In Too Afraid To Ask, we answer the questions you type into the search bar but never utter aloud. This week, macaroon vs. macaron: What is the difference?
Ah, the age-old question of macaroon vs. macaron—and one that’s especially top-of-mind during Passover, when macaroons (or are they macarons…) are served left and right. It’s a confusing distinction because the two confections actually have a lot in common. Their spelling differs by a single “o,” they’re both members of the cookie family, they’re both gluten-free, and neither contains the flour verboten during the seven- or eight-day holiday. If you compare recipes for the two, you’ll notice that the ingredients are actually pretty similar. They both include egg whites and sugar, and in certain iterations, a few drops of vanilla and a pinch of salt.
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But the two cookies—which, let’s be clear, I’ll happily eat year-round and not just during Passover—are steeped in distinct cultural traditions and look and taste different. Still, a lot of us, Google included, are confused between which is which, how they are similar, and how they are different.
To fully understand the extent of the differences between macaron vs. macaroon, let’s dive into some important questions. Are there any youngest children in our readers? (Please forgive my Passover dad joke.)
Let’s start with macarons...
What is a macaron?
Pronounced mack-uh-rohn, a macaron consists of two meringue-based cookies sandwiched together with a filling. The delicate cookies, with their smooth tops and ruffled skirts, are often tinted with vibrant food coloring, and they come in an array of flavors, from raspberry to pistachio to chocolate to foie gras. A good macaron is uniformly light and airy with a delicate sugary crunch.
How is a macaron made?
Making macarons can be a difficult and unforgiving art (at least for amateur bakers like me). Egg whites are beaten to stiff peaks and then fine almond flour, powdered sugar, and flavorings are folded into the meringue carefully to avoid deflation and dry pockets. The batter is then put into a pastry bag and piped into flat, round circles, often on a silicone mat, and baked to perfection. Once cool, the cookies are paired together with fillings like jam, fruit curd, chocolate ganache, or buttercream.
Need to make them vegan? Substitute aquafaba, the liquid gold that comes in cans of chickpeas and which can be whipped to a stable foam to be used in the place of egg whites in both recipes.
Where did macarons originate?
While macarons have a modern-day association with France, it turns out that we might have the Italians to thank for the original cookies and before that, the Arabs, who are believed to have introduced almonds to southern Italy in the eighth century. The words macaroon and macaron, in addition to our beloved macaroni, are derived from the Italian maccherone, or “fine paste.” As legend has it, the cookie arrived in France with Catherine de’ Medici, upon her marriage to Henry II in 1533. Most likely, they were more like Italian pignoli, the almond paste and egg white cookies covered in pine nuts, but in the centuries since, they’ve transformed into the elegant treat they are today. While that story may or may not be entirely true, the French were most certainly instrumental in the macaron’s current composition and its popularization.
And now, to the macaroon…
What is a macaroon?
Compared to macarons, macaroons (pronounced mack-uh-roon) are denser, chewier, and certainly easier to make. These mounded cookies are most often made with sweetened shredded coconut and, if you’re lucky, they’re dipped in chocolate. Some recipes do feature almonds, but the nuts tend to be in larger pieces—not finely ground as they are in macarons—or in the form of paste. Macaroons have a craggy surface, a chewy texture, and while tourists likely don’t spend $30 on a six-pack for an Instagram post, I love them just the same.
How is a macaroon made?
It’s surely easier to make macaroons than macarons, though the two share the same egg white base. Typically, stiffly-beaten egg whites are carefully folded into a mixture of shredded coconut, sugar, and vanilla and then the batter is formed into small mounds or pyramids and baked. Some recipes will call for sweetened condensed milk for an even more decadent treat (although, the introduction of dairy can complicate matters for some who keep kosher). Once baked, macaroons can, and should, be dipped in chocolate. They also freeze extremely well so that your Passover batch can keep on giving.
In recent years, bakers like Dan Cohen, founder of Danny Macaroons and author of The Macaroon Bible, have started to add chutzpah to his macaroons with experimental flavors like red velvet, guava, hibiscus, and salted caramel, Cohen’s personal favorite. He is proud to report that the salted caramel macaroon is “one that I think we can safely say that we originated and, to this day, remains one of the best things I’ve ever made.”
Where did macaroons originate?
The macaroon shares the same early story as its French cousin, originating in Italy. It’s believed that macaroons also started out as almond confections, but transitioned into their modern-day coconut form in the nineteenth century when dried coconut became more accessible in the U.S. and Europe. Bakers soon discovered that coconut made a cookie that was sturdier and lasted longer. Just like Ladurée made the macaron a status symbol, Manischewitz launched tins of macaroons onto the shelves of grocery stores across the States.
While Italian Jews were the first to embrace serving macaroons on Passover, the trend caught on in Jewish households around the world and the macaroon soon became a pesach dessert staple. And though we typically do not see macarons gracing the Passover dessert table, some observers would eat them during Passover, too (confectioners’ sugar, I should note, typically contains cornstarch, which some don’t eat during the holiday).
As with nearly every Jewish occasion, if I don’t have the energy to bake, there’s always Manischewitz. I never thought I’d see the day where Manischewitz started selling birthday cake, cookies & cream or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel macaroons, but 134 years in and they’ve still got it. *orders a tin in every flavor*