Coconut macaroons are a humble cookie compared to their French macaron cousins: one pale and bumpy with shredded coconut, the other smooth with finely ground almond, two delicate pastel-tinted rounds sandwiching a creamy center. But there’s a down-home charm to the unassuming coconut macaroon, and a deeply satisfying chew from the rich, dense pile of coconutty sweetness.
I first rediscovered my love for the old-fashioned coconut macaroon, much to my surprise, at Disneyland. At the last corner of nostalgic Main Street USA, with its old-time emporiums, ice cream parlor, candy shop and penny arcade, is the Jolly Holiday bakery, charmingly Victorian in buttercup and white, its large terrace packed with round tables shaded by cheerfully striped umbrellas.
Not a traditional bakery – after all, Disneyland needs to feed 50,000 adults and kids a day – the Jolly Holiday is primarily a quick-service food operation. But it does have glass cases with a few bakery items, mostly standard-issue danishes, croissants and cookies.
But the sweet that gets the raves from Disneyphiles is not the French macaron shaped like a Mickey Mouse head, it’s the Matterhorn macaroon, a tall mountain of coconut, golden brown outside topped with a white chocolate snowcap. The crisp outside gives way to an unexpectedly soft, moist, sweet interior – the stuff coconut dreams are made of – and is easily the best macaroon I’ve ever had.
The Matterhorn macaroon is a nod to the Matterhorn Bobsleds rollercoaster across the street from the bakery, which pays homage to the dramatic peak in the Swiss Alps. The Matterhorn ride wasn’t replicated at Disney World in Orlando, so its eponymous macaroon is only sold in California’s Disneyland.
It’s like winning a treasure hunt to find this unexpected gem in a land of amusement park junk. I love thinking of the mystery food service employee who first came up with the idea – an authentically excellent macaroon, mounded high and whimsically blanketed with white chocolate “snow” – and how it has endured, ready to surprise and delight Disneygoers out of their fast-food resignation.
When it came to making the macaroons at home, I knew the ingredients had to be basic – you can taste the simplicity – but it took me a lot of trial and error to nail the technique. The taste is pure, sweet coconut, with a touch of vanilla and almond extracts. No butter or oil – the base of the cookie is perfectly greaseless. But what holds it together so securely? Many macaroons are gluten-free, but this one is not, so presumably flour is one binding element. But what else?
Whipped egg whites, a traditional binder, would not hold coconut in a mountain shape. Ditto for sweetened condensed milk, which also added a distracting taste. Finally I hit on a technique used by baking wizard Alice Medrich, which turned out to be easiest of all: simply mix a few egg whites into the coconut, sugar and flour, then cook on the stovetop for a few minutes to thicken. After it cools, it’s easy to mold into sturdy little mountains.
I tried both sweetened and unsweetened coconut, and it seems clear the Jolly Holiday macaroon uses the drier unsweetened coconut as its base. Bob’s Red Mill sells a good one, but I was able to find some in my Ohio supermarket also. Unsweetened coconut is also great for granola, curries and other savory cooking.
Sweetened coconut would make an equally delicious cookie – just drop the sugar down a bit – but if you’re trying to make a copycat Matterhorn, the texture of unsweetened is a better match.
You don’t have to grind the coconut, but the Matterhorn macaroon coconut is not in shreds but in finely ground pieces.
Grinding coconut only takes a quick whizz in the food processor. Another bowl to wash but worth it.
Now for the real assembly. Dry ingredients – coconut, flour, sugar, pinch of salt – in a saucepan. You can use almond flour for a gluten-free version.
Add plain old egg whites (no beating, yay). Don’t be like me here: it always pays to separate one egg white at a time into a small bowl, in case you accidentally puncture a yolk.
Cook the dough for a few minutes until egg whites turn from translucent to opaque, and the mixture thickens a bit.
I taste a touch of almond extract in the original Matterhorn macaroon in addition to vanilla, but you won’t miss it if you don’t have it.
Wait until the dough is cool enough to handle.
Then it’s easily molded into little mountains.
A macaroon mountain range.
Bake until lightly golden.
Dip in melted white chocolate to add the snow cap, if you like.
The snowy Alps.
Dust with a bit of powdered sugar as a final touch. I find smaller cookies more convenient at home, but you could just as easily make them Disney-sized.
If you don’t care about the Matterhorn reference, you could also just scoop dough and make little mounds. But the mountains are pretty cute.
Real-life Disneyland Matterhorns: macaroon and rollercoaster.
Geography tidbit: The actual Matterhorn mountain, just a smidge taller than Mt Whitney in California’s Sierra Nevada range, is in Zermatt, Switzerland, on the border with northern Italy.
Historical tidbit: In 1865, two teams, one British/Swiss and one Italian, raced to be the first to reach the Matterhorn summit. The British/Swiss team made it first, shouting and rolling rocks down to announce the victory to their rivals struggling up the Italian side. On their way back down, one of the Brits slipped and fell to his death, taking along three of the seven in his party. The remaining three were saved only by a rope that snapped. Perhaps a cosmically brutal lesson on good sportsmanship.
