macaron macaroon difference

Macarons vs Macaroons

It happened again.  I recently caught myself wincing at a teatime menu’s English version. This time it was in one of Paris’s most elegant tea salons, where the famously stylish Parisian “macaron” was translated as “macaroon”.

I know, it’s not one of the world’s first problems, but get it right.

While Macarons and macaroons perhaps sound alike, they are both totally different.

Macarons vs Macaroons

This confusion with an extra “o” is nothing new; it happens frequently, whether it’s on a top tearoom menu in Paris or on high-end supermarket packaging around the world. Even a UK bookshop snootily turned down stocking my first book five years ago, simply because the title read “Macarons” and not “Macaroons”. It’s a subject that has been raised often, but the same mistake continues like a couple of crêpes on deaf ears.

I’m perhaps mad about macarons, but if you’re just as infatuated with Paris’s Ambassador of Pastry, with its smooth delicate meringue-like shells sandwiched together with chocolate ganache, jam, curd or buttercream, its name needs to be defended. I’m not being posh or trying to show off I can speak some French after 24 years of living here – it’s just that the term, macaron is the right word to use to describe these little filled rainbow-coloured Parisian confections.

Over the last four years of guiding pastry tours in Paris, I’m still surprised by the recurring question: “So what’s the difference between macarons and macaroons?”

bitten macarons by Jill Colonna

Food lovers are evidently still puzzled. How on earth can two deliciously dainty confections create such mystery?

The only similarity between the two is their gluten-free mutual ingredients of egg whites and sugar; a macaron includes ground almonds (almond flour), whilst a macaroon is made with coconut.

So let’s get it straight with the simplest answer: the macaron is meringue-based and the macaroon is coconut based.

But there’s more to it than that.

macarons vs macaroons Jill Colonna

Is it a macaron? A rougher looking amaretti cookie and a Parisian Gerbet macaron

What is a Macaron?

Macarons date back to the middle ages but we have a better idea of its history during the Renaissance – first cited by French writer Rabelais – when the Venetian macarone (meaning a fine paste of something crushed) of ground almonds, egg whites and sugar was brought to France by Catherine de Medici and her chefs when she married the future King of France in 1533, Henri II. It was a meringue-like biscuit but a much rougher looking type of confection, predominantly tasting of almonds and looking rather like an amaretti biscuit.

In France, the macaron’s super-model upgrade wasn’t made famous until the 1900s. This is the modern smooth, coloured macaron as we know it today, that’s now creating the confusion, known as the Parisian or Gerbet macaron. Ernest Ladurée’s second cousin, Pierre Desfontaines takes the credit for inventing these sandwiched confections – although this calls for yet more delicious, historical homework. Most importantly, a macaron is not a Parisian macaron unless it has a ruffled, frilly foot underneath that smooth, shiny surface.

French macaron varieties Montmorillon

French Regional Macaron Varieties

But even the macaron can be a confusing term today, as there are also many French regional varieties using the same ingredients as the Parisian macaron but the proportions are completely different. Each resemble more the original Italian macaron introduced by Catherine de Medici and many date back to around the French Revolution. Each region adds its own twist and, as a result, they all look so different (check out just some of the variations here).

For example, in Picardy, the Amiens macaron speciality adds marzipan, fruits and honey. Other prize-winning French regional macarons continue today in Boulay, Chartres, Cormery, Le Dorat, Joyeuse, Montmorillan (more like an round almond cakes – see above. Here there’s also a Macaron Museum!), Nancy, Saint-Émilion, Saint-Croix, Saint-Jean-de-Luz (created for Louis XIV’s wedding in 1660) and Sault.

macaron vs macaroon coconut or almond version

Macaron on the left (don’t be confused with the coconut on top, I was just being funny); Macaroon on the right. Both recipes in “Teatime in Paris”

What is a Macaroon?

Simpler and quicker to prepare, the coconut macaroon is also known as rocher coco or congolais in French. Sometimes the macaroon confection with shredded or flaked coconut – either star or cone-shaped – is dipped in chocolate.

It’s not clear when macaroons came on the scene but one thing is for sure: it was added to this gluten-free treat around the 1800s when coconut was brought from the East.

Just pronouncing macaroon makes us want to roll the “r” like we do in Scotland – and it’s no coincidence that us Scots are proud of the Scottish Macaroon bar: it’s particularly sweet since the fondant inside is primarily sugar and potato (trust the Scots to think of that one!) and coated with a thin layer of chocolate and coconut. I wonder if Catherine de Medici’s successor, Mary Queen of Scots as French queen brought it in her year-long reign as Queen of France?

Scottish macaroon bar homemade snowballs, just like Lee's classic

Last Christmas I adapted the large traditional bar to make these mini Scottish Macaroon bar snowballs. If you want to see the real thing, head over to Christina Conte’s blog at Christina’s Cucina to see how to make the real McCoy bars!

To puzzle us further, there’s yet another exception to the rule of almonds and coconut: there are plenty of macaroon recipes outside of France which use pie crust or pastry as a base and the macaroon reference is a mixture of coconut and/or almond toppings. For example, see this recipe for macaroon jam tarts.

Macaroon Jam tarts

Macaroon jam tarts

Macarons vs Macaroons

So before the confusion spreads any further between such differences between macarons and macaroons, let’s nip it in the bud.  In all their varying forms, the macaroon refers to the coconut confection; the macaron today, unless a regional version is mentioned, refers to the Parisian or Gerbet macaron – the shiny, dainty version. Just don’t forget its frilly foot, otherwise it’s not a Parisian macaron.

Now it’s your turn to spread the macaron word – or is it a macaroon?


