What is the difference between macarons and macaroons?

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What is the difference between macarons and macaroons?

Let me start right off the bat by saying a macaron and a macaroon are not one and they same thing, and I’ll take on a debate with anyone, anytime, if they wish disagree with me. The difference between macarons and macaroons starts with pronunciation (and you will find audio on all relevant words at the end of this article) and extends to history, ingredients, technique, appearance, exclusivity, and price, and most importantly, taste and texture. I don’t care if the New York Times uses ‘macaroons’ as a translation of ‘macarons’ – they are wrong.

When you translate a word, you are describing the same thing in another language. If you ask me for the French word for ‘parsley’ (persil), you would not be impressed if you went to France and found that what you call parsley is in fact mint. And I could hardly defend myself by saying ‘well, they are both herbs, aren’t they?’ All macarons and macaroons have in common is that they are both cookies.  Let me explain:

A macaroon is a cookie with a very distinct heritage. It seems to hail from Scotland originally, but if the genesis is lost in the mists of time, nevermind. We have the recipe. Egg-whites, sugar and coconut. These three ingredients could be tweaked by using syrup instead of sugar, or possibly another binder apart from egg-whites, or dipping the finished product in chocolate. But take away the sweetness, the chewyness, and the COCONUT, and you no longer have a macaroon.  You have probably eaten macaroons, but if you can’t remember them, here is a photograph to jog your memory:

                              Macaroons howdoyousaythatword.com

 Now let me turn to the macarons. These are made with a meringue base consisting of egg-white and fine sugar, and finely ground ALMONDS. Almonds, not coconut! Although a macaroon does contain egg-whites and sugar, it does not require them to be made into a meringue. The meringue base is key to the macaron. And there is no history that I can find anywhere of a macaron being made with coconut, nor can I find any coconut flavored macarons in the inventory of today’s finest patissiers.

The first macarons appeared in France in the Middle Ages – numerous towns seem to claim their origin, with no clear victor in sight. What is clear is that the ingredients and shape have remained unchanged for hundreds of years. Here is an extract I found on Wikepedia, from a French dictionary dated 1904, describing a macaron:

                                                                                                                                                                 Macaron howdoyousaythatword.com

This confirms macarons are made with almonds, egg-whites and sugar, and as you can see, the shape is round and flat. There is no mention of coconut anywhere. The only other cookies macarons have something in common with are Italian amaretti biscuits – these are made with the same ingredients, but they are distinctly flavoured with apricot kernels, and their texture is crisp, rather than the melt in the mouth of macarons. In addition, macarons are usually (although NOT traditionally) sandwiched in pairs with a flavored buttercream, or other filling.

The grand pâtisserie and salon de thé of Paris, Ladurée, claims the distinction of being the first to think of coloring the macarons, and turning them into filled cookies. This is the innovation that changed macarons forever and propelled them to ‘rock star of the cookie world’ status.  The recipe takes to color and adapts to different flavors readily, and the endless combinations ensure we never tire of this chic treat which is as visually appealing as it is delicious. In recent years, the popularity of macarons has increased  dramatically in foodie circles, but fortunately for food snobs it’s delicate and difficult to make properly, so we are unlikely to find it on supermarket shelves.

Patissiers the world over vie with each to see who can create the most exotic, the most delicious, and yes, the most expensive. The great Parisian pastry shop, Ladurée, features these delectable seasonal flavors: chestnut and pear, red fruit (berries), cherry blossom (!!!), and milk chocolate. They also have a selection of regular flavors that includes vanilla, lemon and rose macarons. 

I must digress: Ladurée always brings a tear to my eye. Not only is it a shop I would voluntarily imprison myself in, it is the cause of a lingering discord between my beloved youngest brother and I. While he was last in Paris, he telephoned me from one of the Ladurée stores to gloat that he was there and I was not! He doesn’t even like pastries and confectionery, but couldn’t resist the temptation to torment me with descriptions of macarons and more.

What he didn’t know is that Ladurée is not the only grand shop selling macarons in Paris anymore. There is a new baker in town: Legendary patissier to the stars, Pierre Hermé has a line-up that includes rose and jasmine, passion fruit and milk chocolate, and caramel and fleur de sel. His newest ‘Collection Éphémère’ (‘Ephemeral Collection’) includes macarons flavored with rose, vanilla and clove called ‘Jardin Secret’ (Secret Garden), and the extraordinary ‘Jardin Marin’ – a macaron scented with chanterelle mushrooms (girolles in French), green tea and lemon.

Be prepared – Monsieur Hermé does not exactly shy away from charging. Twelve of these divine little confections will set you back a whopping 26.50€. You can’t exactly afford to snaffle them down like doughnuts, but fortunately Monsieur Hermé has published a  macaron cookbook, which may prove a little more economical if you develop a fetish for them.

As promised, here is a list of the pronunciations of words and names in the article. If you want to know more about these words, click on the link and have a look at the entry in the HowDoYouSayThatWord.com database.

macarons (French)

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macarons (English)

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Ladurée

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Pierre Hermé

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Collection Éphémère

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Jardin Secret

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Jardin Marin

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Do you have any favorite macaron flavors? Or maybe a great recipe you’d like to share? If there are any additional names you want to know how to pronounce, email me, and I’ll add them with pleasure. I’d love to hear your comments, suggestions, and questions, as always!

