Coconut is a divisive dessert ingredient. As someone who has only started enjoying the tropical stone fruit in the last couple of years, I can understand both pro- and anti- coconut camps. As a kid, Halloween detritus included Almond Joy, Mounds, and those weird rock-hard sugary cheap candies. I did not grow up eating hot pink Snoballs; I only learned as an adult that German chocolate cake and coconut cream pies existed, and that people actually ate them.
My tastes have shifted and become more sophisticated (or so I like to think) as I’ve become older. I like coconut now (but Almond Joy and Mounds are still disgusting), in more subdued forms — that is, unsweetened. Fully embracing my new love for (most) coconut foods, I’ve spent time canvassing this area for coconut macaroons. They can be difficult to find: not quite as rare as a unicorn, more akin to a rainbow during a sun shower. Those sweet and chewy little balls of coco-nutty deliciousness, sometimes drizzled or dipped in chocolate are the perfect fix for a sweet craving. They are meaty and filling. They are crunchy and chewy. They hit most of the notes when it comes to satisfying desserts.
Before I get into what I’ve found and where I’ve found it, allow me, dear reader, to take a moment for an important lesson. The macaroon is not the same thing as a macaron. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating, this time by Merriam-Webster:
So, just so we’re clear, this:
Is not the same as this:
So where can you get a coconut macaroon in this town? I’ve found them at four places: Pekara, Strawberry Fields, Mirabelle, and Rick’s Bakery. Pekara is the most consistent with availability — you’re apt to find some there everyday, unless someone decides to buy all the remaining macaroons (you know who you are). Rick’s also has them regularly. Strawberry Fields and Mirabelle make them whenever the bakers feel like it, which could be every other day, or once a week.
Mirabelle, 124 W Main Street, Urbana | $1.85 each
Mirabelle’s macaroons are huge, and could, in theory be shared with another person. But I don’t recommend that. They are a little craggy, so the toasted coconut top is golden and crunchy and nutty in flavor. The coconut is finely shredded. The ball is moist and cakey, and gently packed so that everything isn’t too dense. The bottom is dipped in chocolate, which is a lovely counter point to the chewy coconutty toastiness.
Pekara, 116 N Neil Street, Champaign | $1.25 each
These macaroons are a little smaller than Mirabelle’s. Although the coconut is also finely shredded, the ball is quite compact, making it very dense and not quite as moist as Mirabelle’s. The exterior is only slightly toasted; the chocolate is dipped on the side, so there’s a larger coconut to chocolate ratio. The exterior is hard and chewy, the insides also chewy.
Rick’s Bakery, 2018 Philo Road, Urbana | $3 for a bag of 10 to 12
Rick’s coconut macaroons are perhaps the most traditional, in the sense that they are small, chewy little bites of piped toasted coconut goodness. They don’t have any chocolate. They are buttery, sweet, and chewy; the toasted coconut flavor is pronounced, but not overdone. It was unbelievably easy to munch through the entire bag in
one sitting two sittings. At $3 for the bag, they are a much better deal than any of the others, and an easy thing to grab and bring to a social gathering (but I suggest getting three bags: two for the party, one for your purse/pocket).
Strawberry Fields, 306 W Springfield Avenue, Urbana | $1.99 each
Another baseball sized macaroon, these are drizzled with chocolate, which really makes the coconut to chocolate ratio perfect. These ones are toastier than Pekara’s, but not as toasty as Mirabelle’s.
Instead of hunting down coconut macaroons, you could make your own. It’s a short list of ingredients. America’s Test Kitchen’s and Cook’s Illustrated recipes always produce delicious items, although sometimes they can be a little involved. When I spoke to the folks at the New Sweet Indulgence, they indicated that they will likely have them around Easter (March 27th), but really macaroons are the ideal sweet treat for Passover (April 22nd to April 30th), since they do not contain flour. Doesn’t hurt to start planning ahead now. If you’re placing orders for baked good for those holidays, go ahead and ask about the macaroon. And if you don’t like macaroons? Get yourself a macaron.
For more information about the bakeries, check out their websites and/or Facebook pages, linked above.
Photos by Jessica Hammie.