Plus, how do you make them? 

By Corey Williams
October 20, 2020
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If you’ve gone your entire life not knowing the difference between a macaron and a macaroon, you’re not alone. This is a very common question, even among baking enthusiasts. 

The confusion is likely rooted in the cookies’ similar spellings and shared history: Both are descendents of an Italian cookie made with egg whites, almonds, and sugar. The Italian word “maccherone” means fine dough (this is also where the word “macaroni” comes from). 

Despite all they have in common, macarons and macaroons are very different confections. Here’s what you need to know: 

What Is a Macaron? 

colorful macarons on a white background
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A macaron is a meringue-based sandwich cookie made with almond flour, egg whites, confectioners’ sugar, and food coloring. Common fillings include buttercream, ganache, and fruit-based jam

The meringues have smooth tops, ruffled edges (called the “crown,” “foot,” or “pied”), and flat bottoms. As far as texture goes, they’re airy, moist, slightly cakey, and a bit chewy. Properly baked macarons should have a distinctive melt-in-your-mouth quality. 

Pronunciation

Mac-ar-ON. The last syllable should sound like the last syllable in “heron.” Head on over to Merriam-Webster to hear an audio recording of the correct pronunciation. 

History

The macaron has a long and illustrious history, but nobody’s quite sure exactly where it originated. It’s generally accepted that when Catherine di Medici, an Italian noblewoman who married Henry II in 1533, left Italy for France, her pastry chefs brought an early recipe with them. The O.G. macarons were simple cookies made of almond flour, egg whites, and sugar.

As French cuisine evolved, so did the macaron. The macarons we know today were likely invented in the 1890s at the luxury Parisian bakery La Maison Ladurée, when a pastry chef named Pierre Desfontaines began sandwiching buttercreams and jams between two meringues. 

Variations

Common varieties include chocolate, vanilla, lemon, and raspberry, but macarons come in virtually every flavor and color you can imagine—that’s what makes them so fun.  

What Is a Macaroon? 

chocolate-drizzled coconut macaroons on a platter
Credit: LauriPatterson/Getty Images

A macaroon is a drop cookie made with shredded coconut, egg whites, sugar, other flavorings (like vanilla extract), and sometimes ground almonds. Modern macaroons often call for sweetened condensed milk

Macaroons look more like coconut mounds than traditional cookies. They’re distinguishable by their flaky coconut exterior, irregular dollop-like shape, and dense texture. 

Pronunciation

Mac-ar-OON. The last syllable should rhyme with “tune.” You can find an audio recording of the correct pronunciation at Merriam-Webster.  

History

The original macaroons were actually made with ground almonds instead of coconuts. In fact, early versions were probably more similar to amaretti than the coconut macaroons we know today. The coconut flakes were only added after it was discovered that coconut travels better than almond paste without spoilage. 

As they're leavened with egg whites instead of flour or baking powder, macaroons are commonly served during the eight-day Jewish celebration of Passover

colorful French macarons and coconut macaroons
Visit Roemvanitch / EyeEm/Getty Images,
| Credit: Visit Roemvanitch / EyeEm/Getty Images, Luiza S/Getty Images

Variations

There’s a lot of regional variance when it comes to macaroons. Depending on where you’re located, your macaroons could be flavored with everything from ginger and cinnamon to lemon zest. 

Macaroons in the U.S. are often dipped in chocolate, though the most basic recipes include very few ingredients and rely on the coconut and sugar for flavor. 

How to Make Macarons

Macaron (French Macaroon)

The art of macaron-making is painstakingly precise, but the payoff is worth the process. There are two ways to make the meringue: There’s the French method, where egg whites are whipped until stiff peaks form, and the Italian method, where the egg whites are whipped with a simple syrup to form the meringue. Most modern recipes utilize the French method. 

After the meringue is made, the dry ingredients are folded into the egg white mixture. The batter is piped into rounds on a lined baking sheet and left to cool until a “skin” is formed (this usually takes about an hour). From there, the discs are baked until set. Once they’ve cooled to room temperature again, the sandwiches are formed. 

It’s very important to use exact measurements when making macarons. If you don’t, they won’t turn out like the picture-perfect sandwich cookies you’re probably expecting. You’ll need to break out a food scale to make sure all your ingredients are measured precisely. 

If you’re ready to try your hand at making macarons, you may find this top-rated recipe helpful. The user who submitted it, Elle, is a baker’s apprentice who says she perfected her technique through much trial and error. 

Get the recipe: Macarons

How to Make Macaroons

close up of Coconut Macaroons
Credit: Lily

There are plenty of ways to make coconut macaroons, ranging from easy to extremely easy. Traditionally, the egg whites are beaten until they form stiff peaks. They’re then folded into the rest of the ingredients, dropped onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, and baked until set and slightly golden.

This well-loved recipe only calls for five ingredients and comes together in less than half an hour. 

Get the recipe: Macaroons III