 

      Gourmet Food Store                                                      Macarons howdoyousaythatword.com

 

 

 

 

 

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About the Author

Marie-Ora is obsessed with pronunciation, languages, food, wine, cooking, 4Foots. and chocolate. When she isn't working, she enjoys snacking, sipping on wine, reading and napping, and is currently researching methods to do all 4 simultaneously. Although Marie-Ora has absolutely no vices, she is easily provoked by mis-pronunciations, bad coffee, and unwarranted hype.

14 Comments

  1. Ran  October 19, 2012

    In terms of words, technically its not wrong to call it a ‘macaroon’.

    People are translating the french ‘macaron’ to ‘macaroon’ because, well thats the actual french to english translation =)

    Laduree created it and called it the Macaron. At one point at least 2 years ago, they also called it ‘macaroon’ on their english site. They’ve changed it in recent times to avoid the confusion.

    The last time i checked, the english edition of Larousse Gastronomique: the worlds greatest french culinary encyclopedia also names it ‘macaroon’. That’s like, the official food bible.

    So really, we’re calling it the french way =) I say macaron, myself. It is nice to differentiate the 2 though.

    (reply)
    • Marie-Ora  October 20, 2012

      Hi Ran – the thing is a ‘macaroon’ and a ‘macaron’ are not the same thing. That’s why Ladurée changed the name on their English site. Also, Ladurée did NOT INVENT the macaron – this confection was invented somewhere in the Middle Ages, and there is a gaggle of French villages vying for who came up with it first. And I’ve got to tell you, Larousse Gastronomique sits on my desk at all times. This is not the only time I’ve disagreed with them. I’m a little (!) OCD in my research, and there are more than a few of their entries that IMHO need a little more thought. That said, I’m delighted to hear from someone with a considered, researched opinion. The world cannot have too many people willing to read up on and debate the origins of dishes!! It’s an honor to have a member of this select group stopping by and commenting. Hope to see you again :)

      (reply)
  2. 5eriyvolk  December 2, 2012

    There are many variations of a “macaroon”. If you take away the sweetness like you mentioned there would be no “macaron” or “macaroon”. If you take away their characteristic flavors then what you have left is the base ingredients consisting of egg whites and powdered sugar. It is a losing war you’re fighting Marie even if you’re right millions of times regarding the french “macaron” being something so outstanding that the literal english translation for a miriad of flavors of “macaroons” have to be dispatched with such ease as if they are noblemen condescending a beggar given the same ingredients flow through their veins.

    (reply)
    • Marie-Ora  December 2, 2012

      Well, I will say you don’t only have the egg white and powdered sugar left – a macaron also needs ground almonds, or it’s a meringue. Of course you are right, it is a losing battle, but that’s never stopped me. I love your final comment – reminds me of ‘Let them eat cake’ (wrongly) attributed to Marie-Antoinette. Perhaps there is a guillotine in my future :0

      (reply)
  3. Andrew  March 9, 2013

    Hi Marie-Ora,
    Your site is absolutely fantastic – I love it! You’ve educated me in numerous different ways in just 15 minutes. I started with Louboutin, graduated to Vuitton and ended up here. I love Laduree macarons, but to my shame I’ve always called them macaroons!
    Although I’m only a rank amateur in comparison with you, I also suffer from linguistic OCD. I think you may be guilty of a little solecism yourself. When you say “…a lingering discord between my beloved youngest brother and I”, I suspect that it is more correct to say “…youngest brother and me” in the above context.
    I could be wrong, though…

    (reply)
    • Marie-Ora  March 9, 2013

      Hi Andrew – thank-you for your incredibly kinds words, as well as pointing that out: I relate so well to people with an eye for detail like this: it shall be corrected! It’s an honor to have someone who enjoys macarons from Ladurée, no less, take the time to point such a slip!. I really hope you pay another visit to the site! :)

      (reply)
  4. Emma  July 10, 2013

    THANK YOU. Seriously, this is (sadly) one of my BIGGEST pet peeves. Macarons are GLORIOUS and Macaroons are good too but they are DIFFERENT. I literally cringe every time someone calls it a Macaroon which is like, always. The next person I meet who actually calls it a Macaron, I will marry. I love this article!

    (reply)
    • Marie-Ora  July 10, 2013

      Emma, what can I say? We are kindred spirits :) Thank-you so much for your comment!!!

      (reply)
  5. Judy  November 19, 2013

    Macaron Cafe in New York City does carry a coconut flavored macaron, but very different from a macaroon. Love your site!

    (reply)
  6. charlotte-mary  November 29, 2013

    YAYYYYYYYYY! Thank you so much for posting this, i too HATE when people call macarons “macaroons” (though i do like both :D) and what’s worse, is seeing French and English cafes here in the U.K calling them macaroons :( or what’s very confusing and verrry irritating, is when i watch ‘The Great British Bake Off’ on the bbc and they call them both! makes me want to scream at the tv!
    Great work. We need to start a revolution!!xxcharlotte-mary

    (reply)
    • Marie-Ora  November 30, 2013

      Charlotte-Mary – I’m onboard with you. Vivre les Macarons! Thank-you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. I appreciate it hugely!!!!

      (reply)
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