I had dinner at Malaparte with four friends, two French and two Italians, and naturally, the first topic of conversation was food. We were waiting for our meal and like sharks we had attacked the plate of focaccia. One friend said: Isn’t it funny how by seven we’re hungry? In Italy I always eat dinner at eight or nine, but now I’ll start scratching myself by seven because I’m so hungry. It’s as if our internal clock has shifted to an earlier meal time zone. The focaccia was finished, we asked for more, and in the meantime we talked about snacks. The Italians said their favorite snack is Parmesan. They like to bite right into it.
It’s what I ate every day as a kid. It was my fuel, pieces of Parmesan hidden in the creases of my clothes, said one friend.
My mother brings me huge chunks of Parmesan from home but they only last a day or two, said the other.
My two French friends laughed. They agreed that their childhood snack was chocolate. Chocolate on its own and chocolate on bread.
Chocolate was not really my childhood snack. Sugar was mostly banned in our household for many years, so I snacked on almonds, rice, and toasted bread. Chocolate was a hidden, precious treat, to be eaten in secret or on special occasions. Underneath the sink in his bathroom, among toothbrushes, toothpaste and airplane samples, my father always kept a box of chocolates from La Maison du Chocolat or Cailler.
This man goes to great lengths to acquire excellent chocolate. One year, when we lived in Australia, he drove hours to find “French” chocolate for Easter eggs. He returned with gigantic, beautiful creations that he laboriously hid in the garden. We had to find them right away before they melted. Our Australian friends were disgruntled, and we had a hard time finding the eggs. It felt more like work than play, but then again, my father and I chose and ate our chocolate with serious devotion. Last time I saw him in LA he had driven an hour to find Valrhona chocolate sold in bulk at a store for professional cooks. He made a ganache, which we ate by the spoon and then spread on crepes.
Some of this obsessiveness has transferred to me: when I’m in France I’ll stock up on baking chocolate to bring back to New York and I always buy small boxes from la Maison du Chocolat for my friends. I do believe that most desserts taste better when made with chocolate, such as the all-around chocolate cookie from Blue Bottle Coffee or the chocolate macaroon sold at Brooklyn Larder. I discovered this macaroon one evening on my way to the movies. I sat in the movie theatre in the dark eating my macaroon, bite by bite, trying very hard to make it last, while others chomped on popcorn and guzzled soda. The macaroon was dense like fudge at the core, not too sweet, with the underlying flavor of salt.
I decided to make my own. The recipe is adapted from here. I reduced the sugar content and I used muscovado instead. I also chose a dark chocolate at 70%. This macaroon feels like an adult dessert, best eaten with a shot of espresso. It is not too sweet but has a lovely chew from the coconut and a crisp shell. In our apartment, we like to keep these in the fridge, taking them out late at night after a long day.
120 grams chocolate at 70%
3 egg whites
1/4 cup (25 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup muscovado sugar
1/4 heaping teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
In a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and set aside to cool.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites, cocoa powder, salt, vanilla, and sugar. Stir in chocolate and coconut. Refrigerate for at least an hour, until hardened.
Preheat oven to 375F. Scoop the mix onto a baking pan covered with parchment paper. You want to make small, round balls. Don’t worry about spacing them too much as they won’t spread. Bake the macaroons 13-15 minutes, until set. Let cool for a few minutes, devour a few, and keep the rest in the fridge. My roommate thinks they’re best when dipped into espresso.