Macaroons are one the most delicate pastries you can find and among the most desired. They’re round, crunchy, and soft at the same time. They’re made from almonds, coconut, other flavors, and egg white to produce a fluffy yet filling treat. They’re a top seller at local bakeries and considered something of a delicacy in countries that have generated their own staple version of the macaroon.
No matter what country you find your macaroon or language you order one in, the word itself is Italian in origin. Macaroon comes from the Italian word meaning paste (macarone). And, as etymology often goes, that word comes from a far more ancient Greek origin. But it all boils down to the same thing: delicious and nutty handheld treats. And as for the pastries themselves? Most will trace their roots back to 9th century Italy in a monastery where it remained a local delight. In the 16th century monks from Italy traveled into France with the entourage of Catherine de Medici who was to be wed to Henri II of France. While these is the first known instance of the pastry possibly making its appendence in foreign parts of Europe, it wasn’t until later when two nuns, Sister Marguerite and Sister Marie-Elisabeth sought asylum during the French Revolution by baking for those who would take them in for shelter. Their staple item was the modern day macaroon, which also earned them the nickname the “Macaroon Sisters.”
The cookies began to spread further throughout Europe when Jews took on baking and consuming them during Passover because of their unleavened nature. Eventually it broke out of that shell and became a year-round treat for European Jews across the continent. The firs time a recipe for the cookie appeared in print was in the early 18th century when Robert Smith’s Court Cookery, or the Complete English Cook featured a recipe that utilized egg whites and almond paste. This typical recipe began popping up in more cookbooks through the years and additions and creative touches were added. Coconut became part of the default recipe and a starch from potato joined the eggs to give the macaroon more thickness and body.
The coconut macaroon is almost as common as the one derived from almond slivers. The coconut macaroon is very popular in the United Kingdom as well as the United
States, Australia, Mauritius, Germany, Uruguay, and The Netherlands. Though nuts are often still found in coconut macaroons, they usually have the added facet of jam or glaze either concealed inside or drizzled over top.
In the Dominican Republic macaroons are dark in color and infused with ginger and cinnamon for a bold flavor. In France they differentiate between macaroons by referring to the almond variety as a macaron. This version is very light in body and has added coloring as well as flavoring and often come in the iconic “sandwich” look over two halves joined by flavored cream in the middle. The first appearance of this variety dates back to the 16th century. Meanwhile, the coconut version is referred to as a congolais. Meanwhile India boasts its own macaroon recipe, inspired by recipes brought over by colonists, that uses cashew and the traditional egg whites.
Ireland has one of the more unique varieties with a macaroon chocolate bar popular in Kildare where the Wilton Candy company is based. It dates back to the 1930s and is an Irish milk chocolate canyd with macaroon pieces scattered throughout. Puerto Rico refers to their coconut macaroons as besitos de coco though variations exist that use lemon zest and vanilla as other ingredients. Spain uses hazelnuts instead of almonds and bake them in larger sizes. Turkey has one of the most regional versions with a pastry called a “bitter almond biscuit.” It uses the traditional ingredients of almonds, sugar, and egg whites but the almonds used are bitter, hence the namesake. They’re a popular consumer item in Turkey and due to the rarity of almonds in the country, extract is often used and the pastries are not often made at home.
The United Kingdom has a traditional macaroon usually topped with almond flake or more coconut. A Scottish variety exists in the country that is much thicker with more robust almond flavor. They have their own history in fact, often made from cold leftovers of potatoes and sugar loaf, however this practice disappeared after it was apparent the limited shelf life of potato would not do well in a consumer sense. The unique ingredients of this version, however, create a fondant center, evidently the result of a mistake in the recipe process when the creator put coconut flakes over a fondant bar. The United States often consumes the coconut macaroon, however macaroons in the United States are often dense and very moist and dipped in chocolate after the baking process, though many of the other varieties exist. And, as they were historically, macaroons are popular in Jewish homes as a Passover food.
Every variety of macaroon is different. But, the staple coconut macaroon is fairly simple to make. Coconut flakes, vanilla extract, almond extract, and salt are first blended together until they create a smooth mixture. Egg whites are then beat into the mix and the ingredients become fluffy. More coconut will be folded in as well. The batter is then separated and rolled into specific spoonful sized balls and placed on a baking sheet. The cookies bake for varying amounts of time but the best indicator of their readiness is a golden toasted look. Once they’re cooled, an option is the United States style chocolate dip on the top.
The unique French macaron variety is not all that different and just as easy. Egg whites are beat in a bowl until they become light and foamy, at which point the sugar is added in through continued beating. The result is a fluffy and glossy mixture. Confectioner’s sugar, along with ground almonds or other flavorings, are beat in as well. Then, like the coconut macaroons, they’re placed onto a baking shit, however this time it’s as disks and not as cookie dough style lumps. Creamy is then used to hold two of the disks together. This recipe can also be modified to allow for food coloring.
Because of the ease of macaroon baking, they’re a popular item to make at home in most countries. And if the chocolate covered style just isn’t daring enough for you, there are plenty of ways to make unique and fun macaroon dishes at home. You can put a twist on the tradition French macaron with getting creative with the cream in the middle. You can use vanilla or chocolate or go for more daring and fun methods like fruit filling or cream infused with a variety of flavors. Not to mention the French macaron can and has been colored in a variety of fun ways.
You can make a macaron cake by taking the original recipe above and making two giant patties of macaroon cookie. Then you place a large amount of filling or cream of your choosing between the two and top it with more cream, fruit, nuts, or whatever you think will go best with your cake. An even more interesting twist on the French version is to make “donut” style. The recipe is mainly the same, however this time the batter is made into a donut shape when placed for baking and topped at the end with icing, sprinkles, or whatever you think makes the perfect donut. Another way to marry the macaroon with the cake is to top any existing cake with whatever style and flavor of macaroon (or macaron) you think fits the dish. And it definitely makes for a pretty picture. Changing the shape of your macaron can instantly theme them for any holiday or party: Valentine’s Day hearts, Halloween pumpkins, Christmas trees, or Hanukah menorahs can all make for a great addition to a celebration or holiday gathering. And there are even ways to top a milkshake with them
One of the more out there ways to get creative with macarons is to make them into a more savory dish. You can tailor the batter recipe and use a vegetable or meat filling instead of cream to create a savory mealtime appetizer. You could even turn it into breakfast by utilizing bagel toppings and egg.
Macaroons are a diverse and delicious pastry that have nearly endless ways incorporate into a meal. And virtually anywhere you go will have their own style of macaroon creation. Sampling them all and creating your own unique recipes is fun and rewarding.