Thursday, March 1, 2012

Scottish Macaroon Bars: Catriona McPherson

Photo: Janet Rudolph
The great thing about having author events for Mystery Readers NorCal at my home is that the participants bring treats, and knowing of my chocolate addiction, they're always stellar! Recently crime writer Val McDermid was here for a Literary Salon, and she invited fellow Scottish mystery author Catriona McPherson. Catriona brought the absolutely fabulous Scottish national sweet Macaroon Bars. These tasted nothing like any macaroon I've ever had--and don't even think about comparing them to the French macaron. Scottish Macaroon Bars have a very sugary snow white inside that's dipped in chocolate and rolled in toasted coconut. These are very, very, very sweet.

This candy reminded me of those coconut patties my grandparents used to bring back from Florida when I was a kid. So you can imagine my surprise when Catriona told me the secret ingredient -- mashed potatoes. Of course I immediately asked her to share her recipe with readers of My mystery and chocolate worlds collide again. Love her post and recipe method.. being Scottish she also has a plan for the leftover bits :-)

Catriona McPherson is a Scottish mystery writer whose recent transplantation to Northern California has had two main repercussions: a lot of Skype time with old friends and a lo-hot of learning to make things she used to buy - shortbread, haggis, oatcakes and these traditional macaroon bars. For more on Catriona's series of 1920s detective novels - the latest is Dandy Gilver and The Proper Treatment of Bloodstains - please visit


Every Scottish kid buys these with his or her pocket money. I didn’t know you could make them until I moved to California and was forced into extremes of ingenuity. And even I was surprised by the first ingredient. A good tip is not to tell anyone about it until they’ve tasted the results. No one has spat one out yet on hearing the news.

Macaroon Bars

Photo: Catriona McPherson
One large floury potato (a Russet is ideal)
Roughly a pound of icing aka powdered sugar and then some
Roughly a pound of dark chocolate
Roughly a pound of shredded coconut
A pinch of salt (optional)

Now, I know the quantities in the ingredients list are not calibrated with precision. The main thing is to have lots of icing sugar. If you run out of chocolate or coconut, you can save the filling in the freezer for when you’ve bought more. If you find yourself with too much chocolate (?) and coconut you can make a couple of rocky roads with crumbled digestives and dried fruit.

Peel and boil the potato until it’s tender but not mushy and then mash it very smooth. Don’t whip it with a machine - it’ll go gummy.
In a large bowl, begin to tip in the sugar in batches and mix it with the potato. Keep going until you have a paste so stiff your arms hurt. Pinch a piece off and taste it. It shouldn’t taste like potato. If it does, rest your arms and then try again. If you use a processor for this bit, just keep going until you can’t incorporate any more sugar or your machine blows up.
Roll the paste out into a shortbread tin or other shallow pan. No need to grease.
At this stage, I would sprinkle the pan with a little salt. I love salt with chocolate. Miss it out if it seems odd but if you use it, sprinkle it at this stage and don’t mix it in. Burst of salt through the sweet on the tongue are so much better than overall saltiness.
Now mark the mixture out into squares ready to break it up when it’s set. Small pieces will be best: it’s quite sweet.

Put the tin in the freezer to chill and stiffen even more.
Melt the chocolate very gently in a bowl set over simmering water. When it’s all melted keep it over the water to stay warm.
Toast the coconut in a dry frying pan. Be careful! It burns about half a second after it browns. Don’t use the toasting time to check your email. When it’s all toasted, spread it on a plate.
Set out a few big plates or racks covered with greaseproof paper.
Now take the tin of filling out of the freezer and break it up into “bars”.
Using tongs or a fish slice, dip each bar into chocolate, then toss it in coconut, then lay it on the greaseproof paper. This operation will descend into sticky chaos.
When the bars are all coated or the chocolate and coconut has run out, put them back into the fridge or freezer to chill them, then keep them in airtight tins, interleaved with paper, until you want them.

I have no idea how long they keep. How would you find out?


Sarah Shaber said...

Hi, Catriona! Delighted to see you here! And getting this recipe, even better. Looks yummy--might make it this weekend!


Catriona McPherson said...

Hi Sarah!

Janet was kind enough not to post the pic of the state your kitchen might get in. It's on my blog. Or maybe you're a less messy cook than me. Happy dipping. Cx

yummychunklet said...

These look delicious!