This is what happens when custard meets coconut.
When it comes to coconut, I’ve discovered that you either love it or hate it — there’s just no middle ground. Marco, the DJ who makes me sound great on my radio show, hates the stuff – won’t even eat anything that remotely comes from buko or made with gata (coconut milk). My friend, Ricky, also despises coconut, especially the desiccated kind. “Petrified beyond belief, eh?” I nod understandingly. Personally, I adore coconut and everything that comes from it. Another time, I ask Chef Chris Bautista if he’s fond of macaroons. “Macaron, you mean?” He replies. Eep. I should remember that I’m talking to a French-trained chef.
Up until the 20th century, macaroons or macarons referred solely to those circular, ethereal discs sandwiching delicate buttercreams. In more modern times, the crushed almonds in macarons can be replaced with coconut and bound with either egg whites or condensed milk. Though easier to make, there are countless coconut macaroons out there made with coconut that’ve been desiccated to death, difficult to chew and painful to swallow. A short ingredient list doesn’t preclude a pitiful product.
Then Gigi Gaerlan asks me to try her self-named “Custaroons.” Her description of it sounds tantalizing enough, “…a combination of flan/custard/crÃ©me caramel…” all things I love, until, “… with a chewy macaroon top.” That just about stops me cold. Still smarting from atrocious macaroons in the past, I don’t make haste to try these cleverly named sweets.
So when they appear at my door, I eye them suspiciously. A golden pocked top created by thin coconut strands stranded for eternity in an enticing mixture of what I assume to be condensed milk and flavoring. They’re similar to the large coconut macaroons sold at Seattle’s Best Coffee which are quite tasty.
Baked in regular 4-ounce muffin liners, the first bite of a Custaroon is a pronouncement of quality desiccated coconut and its inherent chewiness, swiftly followed by an eggy flavor, the “Custa” in the “ ‘roon’.” Gazing at the (large) bite I’ve taken, I can clearly see the demarcation, if you will, of the custard layer and its coconut crown. The two are fine complements to one another, unlikely pairing though they may be. The custard’s smoothness, reminiscent of leche flan, intensifies the pleasant grittiness and muted crunch of the coconut. And it isn’t painfully sweet either.
Gigi tells me that she only used to make Custaroons for Christmas but decided to give in to requests that she offer them year-round. Interestingly, her unique dessert is a product of serendipity. (The best desserts often are). “I started whisking up different combinations using my favorite ingredients,” she tells me. “I didn’t really set out to create a combination of leche flan and macaroons in particular but one of my ‘experiments’ turned out as is.”
And how did she come up with that curious name? “People used to call them ‘cupcakes’, which they aren’t – but after several orders, I knew I had to come up with a name … something catchy … and one that subtly describes what [I think] the product tastes like.”
Gigi’s on a roll with her joyfully quirky Custaroons, and will soon be offering a cheese version (vote for Cheesetaroons, Cheesy ‘roons, etc. on her website) as well as a coffee ‘roon. Maybe even chocolate. I wonder what those will be called?
Custaroons by Gigi Gaerlan