be as closely associated with Passover as the once were.
Dan Choen: It’s funny, during the process of having this company making macaroons, I’ve come to realize that … I mean, look, I don’t sell them really as a Passover dessert, staple. I sell them to coffee shops and cafes around the city where they’re just an item in the pastry case that’s there in the middle of July and there in the middle of January and it’s there every other time during the year including Passover. I don’t really have, I don’t think that the plan isn’t an association with Passover but growing up that way that’s how I associated macaroons.
I’ve really come to learn how broad the the appeal of macaroons is. People eat them for breakfast, people eat them for Christmas, people eat them for Easter, people eat them for all different times of the day and for all different holidays, not just Passover which is something that I really didn’t know. Because it’s the only way that I knew and they only ever appeared in my mind during the eight days or however long Passover is.
I had an event for the book and I was talking to this guy from Germany was there and he said, “These are really tasty. We have something like,” sort of like back home and he asked, “Are you doing this?” I told him, a friend from college sort of story and he said, “What’s Passover?” There are plenty of people that literally no, who enjoy macaroons, and literally no idea association with the Passover. That’s frankly great. People eat them all the time.
BAF: What is your production?
Dan Cohen: It varies with the season but … I don’t know. We’re probably … trying to think about what we did this week. This week we probably sent out between four and five thousand pieces. Something like that.
BAF: People can buy your macaroons online too?
Dan Cohen: Oh, yeah, for sure. People can definitely buy online, absolutely.
BAF: What’s next for you? Do you have any other projects?
Dan Cohen: I don’t know. I’m waiting for somebody else to call me and tell me to do something. I don’t know. We’ll see. Like I said before, we’re always coming up with new flavors. We’re definitely expanding the distribution. We’ve moved into Chicago pretty strongly for in like 15 to 20 stores in Chicago. We just started doing the new Brooklyn flea down in DC; the district flea where we’ve sold out in two or three hours for the last two weeks. We’re down there. We’ll be at the new [inaudible 00:20:46] opening in DC also and a few other stores. We’ll be in Cleveland at a couple of places next month.
We’re definitely expanding distribution and looking for additional distribution partners. Moving into groceries slowly. Working with first director has been really great and it’s given me some more confidence that the product can exist in a grocery capacity. There’s still no storefront on the horizon. It may happen one day, I don’t know, but it’s definitely not in the works.
Probably the t-shirt, probably have a holiday t-shirt which I have to design now. I want to make that happen. One of the more fun things that I’ve gotten to do for the company is to create the t-shirts. I’ve had a really good time with that and people seem to enjoy them. I think we’ll have a new one for the holidays. That sounds pretty much, I think. Otherwise, we’re just continuing to just try to grow.
Booksaboutfood.com © 2013
Red Velvet Macaroons
Original Macaroon Sandwich Shells
Yield: Twenty-four 2-inch macaroons
I’ll confess: I have no idea what red velvet cake is or why it exists. I’ve read plenty about the chemical reactions that turn batter purpley red but I still don’t get why we make it. What I do get, though, is that people LOVE red velvet. If you want to wow a crowd, just whip up a batch of these, put them out, and stand back and watch. And really, why wouldn’t people be wowed? The color contrast is striking; the textural contrast—between the crisp exterior, soft interior, smooth frosting, and toasted pecans—is something that’s almost impossible to achieve with cake; and the novelty factor is high. And they’re delicious, too.
One 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3⁄4 teaspoon red food coloring
1⁄4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 drops of blue food coloring
2 large egg whites
1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
One 14-ounce bag sweetened shredded coconut
CREAM CHEESE FROSTING AND TOPPING:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 tablespoons (1⁄2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 cup pecans, toasted (see Note below) and coarsely chopped
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 cocoa powder, 1⁄4 teaspoon of the red food coloring, the vanilla, and blue food coloring and mix with a rubber spatula until fully incorporated.
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. Empty the coconut into a gallon-size zip-top bag and add the remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon red food coloring. Seal the bag and shake vigorously until the color is fully absorbed by the coconut, then add the coconut to the condensed milk mixture and mix until fully combined. Gently fold the whipped 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.
8. While the macaroons are cooling, prepare your frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a small bowl if using a hand mixer), beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl if the mixture creeps up or sticks. Add the vanilla and then, gradually and on low speed, the confectioners’ sugar until fully incorporated. Feel free to taste the mixture along the way and adjust the sugar until it’s as sweet as you’d like. Then increase the speed to medium-high and mix until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
9. When the macaroons are cool, add the topping to each one using a butter knife or, if you have one, an icing or frosting spatula. After the macaroons are frosted, sprinkle the pecans on top—you may have to push the pecans into the icing. If you’re going to store these, it’s best to keep the frosting stored separately in an airtight container in the fridge and frost your macaroons when you want to eat them. The icing will keep in the refrigerator for at least 1 week. Store the macaroons in an airtight container in the fridge for about 3 weeks.
note To toast the pecans, place the pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet and place into a preheated 300°F oven for 25 minutes or until the pecans take on deeper coloring and are somewhat fragrant, giving them a shake and a stir halfway through. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Similar to the chocolate sandwiches (see page 142), these go wonderfully well with so many different fillings. I love raspberry or sour cherry jam. Chocolate always works well, as does Key lime curd. Really, it’s up to you. Experiment, have fun, create something amazing.
Yield: Twenty-four 2 1/2-inch macaroon shells (for 12 sandwiches)
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
One 7-ounce bag sweetened shredded coconut
1 large egg white
1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
Your choice of fillings (see Headnote above)
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the center of the oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
2. In an extra-large bowl, measure out 5 ounces by weight of the condensed milk. If you don’t have a scale, use approximately 4 ounces (1⁄2 cup) by liquid measure. Add the vanilla and incorporate with a rubber spatula. Add the coconut to the condensed milk mixture and combine until thoroughly mixed.
3. Add the egg white 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, 21⁄2 to 3 minutes.
4. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg white 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 1⁄4 inch in diameter, and place them on the baking sheets about 3 inches apart. (You can also form them by hand, but be sure to wet your fingers frequently.)
6. Press out each ball into very thin disks, about 21⁄2 inches in diameter. Place the sheets into the oven to bake for 12 minutes. After about 10 minutes, start checking for coloring. Look for an even, LIGHT color on top with barely golden edges.
7. Remove from the oven and let the sheets rest on a cooling rack, leaving the macaroons on the sheets 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.
Reprinted with permission from the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, from The Macaroon Bible by Dan Cohen. Photography by Alice Gao. © 2013.