A few years ago, my daughter asked for a macaron making kit on her holiday wish list. Totally a gift I was happy to buy. With her sister, she’s ventured through several of the recipes. A mat with circle outlines and a tool to press the dough into perfect rounds came with the kit. I now know they were making the trendy French macaron.
When I saw Maida’s macaroons, which she calls Italian, immediate confusion burst into my mind. Besides the ancestry question, I’m attempting to clear up the difference between macaron and macaroon. I grew up eating canned coconut macaroons for Passover. When a very different meringue cookie became a craze, I never really understood how it could also be called macaroon, regardless if it was spelled with one o or two.
I didn’t know when I started to make these, the true French/Italian difference is in the meringue. Maida classifies these as Italian because her method involves preparing a hot, sugar syrup and ever so gradually pouring it into beaten egg whites. The French macaron begins with a traditional whipped egg white meringue gently folded into a mixture of almond flour and sugar.
As I rolled the soft meringue batter in a ton of pine nuts, it was a leap of faith in Maida to continue. It seemed like there was no way they would bake into cookies, but they did. The difference between this somewhat messy, free form technique was a striking contrast to the precisely formed cookies my daughters made. Perhaps this is the heart of the distinction.
Italian cuisine evokes rustic, robust, homemade mama images and Maida’s macaroons fit into this picture. In contrast, the organized, controlled, structure of the piped and filled, bite-sized French macaron seem well placed in the culinary mystique of Paris. As for Passover coconut macaroons, the fact that they are flourless gives them place in the current gluten-free culture but I’m not still not exactly sure about their relationship to the meringue cookies.