Recently, we finished up a meandering Global Market lunch with a stop at Salty Tart for sweets. While we filled our white paper bag lemon cake, a puff pastry, and a brownie, a gluten-free dining companion purchased one flourless chocolate cupcake and a cup of coffee. We could have let this self-restraint stand had there not been another, more appealing option (something we wanted ourselves but resisted for fear of appearing gluttonous): “You MUST try a coconut macaroon — they’re gluten free!”
When applied to baked goods, “gluten-free” is not always an adjective that recommends itself to wheat eaters, but whether you’re celiac or not, these coconut macaroons had much to offer in the way of toasty, chewy, dense, and tender. As the dining companion said, tucking one away, “It’s not an oily haystack, it’s not too sweet, it’s really just perfect.”
We wanted to eat more of them — a whole lot more of them. We wanted the recipe.
When we called up chef Michelle Gayer to ask her where the coconut macaroons came from and how they ended up in her pastry case, she initially seemed mystified and talked about them like a stray cat that wandered into the shop, bringing with it a loyal following of its own. “It just happened. I’ve been making the macaroon since Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago. It followed me to the Franklin Street Bakery, and then it followed me here, and now it’s really become its own thing,” she said. “If you would have told me, back then, that this would be the thing that people would love, I wouldn’t have believed it — but of course, I love it.”
At the State Fair last year, Gayer sold 8,000 coconut macaroons. On an average day at the bakery, she’ll sell 100 of them — and if the Food Network airs the episode of “The Best Thing I ever Ate” in which Andrew Zimmern declares them the “world’s best macaroon,” sales will soar to 200 a day. “They have a broad appeal,” she said. “They work for the gluten-free customer, the fat-free customer, the chewy customer, and the crunchy-outside-soft-in-the-middle customer.”
Yes, they’re all that. And so we resumed our wheedling — not for ourselves, of course, but for our long-suffering gluten-intolerant friend, who deserves delicious sweets — but always the pastry chef politely demurred.
THE HEAVY TABLE: So was it a family recipe or something you developed on your own?
MICHELLE GAYER: I don’t remember. It has been so long; over 10 years. It’s not a family recipe, but I’m sure I tweaked it. You know, we use vanilla bean and hand roll them.
HT: They are so rich. If there’s no flour, what makes them so dense — what’s the binder?
MG: Lots of coconut? There’s about six pounds of coconut in the recipe.
HT: And what else? Coconut and …
MG: I think I’m not willing to talk about it. Right? When someone says, ‘That’s the best thing I ever ate!’ people call for the recipe. At this point, I don’t think I’m even willing to talk about the ingredients, and I never thought I’d say that!
HT: Okay, okay, we understand. After all, it’s really taking off.
MG: It’s a thing, it has a life of its own. They have their own nickname — we call them crackaroons — and they have their own special coconut, size and selection.
HT: Aha, special coconut! But you’re probably not willing to tell me about that either?