Both macarons and macaroons are cookies, but beyond the spelling there are several differences. Though an ocean separates these cookies in origin, both types start with a flour-less base made from egg whites. Other differences arise the closer one examines each type of cookie. The origins, ingredients, presentation and flavor all help one to distinguish the cookie types.
The word macaron comes from the Italian for paste — maccarone, since the batter for the cookies looks like a heavy paste. Coconut macaroons developed from the addition of coconut by Italian Jews who would enjoy the flour-less cookies during Passover when leavened products are banned from the home. Modern French macarons are sandwich cookies using two almond meringue biscuits and a jam or cream filling. This iteration of the recipe was created in the early 1900s by a chef who used a chocolate filling.
Macarons and macaroons began as egg white, sugar and almond flour cookies in Italy. From the basic recipe of egg whites and sugar, shredded coconut is added and the cookies are piped onto a baking sheet. After baking, some opt to dip the cookies into melted chocolate for a sweet coating. Macarons, sometimes called French macaroons, add ground almonds to the egg white and sugar mixture, similar to the original Italian recipe. These cookies are baked in perfect rounds on a baking sheet. Two baked cookies are then used to sandwich a filling of buttercream, chocolate ganache or jam.
Setting and Presentation
Macaroons and macarons vary in their presentations. Coconut macaroons are more readily found in supermarkets in the United States and the United Kingdom; whereas French macarons reign in French bakeries on both sides of the Atlantic. Embellishing coconut macaroons is limited to using a decorative star tip when piping the cookie dough onto the baking sheet and dipping the treats in chocolate. These chewy cookies are easily made ahead of time and transported without falling apart. French macarons can be colored based on additional flavors added to the original recipe. A rainbow of pastel-colored macarons appears in bakeries selling the cookies.
Coconut macaroons have a dense, chewy texture from the addition of coconut. The texture of French macarons depends on the style used to make them. Finely ground commercial almond meal makes Parisian-style macarons with a light and crunchy exterior and a melt-in-your-mouth interior with a light nut flavor. Country-style macarons require whole almonds to be pounded with a mortar and pestle, resulting in chewier, heavily almond-flavored cookies. The delicate flavor of Parisian-style macarons allows bakers to add their own flavorings ranging from sweet to savory. The filling of French macarons is flavored to complement the taste of the cookies sandwiching it.
References and ResourcesThe Kitchn; What's the Difference? Macaroons Vs. Macarons?; Emma Christensen; Sept. 24, 2008
Chow; What's the Difference Between a Macaroon and a Macaron?; Roxanne Webber; April 15, 2010
"The Country Cooking of France"; Anne Willan; 2007
The Nibble; History of Macaroons; April 2011
"The Nibble"; History of Macaroons Page 2; April 2011