This coconut macaroon recipe is a gluten-free, dairy-free treat that even kids can whip up themselves! Included below are tips and ideas for mixing up and improving the original, processed, loaded with sugar macaroon. Most importantly, I explain how to make coconut macaroons without sweetened condensed milk. And even ways to whip up the chewy, coconutty cookies with a little liqueur if you are in the mood for a sweet bit of adulting!
Coconut macaroons are an American adaptation of old-fashioned macarons. The moment Indians from afar landed in America with coconut, the exotic drupe became a dessert sensation. And American cooks and chefs replaced the ground almonds in a French macaron with grated coconut.
That's how it started.
And here's how it's going.
The Classic Recipe
The ingredients for classic coconut macaroons are simple, accessible, and nowadays highly processed. But it wasn't always so.
In the first-published recipe for coconut macaroons (as far as food historians can see), the cookies were made with equal parts grated coconut and sugar, and a small amount of egg white. Nowadays, sugary coconut flakes are mixed with sweetened milk to form a thick, sticky batter. Noticing a trend? If the phrase "added sugar" comes to mind, you're getting warmer.
The most popular recipe calls for:
- 14-ounces of sweetened coconut flakes (1 bag)
- 14-ounce can of sweetened, condensed milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- 2 large egg whites, whisked until foamy or beaten to medium peaks
The food industry, in an effort to sell more sugar and milk, at one point began marketing a macaroon recipe with sweetened condensed milk as an essential ingredient.
It's not. And you can easily substitute it out.
Classic macaroon cookies are incredibly simple to pull together. Even little ones can do so with only light supervision.
- Combine all the ingredients except the egg whites in a medium bowl.
- Fold in lightly foamed or whipped egg whites until the mixture is well combined.
- Drop or scoop the batter into small mounds onto parchment-lined baking pans.
- Bake at 325° F for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown.
Easy, peasy, coconut sweety. Keyword = sweet. Almost cloyingly so. But if that's what you're craving aim for moderation and enjoy yourself.
The mainstream recipe cited above for coconut macaroons isn't as reliable or sensical as a home baker deserves. Using the entire 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk makes the cookies prone to spreading in the oven. So I recommend cutting out about a quarter of what's in the can. You can always enjoy a few spoonfuls before tossing the leftover or saving it for another recipe.
There is no major benefit in beating the egg whites excessively, to soft, medium, or even firm peaks. I've found no noticeable difference between macaroons made with simply whisked egg whites versus egg whites beaten to firm peaks.
If you were to whip the egg whites with a little or all of the sugar, you'd create a stable egg foam, known as meringue. The cookies will bake up loftier and lighter. But at that point, you're pushing the boundaries of what defines a classic coconut macaroon (photos below).
In an effort to weed out unnecessary players and steps in the coconut macaroon game, I conducted a macaroon deconstruction. Paring a basic recipe down to essential ingredients only.
This ratio holds for classic and alternative recipes that substitute different types of sugar and coconut. I personally am a purist and appreciate a coconut macaroon concocted with simply unsweetened coconut flakes, (less) granulated sugar, egg whites, a pinch of salt, and a splash of vanilla. I find the granulated sugar and egg whites alone create a wonderfully crispy, slightly chewy cookie with pure coconut flavor.
Coconut Macaroon Formula
1 large egg white + ¼ cup sugar + 1 cup coconut flakes
OR BY WEIGHT:
1 part egg white + 2 parts sugar + 3 parts coconut
The volume formula above produces about eight macaroons. And as with most baking, it's a science. You need the right amount of egg whites to bind the other ingredients and provide moisture. I find one egg white for every cup of coconut to be the sweet spot. Although if inspiration strikes, go with your gut. Many kitchen successes were accidents, after all!
If you eliminate sweetened, condensed milk - for dairy-free or less processed macaroons - you need two replacements. One for sweetness, and one to maintain moisture.
Sweetened Condensed Milk Substitutes
One reason to use sweetened condensed milk in a recipe is the moisture benefit. But a majority of the milk's water content is lost during processing. So what's left is mostly sugar.
Great replacements for sweetened condensed milk are:
- Granulated sugar
- Caster sugar
- Coconut sugar
- Maple syrup
Using granulated sugar creates a classic, more crisp macaroon than sweetened condensed milk. My personal favorite! For less of an insulin spike, coconut sugar is an appropriately-flavored option. Macaroon cookies with coconut sugar will bake up a bit darker.
For paleo-style coconut macaroons, choose honey or maple syrup. The added benefit of choosing maple syrup or honey is their moisture content. Maple syrup is thrice as sweet as granulated sugar, so you need a little bit less. Honey is also sweeter than sugar, but in this instance, I use the same amount to take advantage of its moisture and binding properties.
Additional egg whites can be added to the batter to provide moisture. My basic formula calls for more egg whites for each cup of coconut than recipes with sweetened condensed milk. This is to exploit all the water in the whites.
You can also add a little coconut cream or applesauce. Some cooks swear by apple baby food because of its silky smooth texture. But since you're adding cup after cup of flaked coconut, I wouldn't worry so much about how smooth the applesauce is.
Coconut oil is an option if you're attempting keto macaroons. And as with applesauce, start small, with just a couple of tablespoons.
Coconut Substitutes + Tips
For less sweet macaroons that conform to a low-carb, paleo, or ketogenic diet, opt for unsweetened grated or flake coconut. If the unsweetened coconut is a larger shred size than the typical versions, chop it smaller with a knife. Or briefly pulse it in a food processor, if you have one.
As with all culinary pursuits, flavors are personal preference and the sky is the limit. Chopped nuts, chocolate, or other baking chips and different extracts are fun ways to take a mundane macaroon to a more delicious level.
