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Pralus Macaroons French-style macaroons from France’s great chocolatier and patissier, François Pralus.
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December 2006
Last updated July 2013

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Cookies

The History Of Macaroons

Created By Italian Monks, Refined By French Pâtissiers

Page 1: The Original Macaroons

 

CAPSULE REPORT: “Macaroon” means different things to different people, as you’ll read in this article. To some, it’s a big ball of coconut, to others, a delicate, airy meringue. Both are delicious. Here’s a history that explains how they came to be. This is Page 1 of a two-page article. Click on the black link below to visit Page 2. Macaroons can be frozen and defrosted 90 minutes before serving.

Overview

Go to a fine French restaurant and you may find miniature macaroons among the petit-fours.* Macaroons are a popular holiday treat: get a gift box of them and you’ve gotten a treat that’s delicious with a cup of fine tea. But, have you gotten French macaroons, Italian macaroons, or that tasty hybrid, coconut macaroons?

*Petit-fours is French for “small baked pastries,” although some confections that are included on the petit-fours plate are not baked. Examples include glazed or chocolate-dipped fruit, marzipan, pãte de fruits and nut clusters, among others.). There are two styles of petit-fours, glacé and sec. Petit-fours glacées or frais include filled and/or iced petit fours, miniature babas, miniature éclairs, tiny iced cakes and tartlets. Petit-fours secs include small cookies, macaroons, meringues palmiers and tuiles. The words mignardises (min-yar-DEEZ), from the French for “preciousness,” and friandises (free-yon-DEEZ), from the French for “delicate,” are often used instead of petit-fours.

The Original Macaroons

The first macaroons were almond meringue cookies similar to today’s amaretti, with a crisp crust and a soft interior. They were made from egg whites and almond paste (a combination of equal parts of ground blanched almonds and sugar, mixed with egg whites—today glucose or corn syrup can be substituted). The name of the cookie comes from the Italian word for paste, maccarone (mah-kah-ROW-nay), and is also the word for pasta/macaroni and dumplings.
  Macaroon

While origins can be murky, some culinary historians claim that that macaroons can be traced to an Italian monastery—where they were modeled after the monks’ belly buttons!

The name derives from the Italian maccarone or maccherone, itself derived from ammaccare, meaning to crush or to beat. The reference is to the crushed almonds or almond paste, which is the principal ingredient.

Macaroons came to France in 1533 with the pastry chefs of Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henri II. Two Benedictine nuns, Sister Marguerite and Sister Marie-Elisabeth, seeking asylum in the town of Nancy during the French Revolution (1789-1799), paid for their housing by baking and selling the macaroon cookies, and thus became known as the “Macaroon Sisters” (the French word is macaron, pronounced mah-kah-RONE).

You’ll learn the difference between amaretti and French macarons on the next page.

Coconut Macaroons

Italian Jews adopted the cookie because it has no flour or leavening (the agent that raises and lightens a baked good, like yeast, baking powder and baking soda—instead, macaroons are leavened by egg whites) and can be enjoyed during the eight-day observation of Passover. It was introduced to other European Jews and became popular as a year-round sweet.

Over time, coconut was added to the ground almonds and, in certain recipes, replaced them.

 

Coconut Macaroon

These coconut macaroons were made from a mix from Prepared Pantry.

Coconut macaroons are more prevalent in the U.S. and the U.K.—and they’re a lot easier to make and transport than the fragile almond meringues.

Continue To Page 2: Amaretti & French Macaroons

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