In one heavenly confection, a crispy almond meringue shell with a chewy interior yields to a lush, creamy ganache sandwiched within. In the other, a bite clean through reveals a consistent concentration of coconut that's dense and chewy. Macarons and macaroons: Many Americans confuse these two separate desserts.
It's no spelling mistake.
Macarons, with a single "o," are meringue-like French cookies made with almond meal and egg whites, sandwiched around ganache, jam, or a cream-based filling, says Pastry Chef Damien Herrgott of Bosie Bakery and Bosie Tea Parlor's three locations in New York City.
"People used to confuse them about 10 years ago, but then macarons became so trendy, people know the difference now," Herrgott says. Well ... not quite everyone.
Professionally trained in his native France, Herrgott learned from the best at the world's macaron meccas: at Ladurée and at Pierre Hermé’s first shop, both in Paris. Later, Herrgott was named one of Dessert Professional's Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America in 2012. These days, he makes an assortment of stunning and decadent French pastries including the 12 to 18 macaron flavors available daily. In the West Village, the tea parlor's pastry case displays a rainbow of colors and flavors, some unusual: white-truffle, rose, Darjeeling, bacon-maple, cheesecake, and lavender-apricot are a few favorites.
Because these French confections are made with almond meal (or more rarely, ground hazelnut or pistachio), the shells of macarons are completely gluten-free. The filling, well, that part is up to the pastry chef. "All of ours are gluten free, except our vanilla cheesecake macaron, which has graham cracker, and our lemon praline. We put that crispy wafer in it, which has flour," Herrgott says.
Still, sometimes customers at Bosie ask for "macaroons" when they mean the French cookies, says Jessica Massias, who works with customers at the tea parlor and trained at a French pastry school as well. "Since we only have macarons, I assume it is what they want, even if they don't say it correctly," Massias says. Phonetically, the French pastry sounds like mack-ah-rohn.
Macaroon is the American word for a dense, chewy, flourless cookie, usually made with coconut. It can also include nuts or nut paste. Also made with egg whites, macaroons are often served for dessert at Passover celebrations because they usually don’t contain flour or leavening agents.
Besides their similar spellings and use of egg whites and sugar, the two sweets do have a shared, somewhat disputed history. The word "macaroon" is derived from the Italian word ammaccare, meaning "to crush," referring to the almond paste, according to the James Candy Company and The Nibble. Then the French royal court got ahold of the recipe and much later, Pierre Ladurée was the first pastry chef to sandwich the two crispy, light macaron meringues with a creamy filling in the middle.
Meanwhile, European Jews took the original version and swapped in coconut. Dense and chewy coconut macaroons are popular in the United Kingdom and United States, partly because of their hardiness and transportability.
French macarons are much more delicate. "Why do they also call it that coconut thing in America, I have no idea," Herrgott says.
You see, the same linguistic confusion doesn’t exist in France, says David Lebovitz, author of Ready for Dessert, where the coconut macaroon is called rocher à la noix de coco, or “coconut rocks.”
Lebovitz says that the sandwich-cookie-style macaron is most often found in Paris. To complicate the cookie conundrum further: Another French cookie, resembling Italian amaretti (also a flourless egg white and nut cookie), is also called a macaron.
Fans of one or the other or those who appreciate the differences equally can try some of our macaron and macaroon recipes:
Chocolate upon chocolate, how can that be bad? Some tips: Let the raw macaron rounds sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, don’t over-mix, and use older egg whites if you can. Get our French Chocolate Macarons recipe.
This recipe does call for flour, which is less than typical for macaroons. Make sure to plan ahead when you do these as the coconut needs to soak overnight in the egg white mixture for maximum fluffiness during baking. Get our Chocolate-Drilled Coconut Macaroons recipe.
Exact measurements can make all the difference in these macarons with a lush pomegranate filling. This recipe gets its macaron ratios from the great French pastry chef Pierre Hermé, along with the meringue technique that calls for hot sugar syrup beaten into softly whipped egg whites. Get our French Macarons with Pomegranate recipe.
Coconut macarons are layered with creme chantilly and fresh pineapple, a recipe created by Emily Luchetti executive pastry chef of Marlowe, The Cavalier, and Park Tavern in San Francisco. Get our Macaroon Pineapple Napoleons recipe.
Luscious, vanilla-scented macarons are light and crisp when done right. The creamy white chocolate filling will be the easiest part. And the decorating may be the most fun. Get our French Macarons with White Chocolate Ganache recipe.
Completely flour-free, this is a more traditional macaroon recipe. Then again, it isn't because the recipe uses pecans instead of coconut. It's appropriate for Passover. Get our Mississippi Praline Macaroons recipe.
— Head Photo Illustration: StarChefs/BuzNews
— Roxanne Webber contributed to an earlier version of this article, published April 15, 2010.
Amy Sowder is the assistant editor at Chowhound in New York City. She loves cheesy things, especially toasties and puns. She's trying to like mushrooms. Her running habit is the excuse for her gelato passion. Or is it the other way around? Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and her blog, What Do I Eat Now. Learn more at AmySowder.com.