What’s the difference between a macaron and macaroon? There is often confusion with their pronunciation or translation – either with one ‘o’ or two.
Did you know, however, there are also many old-fashioned traditional varieties of macarons in France? So let me explain the differences between a macaroon, French macarons, and the modern Parisian gerbet macaron. Not to be confused with our Président Macron, either.
It happened again. I recently caught myself wincing at a teatime menu’s English version. This time it was in one of Paris’s most elegant and prominent tea salons in Place Vendôme. On their menu, the famously stylish Parisian “macaron” was translated as “macaroon”.
I know, it’s not one of the world’s first problems but please, get it right.
While Macarons and Macaroons perhaps sound alike, they are both totally different.
Macaron vs Macaroon Pronunciation & Translation
This confusion with an extra “o” is nothing new. It happens frequently, whether it’s on a top tearoom menu in Paris or on high-end supermarket packaging around the world. Many people pronounce the macaron a “macaroon” in English. Even a UK bookshop snootily turned down stocking my first book, Mad About Macarons, simply because the title read “Macarons” and not “Macaroons”.
The same mistake continues like a couple of crêpes stuck on deaf ears. I’m perhaps mad about macarons, but if you’re just as infatuated with Paris’s Ambassador of Pastry as I am, its name needs to be defended.
A Parisian macaron has smooth delicate meringue-like shells sandwiched together with dark or white chocolate ganache, jam, curd or buttercream.
The macaroon is more rustic looking without the filling – in fact, nothing like it. I’m not being posh or trying to show off I can speak some French after 30 years living here. It’s just that the term, macaron is the right word to use to describe these little filled rainbow-coloured Parisian confections.
So let’s get it straight with the simplest answer: the macaron is meringue-based and the macaroon is coconut based.
However, there’s much more to it than that…
Are They Gluten Free?
A similarity between both Parisian macarons and macaroons is that both are gluten-free.
They’re not the same but they have mutual ingredients of egg whites and sugar. While a Parisian macaron includes ground almonds (almond flour); a macaroon is instead made primarily with coconut.
However, some of the more traditional French regional varieties of macaron can contain flour so are not gluten free – more on that below.
Another similarity between the two is that they both measure, on average, between 4-5cm in diameter.
Brief Macaron History
Macarons date back to the middle ages in Europe. However, we have a better idea of its history during the Renaissance – first cited by French writer Rabelais in his “Quart-Livre” in 1552 at the time of the ‘macarone‘.
The Venetian maccherone (meaning a fine paste of something crushed, a thin pastry) was made of ground almonds, egg whites and sugar – the base which continues today. It was apparently brought to France by Catherine de Medici and her chefs when she married the future King of France in 1533, Henri II.
Then almond cakes/cookies fell out of fashion: the taste of bitter almonds had the same taste as arsenic. Royalty and the nobility therefore avoided almond tasting ‘treats’. So it wasn’t until the 17th century when local variants (see below) spread around France.
The French-Italian Macaron
The maccherone was a meringue-amaretti-like biscuit but a much rougher looking type of confection, predominantly tasting of almonds. All in the spirit of research, I buzzed around Venice for a week trying to find the closest to today’s old-fashioned macaron, like we see in France. The closest in appearance were Coriandoli, tasting of almonds – although the pasticceria (bakery) had added colouring and aromas, which unfortunately hid the taste of the original almonds. The best we found were amaretti morbidi – soft amaretti almond cookies dusted with powdered sugar.
Their variants are found throughout France today – more on that below, particularly on the variety from Joyeuse, which is not too sweet. Alexandre Dumas includes an entry in his Dictionary of French Cuisine in 1873 for macarons, including one with bitter almonds and one with sweet almonds.
The Modern Parisian Macaron’s History
Fast forward much later. In France, the macaron’s super-model upgrade wasn’t made famous until the 1900s.
Its transformation first came in the 1860s when Parisian pâtissier, Claude Gerbet stuck two shells together – hence why the Parisian modern macaron is referred to as the Parisian or Gerbet macaron. Then a Luxembourg pastry chef, Camille Studer, added a buttercream filling between the two shells, calling them Luxemburgerli.
