Raw Chocolate Macaroons and Crisp Pecans
By Nancy Kruh, Guest Blogger
I love all the categories in Suzanne and Sara’s cookbook, and it’s certainly sparked my spirit of culinary generosity, but one evening — as I was getting ready to head out to a friend’s home for a dinner party — I came up with one more category of good neighborliness: gifts for your party hosts.
Back in my twenties, getting together with friends for a dinner party was often just a matter of ordering take-out pizza, tossing a bag of pre-cut lettuce in bottled ranch dressing, cracking open a box of wine or a twelve-pack, and maybe even splitting the bill at the end of the evening.
But somewhere along the line, I, well … grew up. For me, it probably happened when my own company began putting me on the receiving end of party-host gifts, and I realized just how much these tokens of appreciation meant to me. As I’ve gotten older and hosted dinner parties have become more sophisticated (yeah, we still have pizzas, but now they’re homemade organic gourmet affairs baked on stone), I’ve come to consider these gifts almost a requirement if you’re going to pass the Miss Manners Test of Dinner Guest Deportment.
Over the years, I confess I’ve often resorted to the two classic path-of-least-resistance gifts: the bottle of wine I’ve bought for myself but haven’t gotten around to drinking or the $8 plastic-wrapped mixed-flower arrangements sitting just inside the entry of my nearest supermarket.
On this particular night, though, I didn’t have that bottle of wine stashed away and I was running too late to stop at a store — but then I remembered what I already had on hand: a divine rendition of Raw Chocolate Macaroons that I had recently been in the habit of making for myself for small after-dinner indulgences. The recipe makes about 25 to 35 bite-sized balls, and I still had enough on hand to make it appear that I’d gone to the time and trouble specifically for my hosts. I put about them in a small plastic storage container, dropped that into a gift bag, along with some tissue paper, and off I went.
Of course my hosts expressed initial gratitude, even though they didn’t fully grasp what they were getting — other than the fact it was something homemade, of course. But I knew the Raw Chocolate Macaroons were a hit a couple of days later when I got an email begging me for the recipe. Since then, I’ve made them one of my two go-to host gifts. Both freeze well, so I can keep either or both on hand. All I have to do is remember to defrost them a couple of hours before heading out the door.
The other treat, Crisp Pecans, comes from a brief recipe buried in the bowels of that 1,000-page culinary holy book, Joy of Cooking. I first had these nuts probably a dozen years ago at a dinner party I attended, brought as a gift by another guest that evening. We’ve all had the sugar- and spice-encrusted pecans foisted upon us during the holidays, but these pecans were something else entirely, infused with a crispness and nuttiness that made you wonder if they’d come from some magical pecan tree. After my fellow guest told me where she got the recipe, I ran home to crack open my Joy of Cooking so I could make my own. Ever since, they have become an annual holiday gift to family and close friends, many of whom wait for the pecans with such anticipation that I fear serious bodily harm if I ever were to drop the tradition.
I must be a little slow on the uptake because it recently dawned on me that the pecans can be made in other months besides December, and like the Raw Chocolate Macaroons, they have become a huge hit with dinner hosts. I share both recipes here with the warning that, if you get invited back for dinner, you’ll never be quite sure which your hosts want more — your company or your yummy treats!
Raw Chocolate Macaroons
Adapted from a rawfoodmamas.com recipe.
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
30 (approx.) almonds, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon almond butter
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup raw honey
Blend everything together and use a melon-baller to make individual portions. If the mixture is a little dry add a bit of water and/or some more coconut oil. Refrigerate to solidify and serve chilled.
A few notes: As you’ll see, the recipe contains no gluten, processed sugar, dairy or eggs, so it’s a sublime treat for anyone on a restricted diet. Of course, the tradeoff is that it’s not calorie-free (I estimate a melon ball-sized portion is about 70 calories). By the way, I’ve used peanut butter when I don’t have almond butter on hand, and I think it’s a tasty substitution. I strongly recommend the use of the melon-baller. There’s no way to shape these into balls without using your hands, and it can get quite messy. The utensil is a huge help.
A couple more tips: Zap the raw honey and coconut oil in the microwave for a few seconds to soften. This makes the blending a lot easier. I use a small food processor to chop the almonds, as well as to further pulverize the coconut if the shreds are too long and thick. Also, my cocoa powder of choice is Ghiradelli’s.
From Joy of Cooking.
Bring to a boil in a large saucepan on high heat:
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups water
1 pound pecan halves
Return to a boil, reduce heat to medium, simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Drain pecans, then spread, in a single layer, on a lightly greased baking sheet and let dry for at least hour. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Roast pecans until crisp and deep brown, about 45 minutes.
A few notes: At least once or twice, you will want to turn the nuts with a spatula, so you’ll get even heat distribution. I happen to have a gas oven with hot spots, so I have to baby my pecans a bit more. Also: There is a perfect moment between “not crisp enough” and “burnt” – I have suffered both fates – so the goal is to try to get to that perfect in between. Of course if you burn the pecans, there’s no going back. (And, yes, I’ve had to throw out $15 worth of pecans.) But if you don’t achieve crispness, you’re depriving yourself of their optimum sublime nature. If the pecans have baked for 45 minutes and they’re still not crisp, give them an extra five minutes and check again. If they’re still not crisp, give them five more minutes and check again. The point, of course, is just to keep careful watch over them.
By the way, the only way to check if the pecans are done is to eat one — not a bad deal! I tend to let the “test pecan” cool for several seconds before I pop it in my mouth, not only because of the temperature, but also because it gains crispness as it cools, so a hot pecan can fool you into thinking it’s not quite done.
Directions say the pecans will keep, stored in a tightly covered container, for up to a week – but I think they last far longer if you keep them refrigerated. Also, this recipe easily doubles. I can’t remember the last time I made just one pound at a time.