Besides another “o”, what’s the difference between macarons and macaroons? A common misconception is that these words can be used interchangeably to refer to the same sweet treat, but we regard that as an absolute sin in the baking world.
Like every great narrative, we’ll start at the beginning. Macarons have a rich history that dates all the way back to the 8th century, when they were produced by Venetian monasteries and bestowed the nickname “priest’s bellybuttons.” Appetizing, right? Catherine de’ Medici, who brought the pastry with her from Italy after her marriage to Henry II of France, definitely thought so. After their initial introduction, macarons were made famous by two nuns referred to by locals as the “Macaron Sisters.” They sold the cookies individually (and without filling) in order to pay for housing in Nancy, France during the French Revolution, and even though early macarons were lacking in flavor, they were still a hit. It wasn’t until the 1930s that macarons were served in pairs, with jam or ganache serving as filling. Macarons today are most popular in their origin country, France, as well as Japan, Switzerland, and the United States.
Since the beginning, the ingredients in macarons haven’t much changed. They’re made with flour, egg whites and sugar, just like back in the good ‘ole “priest’s bellybuttons” days. The egg whites are whipped to a medium-stiff peak and folded into the almond flour/sugar mixture. That mixture is then piped into small circles on parchment paper and baked in a low temperature oven. Those cookies are then sandwiched with fruity jam, curd, ganache, or flavorful buttercream. These cookies are typically one to two bites and come in all the colors of the rainbow, which makes them great for special events like weddings or birthdays!
So what are macaroons, then? This is where it gets tricky. The macaroon shares nearly the exact same history with the macaron, from their humble beginnings in Venice to their popularity in France at the hands of the Macaron Sisters. Historically, the primary difference between the macaron and macaroon is that macaroons were adopted by Italian Jews as an annual treat for Passover. Macaroons can be made without flour, which is crucial to the eight-day holiday, in which Jews swear off “leaven” or yeast that represents sin. Macaroons later spread across Europe as a popular Italian-Jewish treat that could be consumed year round and were eventually recognized by all religions and nations as today’s unique and yummy pastry.
Macaroons are typically made using egg whites (instead of flour), sweetened condensed milk and, most notably, flaked coconut. Modern day macaroons are commonly dipped in chocolate to add a flavorful kick to the cookie!
So let’s recap:
The macaron is usually filled with jam, curd, buttercream or ganache sandwiched between two meringue cookies colored to reflect the filling inside.
The macaroon is a chocolate-dipped coconut mound cookie made with egg whites, sweetened condensed milk, and of course, flaked coconut.
Now you know the historical and structural difference between these cookies. Perhaps the greatest distinction between the macaroon and macaron is that we only serve macarons here at Pangea Kitchen! We have our incredibly talented pastry chef, Sarah, to thank for these colorful creations coming to life before our very eyes. So next time you treat yourself to a macaron, think about the history, and maybe give a warm thank you to Sarah. She’s the master, after all.