Around 1930, Ernest Ladurée’s second cousin, Pierre Desfontaines takes the credit for inventing these sandwiched macaron confections. He added colouring to be assorted with their different flavours. Then they suddenly took on Paris fashion status when Pierre Hermé made them popular, while working at Ladurée in the 1990s.
So the popular Parisian macaron today is the modern smooth and coloured macaron, sandwiched together with a ganache, jam or buttercream filling with its characteristic ruffled, frilly ‘foot’.
How Many Types of Macarons Are There?
However, even the macaron can be a confusing term today, as there are also many old-fashioned and artisanal French regional varieties using the same ingredients as the Parisian macaron. The proportions and baking are completely different, so the end result is a different looking confection entirely. Each more resemble the original Italian macaron introduced by Catherine de Medici and many date back to either the 17th Century or around the French Revolution.
Each region adds its own twist and, as a result, they all look so different. For example, in Picardy, the Amiens macaron speciality adds marzipan, fruits and honey. To get an idea, take a look at the macarons of Joyeuse, Nancy, Saint-Jean-de-Luz and Montmorillon.
Moreover, some of the old-fashioned macarons include flour, so they are not all gluten free.
Macarons de Joyeuse
The Duke of Joyeuse married King Henri III’s sister-in-law in 1581 in Paris. At the lavish wedding festivities lasting two weeks, King Henri’s mother, Catherine de Medici ensured the best music and pastries – including her favourite maccherone or macarons. The Duke of Joyeuse was evidently so in love with them that he brought them back to Joyeuse and ensured they were made for the couple and the town – and the rest is history.
So, since 1581, the Macarons de Joyeuse have continued to be made by the Maison Charaix (see their website for more history) much in the same way at that joyful wedding. Their version includes hazelnuts as well as almonds.
The Basque macarons from Saint-Jean-de-Luz were originally created for King Louis XIV’s wedding there in 1660. Known as ‘Paré Gabéa‘ (meaning incomparable), they continue to be made fresh every day traditionally by hand at La Maison Adam in St Jean-de-Luz and Biarritz. Their boutique, Etxea (meaning “House” in Basque), in Saint-Jean-de-Luz has recently been redesigned to highlight the making of them – aptly at the address in Place Louis XIV.
Montmorillan and the Macaron Museum
Like the other varieties, macarons from Montmorillon (also known as Vienne) are rustic but the flavour is pronounced of almonds, even when given added different flavours. A speciality of Poitou, the Rannou Métivier family have been carrying on the tradition of making their Montmorillon macarons since 1920. Learn much more at their Macaron Museum.
More confections are also made in Le Dorat, Saint-Croix and in Sault, flour is added so not gluten free. Other prize-winning and historical French regional macarons continue today in:
- Boulay speciality made since the Lazard couple’s recipe in 1854, Macarons de Boulay are presented in characteristic red box;
- Cormery shaped like a belly button, originating at the Abbey of Cormery in 1791 (according to Larousse Gastronomique, although the town believes they were invented in the 8th century);
- Nancy made famous by the Macaron Sisters (macarons des soeurs), a couple of Carmelite nuns who made the Nancy macarons popular in 1792 while taking refuge during the decree abolishing religious congregations;
- Saint-Émilion the recipe dates back to 1620 – no colouring added and continues to be made at la fabrique.
All of them guard their recipes as top secret and so to taste them, it’s worth a visit to each macaron region of France! However, many of them can also be found in Paris at La Grande Epicerie.
These traditional, old-fashioned macarons (à l’ancien) are now becoming more popular in bakeries around Paris. When I ask what kind of regional macaron they are, I get a simple, ‘the old-fashioned traditional kind’ – when I’m expecting them to say, ‘based on Nancy macarons or Cormery’, for example.
These ones contain wheat flour, so when tasting these generic old-fashioned kinds of French macarons and you’re following a strict gluten-free diet, just check with the bakery first.
What is a Macaroon?
Simpler and quicker to prepare is the coconut macaroon, made primarily of coconut with egg whites and sugar.