 

This article was originally published for BonjourParis.com

24 replies
  1. Tess
    Tess says:

    I completely agree! It frustrates me any time I hear someone pronouncing it wrong – they’re two completely different things. Great post on the difference! Also, your book is my go to recipe for making macarons 🙂

    Reply
    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      Thanks Tess, and thrilled to hear you use one of the books to make your macarons. Couldn’t resist including macaroons in my new recipe book! 😀

      Reply
  2. Brooks
    Brooks says:

    Mrs. W and I were watching a Food Network program over the weekend to hear an American host pronounce the coconut version ‘macaroon’ when the subject was the French ‘macaron’. Ugh. We immediately thought of you, and voila, you’ve addressed the inaccuracy splendidly! It brings me disdain to hear the error. This post will be where I direct those who need to be in the know.

    Reply
  3. David
    David says:

    I may not be as “mad” as you, but I definitely get annoyed when people mix the two up. I love macarons, and only like macaroons. Although I really might love the jam tarts!

    Reply
    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      Love it. We think alike David. And yes, do try these macaroon tarts – they’re delicious too, although not gluten-free like a macaron 😉

      Reply
  4. Nami | Just One Cookbook
    Nami | Just One Cookbook says:

    Happy New Year Jill! I was smiling when I got this post on my inbox. I always wonder how you deal with people who get confused with these two desserts. You probably think enough is enough. 😀 I love both, but so far I’ve only made macaroons and I would love to try macarons with your guidance. I gotta make matcha or yuzu version! 🙂

    Reply
    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      Lovely to hear from you Nami! Happy healthy 2016 to you. I don’t correct people as it sounds snooty and it’s not worth it – best if I can just direct people to this article! You haven’t made the macarons yet? There’s even a wasabi, pistachio and green tea macaron in the first book – and Matcha madeleines in Teatime 🙂

      Reply
  5. Gillian & Joanne
    Gillian & Joanne says:

    We started making macarons 18 months ago so that they were available in Newcastle. People who buy from us still say “oh look, macaroons!” and we’ve even had children tell us that we have spelt our company name incorrectly!!! But its no wonder when top chefs say ‘macaroons’ on the TV.

    Reply
    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      I hear your frustration Gillian and Joanne. Let’s hope they learn about it soon. As you say, it would help if TV presenters say it properly too!

      Reply
      • Gillian & Joanne
        Gillian & Joanne says:

        Hi again Jill,
        Do you have a favourite brand of ground almonds which you rely on as we find variations in quality between batch dates (even from the same supplier).
        Thank you

        Reply
        • Jill Colonna
          Jill Colonna says:

          Hi Gillian and Joanne,
          I normally use Carrefour’s own brand ground almonds and from the “Sun” range, found in many French supermarkets but see you’re in the UK. When I’m there, I love Tesco’s own brand – particularly fine and good value too. If you have any preferred brands, please tell me or pop into the baking forum on this site and I’ll add it to FAQ. Thanks!

          Reply
  6. Liz
    Liz says:

    I hear it all the time, too. I adore them both, but it does drive me nuts when folks mess up the names. I’m trying to help your cause in Indiana 😉

    Reply
  7. Parisbreakfast
    Parisbreakfast says:

    Name names at the fancy tea salon!!
    What a Good link to see the differences..
    At Amiens as soon as you get off the train, their maccies (may I use that word Jill?) are at the station for free tasting!

    Reply
  8. Caterina B
    Caterina B says:

    Hmmmm….thanks so much for writing this! I found a video on YOUTUBE some time ago in which the presenter said “macarOOn” for what was actually a macaron. He was showing directions for making macarons. Yes, macarons, not macaroons and still he mispronounced the word. I commented and that started a lengthy conversation with other folks who disputed the true meaning of the word. Some people just DO NOT KNOW THE DIFFERENCE. And sometimes it seems they choose to ignore the facts just because they’ like to argue.. OK. That’s my rant.
    ps. I just checked youtube and the video is still there with lots and lots of very nasty comments. Sad.
    The cooks directions were given in a true spirit of sharing. The commenters were rude.
    And, the macarons looked just fine!

    Reply
    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      Thanks Caterina. Yes, it’s such a shame that some folk like to argue for the sake of it. Hopefully this article will help people make up their mind which is the right term to use.

      Reply
  9. Christina @ Christina's Cucina
    Christina @ Christina's Cucina says:

    I am SO elated to see this post, Jill! There’s no one better to set the record straight than YOU! I would have done it, but I’m off ranting about the atrocities committed with Italian food more than French pastries, as you know. I just copied the link to your article on M & S’s FB page as they are committing this sin on their beautiful boxes of macarons (further confusing the masses) by labeling them as macaroons! Ugh! Of course, when I tried to tell my cousin they were mislabeled, it was difficult to convince her that such a large company would make such a massive mistake! Great (and much needed) post! 🙂

    Reply
    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      Thanks so much Christina. Appreciate your kind words – and action: so impressed you forwarded this to M&S! Like you, I’ve been so surprised to see them make this mistake on their packaging. Let’s hope they correct it in 2016.

      Reply
  10. Cheryl Turner
    Cheryl Turner says:

    Oh Jill, I had to smile while I was reading this. We serve and sell French macarons in our tea salon/cafe. Almost daily I am explaining the difference between these two delicious confections. Every time I place an ad, I have to make sure that they do not auto-correct macaron. Even now, as I type this I am seeing red underline that I’m spelling it wrong. Thank you for sharing this. Great information. I enjoyed reading this very much. ~Cheryl

    Reply
    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      Thanks Cheryl. Isn’t that funny? Yes, I’d forgotten that too – another point that irks me when trying to write macaron and auto-spellchecker thinks it knows better.

      Reply

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