I found the macadamia nuts in their shells at the Santa Monica farmers’ market. I was surprised to see them at all. In fact, I was looking for hazelnuts, of which there has not been a snifter. I’m not a fan of exotica in food generally, nor do I warm to the tropical, except for Bounty bars. I once went to the Philippines, which was full of places that looked like the ideal location for a Bounty advert: milk-soft ocean, leggy coconut palms, acres of white sand. At one point a very Americanized Filipino leaned over to me and said “Isn’t this the best decision you, like, ever made?” How to say no, without seeming ungrateful? I probably just nodded and hoped my eyebrows were holding back some of the sweat that I could feel pouring out of my hair.
The one thing I will remember fondly was the man who sang Tears in Heaven every evening yards from my beach hut. He had a rather limited repertoire, but a really nice voice. All the restaurants had their own singer, and the songs were mellow and often accompanied by a single guitar. I remember feeling completely miserable, alone and in paradise. Actually, I wasn’t alone because fishermen used to sleep in my hammock.
Macadamias were introduced to southern California in the late 19th century from Australia, their native soil. They have similar demands to avocados, and are scattered throughout avocado groves and sometimes citrus here for that reason. I was shocked at how they looked once shelled (they are almost impossible to crack – hence the hammer). They are so perfect and pristine it’s unnerving – exact yet miniature, like Japanese netsuke. They are buttery, in the way of a Brazil nut, but sweeter and creamier; they need the dry heat of the oven to do them justice. Alternatively – and I can’t blame you – buy a bag of them shelled and save yourself the agro. I apologize in advance for the expense. They are known as the brat of the nut world, probably for this reason.
I have long held a love for the coconut. The damp matted stuff, fragrant, sweet and nutty has an affinity with macadamia nuts. Coconuts are available year-round but peak in the autumn and winter. I am happy to bring you macaroons, because I think they are lovely in size, easy to make and timeless. They should be eaten on the day they are made though as they stale up easily. The macaroon recipe calls for shredded coconut, which is a common ingredient in the US. The UK version, called desiccated coconut, is very similar. Alternatively, buy a fresh coconut – pierce it, drain off the juice (and drink it, it’s very good for you), crack open the shell with a hammer (yes, again) around the ‘fault’ line, and separate the flesh. Peel off the brown skin with a knife and grate the flesh in a processor. If you think this is too much faff and expense for one recipe, I suggest making the coconut-macadamia shortbread too (see recipe below).
Adapted from Lindsay Shere, Chez Panisse Desserts
& Nigella Lawson, How to be a Domestic Goddess
2 large egg whites
¼ tsp of cream of tartar
⅓ cup (25g) of sugar
Pinch of sea salt
1½ cups (150g) of shredded coconut
½ cup (75g) unsalted macadamia nuts
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 160C/325F. Toast the macadamias until just beginning to colour – about ten minutes max. Then cool and chop fine by hand. Beat the egg whites until frothy – no more – then add the cream of tartar and salt and carry on beating until soft peaks are formed. Beat in the sugar until the whites hold stiff, shiny peaks. Fold in the nuts and coconut. The mixture is sticky but should hold its shape, just. Form into small domes – say 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until they are turning a golden brown. Makes 8 large-ish macaroons.
Adapted from Nick Malgieri, The Modern Baker
For the shortbread
½ cup (100g) sugar (Use coconut palm sugar if you can get it)
1½ ounces (50g) unsalted macadamias, crushed with the bottom of a pan
2 cups (250g) all purpose flour*
¼ cup (25g) shredded coconut
½ tsp baking powder
12 tbs (1½ sticks/175g) cold, unsalted butter cut into small pieces
Pinch of sea salt
For the top
¾ cup (about 3oz/75g) unsalted macadamias, crushed and finely chopped, not ground
⅓ cup (75g) coconut palm sugar (or any soft, brown sugar)
Generous sprinkling of flaky salt (such as Maldon)
Line a baking sheet with buttered parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 160C/325F. Combine the sugar and macadamias in the bowl of a food processor or blender and grind finely. Add the flour and baking powder and pulse several times to mix. Add the butter and pulse until it is finely mixed in. The mixture should be powdery. You could do this with your hands if you work fast.
Distribute the mixture evenly all over the lined and buttered pan. Use the palm of one hand to press it in. Sprinkle the dough with water and scatter the chopped nuts and sugar evenly on the dough and use the palm of your hand again to press them in. Sprinkle with the flaky salt. Bake the shortbread until it is golden and firm – about 25 minutes. As soon as you remove the pan from the oven, grip the opposite ends of the paper and lift the slab of baked dough onto a cutting board. While the dough is still hot, cut into 2 inch (5cm) squares. Let the shortbread cool and crisp up. If you want it crisper, you can return it to the oven at 300F/150C for a further 10 minutes, then cool the pan on a rack. The sugar and salt are a really lovely combination and enhance the rich nuttiness of the shortbread. Makes about 24 2-inch (5cm) squares.
*Use ground almonds if you want to go flourless – it will be much softer and sandier but still very good. Reduce the butter to 6 tbs and melt it beforehand.