Known in France as Rochers Coco (previously congolais), find out to make my easy recipe for French coconut macarons (rochers coco). It’s an excerpt taken from my book, Teatime in Paris where I dip them in chocolate. In France, they are presented as either a star shape (using a star tip) or pyramid-shaped. French chefs also add apple or apricot compote or honey (more explained in my recipe).
It’s not clear when macaroons were created. It makes sense that coconut was only added around the 1800s when coconut was brought from the Far East.
Just to confuse the saga further, since 1996 in Alsace a popular bakery makes Kokosmakronen, a coconut confection with cane sugar, calling it Le Macaron Coco. They are piped into a star shape, known as le Macaron de Riquewihr. They also make the familiar ruffled sandwiched Parisian macaron, instead calling them Macarons Fins.
What is a Macaroon Bar from Scotland?
What’s more, there’s even a macaroon bar, something different again. Just pronouncing macaroon makes us want to roll the “r” like we do in Scotland. It’s no coincidence that us Scots are proud of the mighty Scottish Macaroon bar.
This is particularly sweet since the fondant inside is primarily sugar with a little potato (trust the Scots to think of that one!) and coated with a thin layer of chocolate and coconut. I wonder if Catherine de Medici’s successor, Mary Queen of Scots as French queen brought it in her year-long reign as Queen of France? Who knows?
I’ve adapted the large traditional sugary macaroon bar to make these mini versions of Scottish Macaroon bar snowballs. If you want to see the more classic large size, head over to Christina Conte’s recipe.
Yet another exception is outside France: there are plenty of macaroon recipes which use pie crust or pastry as a base and the macaroon reference is a mixture of coconut and/or almond toppings. For example, see this recipe for macaroon jam tarts. They are an exception to the gluten free rule – these macaroon jam tarts are not gluten free as use wheat flour – just as these traditional macarons.
So What is The Difference in a Nutshell?
So to conclude, before the confusion spreads any further between such differences between macarons and macaroons, let’s say it in a nutshell.
In all their varying forms, the macaroon refers to the coconut confection without any filling.
The macaron today, unless a traditional French regional version is mentioned, refers to the Parisian or Gerbet macaron – the shiny, dainty version sandwiched with a ganache, jam or cream filling. Just don’t forget its ruffled foot, otherwise it’s not a Parisian macaron.
Now it’s over to you to spread the macaron word.
This post was first published in January 2016 but is now completely updated to cover more regional varieties.
Well I have to say that I think you are a bit wrong. ( wonderful English) A coconut macaroon is a coconut macaroon. But an English macaroon does not have any coconut in it. My husband and I, and now our whole family are having a big dispute over this. As evidence I point you to the Great Book of British baking
Where the recipe for English macaroons clearly does not have coconut. By the by I ate 6 rustic unfilled macarons from Ranou Metivier thus afternoon. They are very moreish .
Hello Jenni.Please do cite the evidence you have from the Great Book of British Baking to enlighten me on your family dispute. With all respect, I believe you have not understood the article. I am referring to artisanal French and Parisian macarons (without the coconut) and their translations with a few references to British versions.
Agree that the artisanal French regional macarons (not the Parisian) of Montmorillan (made by Metivier) are delicious.
I completely agree! It frustrates me any time I hear someone pronouncing it wrong – they’re two completely different things. Great post on the difference! Also, your book is my go to recipe for making macarons 🙂
Thanks Tess, and thrilled to hear you use one of the books to make your macarons. Couldn’t resist including macaroons in my new recipe book! 😀
Mrs. W and I were watching a Food Network program over the weekend to hear an American host pronounce the coconut version ‘macaroon’ when the subject was the French ‘macaron’. Ugh. We immediately thought of you, and voila, you’ve addressed the inaccuracy splendidly! It brings me disdain to hear the error. This post will be where I direct those who need to be in the know.
Thank you Brooks. I think people just think we’re trying to sound posh by saying it! 😀
I may not be as “mad” as you, but I definitely get annoyed when people mix the two up. I love macarons, and only like macaroons. Although I really might love the jam tarts!
