You may think that a macaron is the same as a macaroon albeit with slightly different spelling, but this is not the case. These are two different confectionaries which do not look or taste the same.
So exactly what is a macaron and where did they come from?
History Of The Macaron
It is thought that the macaron came to France via the chef of Catherine de Medici during the Renaissance. The Medici family were a very wealthy and influential family from Italy.
The marriage of Catherine to Henry II of France made her French queen from 1547 until 1559.
Being part of such a wealthy family it is unsurprising that she was used to all the fine things in life and food would certainly have been one of them.
It is believed that her chef brought the macaron to France, but history also indicates that it originated from the Middle East.
However it came to be in Europe the macaron quickly became one of the most exquisite of patisseries. They found their way all around France and even into the Palace of Versailles.
Although at this time they were small round shells without filling that melted in the mouth.
What is now known as the macaron was created by pâtissiers in the Ile de France when they sandwiched two halves of the macaron together with a creamy centre called ganache.
The filling can be made of buttercream, jam or compote.
So the modern macaron was born, and the world got a new confectionery delight.
What’s The Difference Between A Macaroon And A Macaron?
These two are often confused, but they are very different confectioneries in both appearance and taste.
As we have seen macarons became popular in France having been brought from Italy by Catherine de Medici.
Italy still has a type of macaroon today called amaretti which are soft but with no filling.
Coconut macaroons became popular following the widespread popularity of coconut after the World Wars.
Shredded coconut replaced the almond flour in the macaron recipe and the coconut macaroon came to be.
A macaron is a sandwich of two meringue shells filled with a soft centre. It is characterised by the smooth flat top and a ruffled circumference.
It has a flat base and comes in a variety of different colours achieved with the addition of different food colouring.
In France, a macaron shop will be filled with rows of colourful confectioneries and enticing sweet aromas that are almost impossible to resist.
The colours correspond to the flavour of the macaron, pink for raspberry, green for lime, etc…
A coconut macaroon looks very different from a French macaron. For a start there are no vibrant colours.
The macaroon is a pale golden colour when cooked and resembles a small cake with a textured surface.
The flour used to make macarons is ground almond flour which has a mildly sweet and unsurprisingly nutty taste.
It is made from peeled and blanched almonds and is suspended in a meringue made from egg whites and icing sugar.
Once cooked two of these meringue shells are sandwiched together with jam, ganache or buttercream.
The taste of macarons will depend a lot on the filling, but the meringue shells are sweet with a soft chewy texture and a slight crunch as you bite into the thin crust.
Coconut macaroons are flavoured with vanilla, but unsurprisingly, the overwhelming taste is of coconut. They are chewier than a macaron and certainly denser but with more of a cake taste.
Some coconut macaroons are flavoured with chopped fruit or dipped in chocolate.
How Do You Make Macarons?
So now that you know what macarons are, no doubt you will want to have a go at making some to see what all the fuss is about.
Be warned these are quite tricky to get right but with practice, precision and patience you will be proudly serving this delightful patisserie to friends and family.
There are five ingredients: egg whites, caster sugar, almond flour, cream of tartar and icing sugar.
Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar and then add the caster sugar until it makes glossy peaks. At this point you can add gel food colouring if you wish.
Sift the almond flour and icing sugar together in a bowl. Then in three separate additions fold in the egg white mixture. It will gradually become more moist with each addition.
The batter should achieve what is called macaronage meaning it is balanced.
Fill a piping bag with the batter and pipe small circles onto a baking tray. Let them sit until they are no longer tacky on top and then bake for 12-13 minutes.
Take them out and let them cool. You can then sandwich them together with the filling of your choice.
Variations Of Macaron
France is the home of the macaron and there are many variations of this wonderful patisserie around that country.
From the Lorraine region in the north east to the Basque Country in the south many areas and cities have customised macarons to make them their own.
With stories of nuns creating their own version to museums of macrons there is a rich history associated with macarons.
Outside of France the Swiss have their own variation which are smaller and lighter than French macarons.
In Japan peanut flour is substituted for almond flour and these macarons are made with a wagashi type flavouring.
The macaron features prominently in Japanese fashion in cell phone accessories and cosmetics.
America has embraced the macaron and infused it with its own traditional flavourings of peanut butter and jelly, salted pretzel and even pumpkin.
The macaron is an iconic part of French life and culture but has been embraced all over the world for its delicious taste and vibrant colouring.
While there are many imitations, the macaron that was created in France will always be the original, and we love this exquisite and tasty confectionery.