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Tasting and testing on The Tasting Panel

April 13, 2011

As you may have seen in last Sunday’s paper the Chronicle tasting panel, which I am on, tested grocery store packaged chocolate macaroons for Passover. We were all surprised how awful they were. They were dry, flavorless and several were burnt.

The tasting panel meets once a month and blind tastes four products. There are anywhere from 5 to 15 brands of each. We grade on appearance, taste and texture. We give each item a score from one to five and make additional notes. Janny Hu, a Chronicle staff writer, then takes the information and compiles them into a cohesive article. One product is profiled each week in the newspaper. Given the diversity and opinions of the group this is no small task. We often agree on the brands that make the very top or bottom of the grading system but the ones that fall in the middle are all over the map. Seldom do all brands of an item have all bad or good ratings.

I love it when I find a cookie or other pastry in the grocery store that I like. Just because I am a pastry chef doesn’t mean everything has to be homemade. I buy it and recommend it to others. But after I tasted those macaroons I went straight to the kitchen and created this recipe. While simple to make, I readily admit it is easier to go to the store and buy a box but sometimes you have to sacrifice convenience for taste. If you want chocolate macaroons this is one of those times.

Chocolate Macaroons

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

1/4 cup (about 2) large egg whites

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons honey

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/3 cups sweetened shredded coconut

1/4 cup matzo meal

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

In a heat-proof bowl, whisk together the egg whites, sugar, honey, and vanilla until blended. Place over a pan of simmering water and cook, whisking frequently, until hot, about 2 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the coconut, matzo meal and the cocoa powder. Refrigerate the dough until firm, at least an hour. You can also leave it in the fridge for a couple of days.

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Using a small spoon or ice cream scoop, measure out 2 teaspoons of dough for each cookie. Place on parchment lined cookie sheets about 1 inch apart. They don’t spread much so you can fit a lot on one pan.

Bake about 10 minutes until set. Let cool on the pans to room temperature.

You can make these a couple days ahead. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

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