Macaroons in New York City are arguably as celebrated and as critiqued as the classic dollar pizza slice. They come in all shapes and sizes; some made with coconut, some with nuts, some formed into sandwiches with cream fillings. As Passover approached, we set out to find New York's best coconut macaroons—the dense, chewy mounds of coconut that are most popular when flour and other leavening agents go out of season.
We traversed Manhattan and Brooklyn popping in and out of old-school Jewish and artisanal bakeries alike, and by the time we were (really) tired of coconut, we were offered almond and pistachio coconut-free Passover macaroons in Sheepshead Bay. There, in a friendly Sephardic bakery and chocolate shop called Mansoura Pastries, we asked, why are some Passover macaroons, like the almond-paste varieties, missing coconut?
Syrian and Egyptian Jews, we were told, make macaroons in the Italian-style, with almonds. In fact, the macaroon's Italian etymological root, ammacarre, meaning to crush, refers to the making of almond paste. The first Italian macaroons were like amaretti cookies, made of ground almonds, egg whites, and sugar. Before long, Italian Jews upheld them as the ultimate Passover treat.
It wasn't until the19th century, when coconut from India first became available, that bakers replaced the almond paste with coconut. The idea caught on, and suddenly, macaroons were more shelf-stable and structurally-sound than ever before. By 1930, Manishevitz and Streit's, America's most well-known matzo manufacturers, were selling coconut macaroons in tins, and America's best-selling variety was born. Coconut or nut-based, out of the tin or freshly baked, mounds or piped, macaroons of all kinds are the right kind of dessert for a holiday that celebrates good questions and good food.
To note: Our pre-Passover search missed a few bakeries that bake macaroons exclusively during Passover, including these kosher favorites: By the Way Bakery and My Most Favorite Food.
Varieties: coconut, chocolate-dipped, vanilla-cherry
Price: ~$1.75 each
Orwasher's, the almost 100 year old bakery on the Upper East Side, does a fine job of taking classic baked goods and making them a little better and a little more modern.
Pros: The best quality of these two-bite macaroons was the distinctive toasted exterior that gives way to a smooth interior of finely-shredded coconut. The actual coconut flavor really popped, and the vanilla-dried cherry combination was a welcomed mash-up.
Cons: Quite expensive for their size, these are better as an occasional treat than a party feature.
308 E 78th St #1, New York, NY; orwashers.com
One Lucky Duck
Varieties: blonde, chocolate
We knew we'd find something different at this raw, organic, vegan juice and snack bar.
Pros: It's clear a lot of thought went into these artisan macaroons—for being raw, they're really good. The vanilla flavor popped in the blonde variety, and we liked that agave was the only form of sugar used.
Cons: The rawness of these macaroons demands a little extra chewing on the consumer's part, perhaps an unwanted quality. They're also pretty pricey as they are only sold in bags of roughly 20.
75 9th Avenue, New York, NY; oneluckyduck.com
Varities: coconut, chocolate-dipped
Pros: It's easy to overlook the macaroons next to Ruthy's elaborate cupcake-filled bakery case. The macaroons look dull and mass-produced in comparison, so the perfectly cakey texture and balanced coconut-to-chocolate-ratio took us by pleasant surprise.
Cons: Though a solid macaroon, Ruthy's forte is still cakes; it feels strange to send someone here for anything but.
75 9th Avenue, New York, NY; ruthys.com
Varieties: coconut, chocolate-covered, chocolate chip, almond
Zabar's is New York's kosher grocery, so naturally macaroons of several varieties are displayed prominently throughout the store this time of year.
Pros: The plastic tub they're sold in along with the moderate price make Zabar's a go-to for your macaroon party needs.
Cons: This brand is nothing more and nothing less than we expected from a coconut macaroon. It's accessible, but forgettable.
2245 Broadway, New York, NY; zabars.com
Russ and Daughters
Varieties: chocolate, salted almond chocolate, salted caramel, dipped chocolate
Price: $1.99 sold individually
Two weeks before Passover, people were outside the shop eating macaroons on benches facing Houston Street. This bustling and beloved one-stop-shop has smoked fish, dried fruits and nuts, chocolate covered confections, and of course, matzo ball soup.
Pros: These are notable for the quality of coconut, which is crunchy and more coarsely grated and rustic that most. The salted caramel was most memorable; its drizzle of caramel studded with granules of salt was enough to flavor the whole haystack.
Cons: If you prefer more finely grated coconut confections than this might not be the ideal macaroon for you.
179 E. Houston Street, New York, NY; russanddaughters.com
Le Pain Quotidien
I stopped in one of this Belgian-influenced café's locations on a whim, and found my very favorite macaroon in New York City.
Pros: Piped tall and wide, these are the most elegant-looking of the bunch. The finely shredded coconut creates an almost cake-like experience, without losing the desired moist and toasty qualities of an ideal macaroon. Plus, they're a steal at $1.50 each. When I dream about macaroons at night, I dream about these.
Cons: Only offering a plain coconut variety is a real tease.
