Over the past few years the macaron has become somewhat popular in the U.S. The meringue and almond-based confection is one of the prettiest cookies around with its light, soft texture in a range of beautiful colors, from gentle pastels to vibrant hues.
Yet, despite their popularity, there is still confusion over the difference between a macaron and a macaroon. They sound the same—and macarons are often called macaroons, to add to the confusion—yet they are as different as different can be.
A Macaron Vs. a Macaroon
To be precise, the correct name of this beautiful baked good is "macaron," pronounced mah-kah-ron. The word originates from its Italian roots, for maccherone or macaroni. In France they are known only as macarons—it is outside France, namely in the UK, where the confusion with the name has come into play.
The problem is a macaron in the UK is also referred to as a macaroon. Both are widely accepted but to call the cookie a macaroon is not correct. A macaroon (also called a coconut macaroon) is a small bite-sized cake made of egg white, coconut, and almonds. It is often the first cake a child will learn to make and is a popular Passover dessert as it doesn't contain flour, which is forbidden during the Jewish holiday.
History of the Macaron
Although the little beauty known as a macaron may have just recently become a staple in bakery cases, is not new to the confection scene.
The esteemed Larousse Gastronomique cites French origins of the macaron way back in 751 when they were purportedly made in a French abbey in Cormery. However, the popularity of the macaron, more as we know it today, dates back to the 16th century when reputably they were brought from Italy to France by Catherine de’ Medici when she married Henry II in 1533.
Almond-based confectionery and foods were very popular at this time, so the macaron was an instant hit.
The French took them into their hearts (and stomachs) and the cookies have remained synonymous with French confectionery ever since, despite its Italian heritage. They have become overwhelmingly popular in Britain in recent years as the antidote to the influx of British and Irish bakeries filled with cupcakes and other elaborate treats.
Much is written about how hard it is to make the macaron. It is true—they are not easy to prepare, but with a little practice, and a few tips, you will soon be able to make the perfect macaron every time.
Origin of the Macaroon
The name macaroon has Italian origins as well, stemming from the word for "paste," referring to the almond paste that was the main ingredient in the original recipe. Over the years, the cookie has become more popular (especially in the UK) as a coconut macaroon, where almonds are absent.
And not to confuse the issue any further, but even these coconut macaroons have many variations—from simply egg whites and coconut to the addition of condensed milk and/or chocolate. However, delicious as they are, they are not the same thing as a French or Italian macaron, including that these cookies are very simple to make.