- Chocolate chips
- Chopped nuts
- Dried fruit, diced small
- Candied ginger pieces
- Rainbow decorating sprinkles (for birthday macaroons!)
- Citrus zest
- Liquor or liqueurs like coconut rum, coffee, or orange liqueurs
The most popular garnish for coconut macaroons is, of course, melting chocolate and either drizzling the tops or dipping the bottoms. You can melt chocolate in the microwave, or over a double-boiler on low heat. The double-boiler method is more reliable and less likely to scorch the chocolate if left unattended while heating. If you use the microwave, the best method is to work in thirty-second bursts and stir in between each until the chocolate is melted.
Coconut macaroons remain fresh for several days stored at room temperature. If covered tightly or under a dome on a cake plate, the macaroons will soften a bit. For that just-out-of-the-oven crispness, allow a little air to invade the storage container. You can do this by lightly covering it with plastic wrap or leaving one corner of the lid cracked open. If your hands can't help themselves, freezing a portion of the batch right away can save you from your sweet tooth.
I get most excited about coconut macaroons dipped in dark chocolate. What can I say, chocolate is one of my favorite escapes. But coconut macaroons of any sort are a quick, simple treat that can be enjoyed across many diets. Once I put tequila and lime zest in with the coconut and mixed it all up... wasn't a bad way to end the day.
Frequently Asked Questions
If your coconut macaroons spread excessively in the oven, either the batter was too thin or the mixture got too warm. To prevent oven spread with any cookie, chill the scooped or cut dough on the baking pan before sending the cookies in to bake.
A lot! And also, not much. Coconut macaroons and French macarons hail from the same history, as far as gastronomy buffs can tell. The original almond macaron cookie evolved into chewy, dense cookies loaded with coconut flakes. Many macaroons are dipped in or drizzled with melted chocolate.
French macarons are small, round meringue pastries with a lightly crisp shell and chewy interior. The most classic presentation, macarons parisien, is two macaron shells sandwiched together with a soft filling such as jam, chocolate ganache or whatever flavor the baker can dream up. To venture down the rabbit hole of macaroon vs. macaron history here's a somewhat abbreviated explainer.
The short answer is no, most classic coconut macaroons recipes call for white sugar and/or highly processed ingredients. However, one small homemade macaroon contains around four to five grams of sugar. Much less than many of its cookie counterparts.
For nutrient-dense coconut macaroons, choose unsweetened coconut flakes and replace the sweetened condensed milk with a small amount of honey or coconut sugar. While still sugar when it boils down to it, honey and coconut sugar are a bit lower on the glycemic index scale. For tips on baking a better coconut macaroon, do scroll up!
Crispy, chewy, coconutty cookies without sweetened condensed milk! This recipe for coconut macaroons is naturally free from gluten and dairy. Safe for both celiac patients and Passover celebrations.
Experiment with fun flavors by adding chocolate chips, citrus zest, dried fruit, or even chopped candied ginger. Up the nutrient factor by mixing in chopped nuts to the batter for added protein and fiber.
The recipe as written is delicious when the baked macaroons are dipped in melted chocolate. Let everyone know in the comments your favorite way to mix up coconut macaroons!
- 3 cups unsweetened coconut flakes (or desiccated coconut)
- ¾ cup granulated sugar, coconut sugar, or honey (or if using maple syrup, use about ½ cup)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- 3 large egg whites, room temperature
For Chewier Macaroons
For softer, chewier macaroons, mix in one of the following, or a combination totaling no more than three tablespoons.
- 2 tablespoons applesauce
- 2 tablespoons coconut cream
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
Garnish + Flavoring Ideas
- 1 cup chopped nuts
- 1 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips, melted, optional
- Zest of an orange, lime, or lemon, mixed in with the coconut
- 2 tablespoons liquor or liqueur
- 1-2 tablespoons candied fruit or ginger, minced very small
- 4 ounces semi-sweet or dark baking chocolate, melted (about one standard bar or half a bag of chips)
Gather your ingredients, tools, pans, measuring spoons, and preheat your oven to 325° F. Mise en place! Everything in place!
- Line two large baking pans with parchment paper, or use non-stick pans.
- Mix together all of the ingredients except the egg whites and extracts/liquors in a medium-to-large bowl.
- In a small bowl, whisk the egg whites vigorously for about a minute or two until they're very foamy. Then whisk in any liquor, liqueurs and/or extracts.
- Fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture until it's well combined. You may find using your fingers work best.
- Drop or scoop the batter onto parchment-lined baking pans forming one to two-inch mounds. Form the mounds with your fingertips if necessary. Aim for like-sized cookies.
- Bake at 325° F for 12 to 20 minutes, depending on your oven, until the cookies are golden brown. Macaroons with honey and coconut sugar will appear darker after cooking, and ones with honey especially with brown faster.
- Cool the macaroons completely before dipping in or drizzling them with melted chocolate. Allow dipped or drizzled macarons to set and dry upside-down on parchment or wax paper.
- Store in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days, or up to a week in the refrigerator. For the best flavor, enjoy at room temperature. For crispier macaroons, allow a little air to sneak into the container by loosely wrapping or cracking the lid. Coconut macaroons can be frozen for several months if sealed airtight.
Buying Coconut Cream
Even cans labeled "coconut cream" will have a portion of thinner, watery coconut milk in them. Fight the urge to stir, and scoop out the thick, dense opaque cream for this recipe.
Sweetened brands of coconut can be substituted for the unsweetened in this recipe. Just be ready for the sugar high and a chewier cookie!
The nutrition information below is based on the recipe above using granulated sugar as listed, without any garnishes or toppings.
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