Do you know the difference between a Macaron and a Macaroon? Macarons and macaroons suffer from the worst case of identity confusion food I’ve ever seen. Nowhere does a single vowel, by its mere presence (or absence), produce a more profound difference in two cookies!
For the sake of clarity, I’m referring to French macarons (pronounced “mack-ah-ROHN”) and coconut macaroons (“mack-ah-ROON”). Let’s begin by identifying some of the most obvious differences.
For starters, these two cookies are constructed in totally different ways. French macarons are sandwich cookies. They consist of two halves of delicate, airy cookie with a layer of filling in between. Architecturally, they’re like brightly colored Oreos.
Moreover, great care and attention goes into ensuring that the size and shape of each cookie is as identical as possible. Color and flavor are what distinguish one macaron from another. The number of multicolored macarons on display in a Parisian bakery is nothing short of dazzling.
By comparison, macaroons are fairly dense, ambiguously shaped dollops of coconut-flavored cookie, baked to a moderate shade of golden brown.
French macarons are light, airy, and colorful, with a range of flavors that include chocolate, pistachio, rose, and salted caramel. The outer shell should be crisp, the inner cookie slightly chewy, and the fillings can resemble jam or buttercream.
While the overall procedure is broadly similar to that of coconut macaroons, the process is fairly demanding and making excellent macarons is something that requires a good deal of practice and experience. In Paris, high-end macarons are sold in patisseries that resemble boutiques, where they’re displayed like jewelry.
Other than Paris, look for French macarons at a French bakery. (I like to get mine at Chez Lenox with coffee and time to kill.)
Coconut macaroons, on the other hand, are very much less elegant, although what they lack in cuisine they make up for in their appeal and they’re so easy to make. One way I like to jazz them up is by dipping the cooled cookies in melted chocolate. Macaroons are more widely available, likely at a bakery or coffee shop.
It might be unfair to think of coconut macaroons as the country cousins of French macarons, like the city mouse and the country mouse, it turns out the two cookies are related after all.