Many locations around the city;www.lepainquotidien.com
(Pictured top) Variety: Coconut
Price: $9 for a bag of 12 mini macaroons
Pros: The texture is spot on; a crispy, golden brown exterior with a moist and not-too-chewy middle. These bite-sized macaroons look delightful, with a nice contrast that reveals their delicate piping.
Cons: We immediately agreed: these are too sweet! We also groaned at the price tag. Bring these if you're running late in Union Square with nothing to bring to dinner.
18 E. 16th Street, New York, NY; www.breadsbakery.com
Price: $1.50 each
If Magnolia is an institution for cupcakes, then it's a well-kept secret for macaroons. Though not displayed on the day we visited, the counter attendant gladly retrieved a couple from his back stash.
Pros: Oven-browned just to the critical point of contrast, the exterior is flaky while the interior is chewy and moist. Half is dipped in a ganache of semi-sweet dark chocolate that forms the perfect compliment to the sweet and grated filling. We were surprised we wished we had a whole box of these!
Cons: It seems the availability of these are hit and miss. Also, their flat appearance is less appealing than some others.
401 Bleecker Street, New York, NY; magnoliabakery.com
Varieties: chocolate-chocolate chip (reviewed), coconut, almond, chocolate nut brownie, honey nut, toffee crunch.
This one is 97-year-old-Aunt-Rose approved. Just pull back the tin foil and you'll find America's most popular Passover treat, made daily on Rivington Street since 1925. They're easy to find in supermarkets around Passover.
Pros: These macaroons come in a can but are made with ingredients found in anyone's Passover pantry: potato starch, coconut, sugar, egg whites, and cocoa. Bite-sized and chewy, they're a perfect party popper.
Cons: Sometimes bakers throw potato starch into the mix to give the macaroon more body. Streit's developed a recipe with this principle in mind, building macaroons closer to cakes than meringues. This, perhaps more than the salted-caramel artisanal varieties of today, is the macaroon's furthest reach from Italy.
148-154 Rivington Street, New York, NY; www.streitsmatzos.com
Varieties: chocolate almond, salted caramel
Price: $2.30 each
Perhaps New York's most artisanal coconut macaroon, Danny's are sold online and in high end coffee shops throughout the city. You can't always find every flavor, but it's almost worth a continued quest of hopes of scoring a maple pecan pie or black chocolate stout variety.
Pros: Carefully selected ingredients clearly created macaroons whose flavor combinations are down to a culinary science. The addition of condensed milk make the coconut interior extra creamy, as if a coating of smooth dark chocolate wasn't already enough.
Cons: The overall bite came off denser than we prefer, and the unpredictability of their availability makes us less eager to continue pursuing Danny.
Available at cafes and shops throughout NYC; dannymacaroons.com
Varieties: almond, pistachio, dark chocolate covered, almond macaroon sandwiches filled with pistachio paste
Price: $15 for a box of 20 mini macaroons
Mansoura is an old-school Sephardic Jewish bakery whose bakers can guide you through their culinary history. At Mansoura, you'll find Greybeh topped with roasted pistachio, walnut biscotti, Turkish delight, baklava, and even maamoul, a savory dough packed with dates. During passover, unleavened fruit and nut delicacies take their place. Macaroons of the Italian-Sephardic variety take us back to the macaroon's Italian roots.
Pros: The Belgian chocolate-covered almond macaroon won us over at first bite; not too sweet, with just the right amount of chocolate. The almond-covered macaroons were sprinkled with thinly sliced almonds, perfectly contrasting the melt-in-your mouth sensation of the almond-paste dough.
Cons: There are no coconut macaroons here; it's just not in line with their tradition. At $15 a box, these are of the gourmet variety.
515 Kings Highway, Brooklyn, NY; mansoura.com
Holon Middle East Foods
Varieties: coconut, pistachio, walnut, peanut, chocolate chip
Price: $6.99 for a box of 10-12
The next spot in Brooklyn was Holon, just a block down from Mansoura. In awe of their extraordinary variety of macaroons, the grocer called out to me. Did we want a sample? There were fresh ones coming out of the oven. We didn't want to leave; we were given two free samples of their passover baked goods, and there was still an island of pickled vegetables to ogle.
Pros: There are only four ingredients in these parve little showstoppers: eggs, coconut, sugar, and nuts. Macaroons like these have a higher nut to coconut ratio and do not have oil. c
Cons: You won't be able to taste them all if you're going to eat them alone; they only come in boxes of ten. And if you're looking for something dense and chewy, these aren't for you.
527 Kings Highway, Brooklyn, NY; holonfoods.com
About the authors: Ruthie Young is lovingly called "The Smoothie Queen," and has a founded passion for Midwestern delicacies like Hotdish. She blogs at the-tasty-truth.com. Aly Miller is a Milwaukee native who loves NYC for its old-school bakeries, rooftop gardens, and its crazy quilt of architecture. She blogs at Food Politic and The Co-op Kitchen.