Macarons and Macaroons Are Not The Same Thing, Dammit

M-A-C-A-R-O-N. It's not hard.
M-A-C-A-R-O-N. It's not hard.
Scott Reitz

There is much talk about the trendiness of "macaroons," those pillowy little cream or jam filled cookies that people are lining up around the corner at Joy Macarons and Rush Patisserie to pay three bucks a piece for. "Macaroons" are the most popular cookie in the world right now. Entire bakeries are popping up to meet the demand for the pastel-colored cookies.

The only problem, of course, is that these shops aren't selling macaroons at all. They're selling French macarons, and far too many people don't seem to realize that the two cookies are entirely different things.

Macaroons are those delightful little coconut cookies that your grandma used to make. They look like little toasted-coconut covered haystacks, and they're plenty delicious. There is nothing wrong with a macaroon, but this humble American cookie doesn't have anything on France's most substantial contribution to the cookie world.

Macarons are a traditional cookie made with almond flour and egg whites, invented to please the Italian wife of a French king. They are fastidiously piped onto silicone baking sheets, put in the oven, and blessed with a prayer that they actually all turn out well. Macarons are notoriously difficult to bake, prone to cracking in the oven and collapsing entirely flat. The bakers who are skilled at making them have been working at their craft for years, and don't deserve to have their excellent pastry compared to some bullshit cookie that any yahoo with an oven can make.

It is true that macarons and macaroons have similar origins. They both eschew flour in favor of a different main ingredient, and rely on egg whites for their light texture. Coconut was likely substituted in favor of almonds in the cookie because it enjoyed extreme popularity in the United States as a trendy "exotic" ingredient as it was exported in from India in the late 1800s. The recipe is similar, but the cookies are completely different in terms of flavor and appearance.

The folks at Merriam-Webster seem to think that "macaroon" is just an English translation of the word "macaron," but it's not. In the culinary lexicon, the two words mean two very different things. And in the same way that we don't change the words for "salsa," "semifreddo," and "cassoulet," we don't just get to start calling macarons macaroons because it's somehow easier to add an extra syllable in the pronunciation of the word. Even if your Texas twang doesn't allow you to pronounce foreign food words properly, you can still try.


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