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Home with the Lost Italian: Pumpkin Spice Macaroon cookies give fall spin to Ina's classic recipe

Pumpkin spice macaroons drizzled with chocolate. Dave Wallis / The Forum1 / 4
Use a small scoop to make a ball of pumpkin spice dough for the macaroons. Dave Wallis / The Forum2 / 4
From left to right, pumpkin spice, chocolate and vanilla macaroons. Dave Wallis / The Forum3 / 4
From left to right, pumpkin spice, chocolate and vanilla macaroons. Dave Wallis / The Forum4 / 4

People often ask if we have trouble coming up with topics every week for our column. The answer is no. The challenge for us is working in our favorite recipes, like this week's Pumpkin Spice Macaroons, which I've waited for three years to share with you.

A decade ago, I discovered Ina (the "Barefoot Contessa") Garten's recipe for coconut macaroons, or what I call "the perfect cookie." I've made these macaroons ever since, always to rave reviews.

Coconut lovers practically go mad for these cookies, and even folks who aren't so fond of coconut often come back for a second. Ina's cookies are light, chewy, full of coconut, and they are inspiration for today's recipe.

I appreciate the simplicity of Ina's recipes, and this is no exception. There are only five ingredients in her macaroons: coconut, egg whites, salt, vanilla and sweetened condensed milk. I've added pure pumpkin and some spices, with delicious results.

This is an easy recipe to follow. First, in a large bowl, stir together 14 ounces of shredded coconut with 14 ounces of sweetened condensed milk, a teaspoon of vanilla, a (scant) half-cup pure pumpkin and the spices. In a separate bowl, use the whisk attachment of your stand or hand mixer to whip two extra large egg whites with a quarter teaspoon of vanilla extract, until medium-firm peaks are achieved.

This is where most folks drift off into "Oh, I could never do that" territory, and I'm here to tell you that yes, you can. Separating and whipping egg whites may take a small bit of practice to master (say, a time or two), but these basic culinary techniques are worth the effort. Take a few minutes to watch an online demonstration and you'll get a feel for these tasks before you even get started.

To whip the egg whites, I turn my mixer on its highest speed and whip until medium-firm peaks appear, which takes about two minutes. Medium-firm peaks can stand up on their own, but typically have a little droop at the top. Softer peaks will drift back down quickly, and firm peaks will stand straight up.

Once the whites have been whipped, I gently fold them into the coconut mixture until fully incorporated. Next, I use a 1-inch scoop to drop the batter onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake the cookies in a 325-degree oven until golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. The original recipe recommends a 1¾-inch scoop, but I like cookies that are perfectly sized to pop right in your mouth, and the smaller size yields about 50 to 60 beautiful macaroons.

Ina's classic macaroons are hard to beat, but after several years of making them I've enjoyed playing with her recipe to see what would happen by introducing new ingredients. Three years ago, I found a can of pure pumpkin in my pantry, just begging to be used. I knew it was time to experiment with Ina's cookie.

After several test-runs to perfect the measurements and flavor, I was happy enough with the result to serve my pumpkin-spice macaroons to Tony and our son, Gio, who gobbled them up faster than a turkey. They are now an annual fall favorite in our house, and will be featured at our next Light Sunday Supper at Sarello's this weekend.

From left to right, pumpkin spice, chocolate and vanilla macaroons. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Pumpkin Spice Macaroons

Inspired by Ina Garten's Coconut Macaroon recipe

Makes 50 to 60 cookies

14 ounces sweetened coconut flakes

14 ounces sweetened condensed milk

Use a small scoop to make a ball of pumpkin spice dough for the macaroons. Dave Wallis / The Forum1 teaspoon pure vanilla

½ cup pumpkin puree, unseasoned (don't "pack" the cup — this should be a scant measurement)

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 extra-large egg whites

¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Combine the coconut, condensed milk, vanilla, pumpkin and spices in a large bowl.

Use an electric mixer with the whisk attachment to whip the egg whites and salt on high speed, until they form medium-firm peaks, about 2 minutes. Gently fold the egg whites into the coconut-pumpkin mixture.

Use a 1-inch scoop to drop the batter onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 325 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on the tray for 3 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Sarah's Tips

• The batter can be refrigerated between batches to keep the liquid from separating.

• For a variation, drizzle melted chocolate over the top.

• To make vanilla macaroons, omit the pumpkin and spices.

• To make chocolate macaroons, omit the pumpkin and spices, and add 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder to the coconut mixture before folding in the egg whites.

"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 11-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at dine@sarellos.com and their blog at www.thelostitalian.areavoices.com.

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