I blew through my blogiversary end of July – 6 years, yow!! – but I still want to celebrate with my annual giveaway. Leave a comment here to enter; I’ll draw 6 winners at random at the end of Labor Day, September 5. Winners get to choose one of the following prizes:
- A favorite kitchen tool – Choose one of the favorites I highlighted in a discovery post earlier this year: my favorite thin-bladed pancake turner, a serrated paring knife I use for almost everything, a classic Whirley-Pop stovetop popcorn popper (so good for kettle corn), or some nifty wide-bladed spreaders.
- Unsweetened shredded coconut – For my coconut fans, Amazon sells a 4-pack of Bob’s Red Mill unsweetened coconut, which is really good.
- A cast iron skillet – I’ve been talking about cast iron skillets for 6 years – old-school nonstick pans with fantastic heat retention, excellent for both cooking and baking (eg blackberry cobbler and cornbread). Plus, using it is a great arm workout.
- A giant tin of Virginia peanuts – Life changing! I’ve been living off these since my friend Lily came to visit me from Virginia this summer and introduced me to these mind-blowingly crunchy and flavorful peanuts. Everyone tastes one and then takes a handful. Dangerously good.
Labor Day weekend
Friends, I am so out of sync with the calendar – macaroons don’t exactly scream last weekend of summer, and really I should just wait for Passover. But I had a comically infuriating summer battling house pests (flying carpenter ants in Ohio, followed by carpet beetles eating my clothing, followed by a stealth mouse, followed by multiple ant invasions in California), and I’ve been in search-and-destroy mode for months. Seasonal or not, I just want to get a blog post out before the locusts descend.
But before I go, a few seasonal ideas for your Labor Day weekend…
- If you are buried in tomatoes, I adore this shrimp with tomato, lemon, feta and parsley, which calls for grape tomatoes but you can use any.
- If you have zucchini fatigue, this spaghetti carbonara with zucchini effortlessly swallows up a bunch of zucchini.
- Before summer ends, you need this grilled peach and fresh mozzarella salad (I need this!).
- Marian Burros’s brilliantly easy fruit torte is a must for plum season (or late peaches, early apples, or any other fruit).
- Or make some oatmeal shortcakes with maple vanilla cream with a bowlful of your favorite summer fruit as a festive farewell to the season.
I love you superstar readers who bear with me to the end of my posts, which are always longer than I intend. Leave a comment – you have a great chance of winning!
The coconut macaroon from the Jolly Holiday Bakery is an unexpected find at Disneyland – pure coconut perfection, crisp outside but gloriously soft and moist inside, and topped with melted white chocolate to look like the snow-capped Matterhorn mountain ride across Main Street.
I tried a gut-busting number of macaroon recipes before I hit on this technique (used by baking wizard Alice Medrich): easy, minimal and right on the money. The simple dough is thickened briefly on the stovetop, after which it’s easily shaped into Alpine peaks for baking.
- 2 cups unsweetened flaked coconut
- 1 1/3 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 egg whites
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
- White chocolate for melting (bars better than white chocolate chips, which are designed not to melt)
- Optional: Briefly grind coconut in a food processor until the shreds of coconut are cut into small bits. The taste of the shredded is the same, but for looks the Jolly Holiday macaroons definitely start with ground coconut.
- In a medium saucepan, mix coconut, sugar, flour and salt.
- Use two small bowls to separate eggs; crack and let white slip into one bowl and save yolk in a separate bowl for another use. Add each egg white to saucepan before cracking the next egg, so if you mess up one, it won’t ruin the whole batch (although this recipe is forgiving; a drop of egg yolk won’t ruin it).
- Mix egg whites into dry ingredients. Heat saucepan on medium-low until egg whites turn from translucent to opaque and mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Set aside until dough is cool enough to handle, about 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Using your hands, mold a heaping spoonful (about 2 tablespoons) of cooled coconut mixture into a mountain, with a flat circular base and peaked top (the size of the cookies doesn’t matter as much as keeping them relatively similar so that they cook in the same amount of time). The cookies don’t spread much, so don’t need to leave too much space between cookies on the baking sheet.
- After you put the cookies in the oven, turn the temperature down to 325 degrees F and bake about 15 minutes, or until edges turn golden. Keep an eye on the cookies as time gets close; actual cook time will depend on the size of your cookies.
- For white chocolate snow cap: Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Start with a small amount in a bowl (this takes some trial and error depending on your chocolate and your microwave) and melt at 50% power in the microwave, in 30-second increments, stirring in between. White chocolate burns very easily, so take it slow and be patient. Dip top of cookie in melted white chocolate, or hold cookie sideways and use a knife to spread melted white chocolate on the peak. Stand cookies up for white chocolate to cool and harden. Dust lightly with powdered sugar if desired.
Makes 12-16 mini Matterhorns, or about 6 Disney-sized Matterhorns.
- You can cut the sugar to 1 cup, but the recipe as written is closer to the Disneyland version (the extra sugar adds moistness as well as sweetness).
- The macaroons store very well for days in an airtight container.
- Gluten-free/Passover version: substitute almond flour for wheat flour.
- I haven’t tried this recipe with sweetened coconut – after early efforts with both, I concluded that the Jolly Holiday macaroon employed the drier unsweetened coconut as its base – but if all I had was sweetened shredded coconut, I’d reduce the sugar to 1 cup and keep the rest of the recipe the same. Let me know if you give it a go.
Here’s the link to a printable version.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.