Love it. We think alike David. And yes, do try these macaroon tarts – they’re delicious too, although not gluten-free like a macaron 😉
Happy New Year Jill! I was smiling when I got this post on my inbox. I always wonder how you deal with people who get confused with these two desserts. You probably think enough is enough. 😀 I love both, but so far I’ve only made macaroons and I would love to try macarons with your guidance. I gotta make matcha or yuzu version! 🙂
Lovely to hear from you Nami! Happy healthy 2016 to you. I don’t correct people as it sounds snooty and it’s not worth it – best if I can just direct people to this article! You haven’t made the macarons yet? There’s even a wasabi, pistachio and green tea macaron in the first book – and Matcha madeleines in Teatime 🙂
We started making macarons 18 months ago so that they were available in Newcastle. People who buy from us still say “oh look, macaroons!” and we’ve even had children tell us that we have spelt our company name incorrectly!!! But its no wonder when top chefs say ‘macaroons’ on the TV.
I hear your frustration Gillian and Joanne. Let’s hope they learn about it soon. As you say, it would help if TV presenters say it properly too!
Hi again Jill,
Do you have a favourite brand of ground almonds which you rely on as we find variations in quality between batch dates (even from the same supplier).
Hi Gillian and Joanne,
I normally use Carrefour’s own brand ground almonds and from the “Sun” range, found in many French supermarkets but see you’re in the UK. When I’m there, I love Tesco’s own brand – particularly fine and good value too. If you have any preferred brands, please tell me or pop into the baking forum on this site and I’ll add it to FAQ. Thanks!
I hear it all the time, too. I adore them both, but it does drive me nuts when folks mess up the names. I’m trying to help your cause in Indiana 😉
Thanks Liz for keeping the record straight in Indiana! You rock.
Name names at the fancy tea salon!!
What a Good link to see the differences..
At Amiens as soon as you get off the train, their maccies (may I use that word Jill?) are at the station for free tasting!
Maccies? So which ones were they then, Carol? Hehe. Tell me and I’ll tell you the place.
Happy New Year, Jill. I wince too.
That makes at least two of us then Lynn. Thanks!
Hmmmm….thanks so much for writing this! I found a video on YOUTUBE some time ago in which the presenter said “macarOOn” for what was actually a macaron. He was showing directions for making macarons. Yes, macarons, not macaroons and still he mispronounced the word. I commented and that started a lengthy conversation with other folks who disputed the true meaning of the word. Some people just DO NOT KNOW THE DIFFERENCE. And sometimes it seems they choose to ignore the facts just because they’ like to argue.. OK. That’s my rant.
ps. I just checked youtube and the video is still there with lots and lots of very nasty comments. Sad.
The cooks directions were given in a true spirit of sharing. The commenters were rude.
And, the macarons looked just fine!
Thanks Caterina. Yes, it’s such a shame that some folk like to argue for the sake of it. Hopefully this article will help people make up their mind which is the right term to use.
I am SO elated to see this post, Jill! There’s no one better to set the record straight than YOU! I would have done it, but I’m off ranting about the atrocities committed with Italian food more than French pastries, as you know. I just copied the link to your article on M & S’s FB page as they are committing this sin on their beautiful boxes of macarons (further confusing the masses) by labeling them as macaroons! Ugh! Of course, when I tried to tell my cousin they were mislabeled, it was difficult to convince her that such a large company would make such a massive mistake! Great (and much needed) post! 🙂
Thanks so much Christina. Appreciate your kind words – and action: so impressed you forwarded this to M&S! Like you, I’ve been so surprised to see them make this mistake on their packaging. Let’s hope they correct it in 2016.
Oh Jill, I had to smile while I was reading this. We serve and sell French macarons in our tea salon/cafe. Almost daily I am explaining the difference between these two delicious confections. Every time I place an ad, I have to make sure that they do not auto-correct macaron. Even now, as I type this I am seeing red underline that I’m spelling it wrong. Thank you for sharing this. Great information. I enjoyed reading this very much. ~Cheryl
Thanks Cheryl. Isn’t that funny? Yes, I’d forgotten that too – another point that irks me when trying to write macaron and auto-spellchecker thinks it knows better.