Admit it: You’ve been stumped over this one for years. Sure, you know that one is light and fluffy, filled with coconut flakes, and the other is some kind of colorful cookie sandwich. But which one is which? If you’re never quite sure, you aren’t alone.
According to Chef Jansen Chan, director of pastry operations at the International Culinary Center, the two cookies are actually distant relatives of one another, hence their similarity.
“Technically, macaroon and the French word macaron are the same words,” says Chan. “But in the pastry vernacular, they are two different confections.” Macaroons are made of coconut, egg whites, and sugar, then baked until golden brown with a dense chewy interior, says Chan. Macarons on the other hand—sometimes referred to as Parisian Macarons or Macarons Gerbet—are made with almond flour, egg whites, and sugar. They’re then baked to generate that delicate, thin shell with a moist interior, and often sandwiched together with a tasty filling of ganache, jam, or buttercream.
“Both macaroons and macarons have a European lineage, influenced by French and Italian bakers,” Chan says. “Initially, macaroons were more likely to be made with almond paste instead of coconut, which is the more common modern preparation in the United States.”
So there you have it. Hopefully, the next time someone says they’re bringing a tray full of “macaroons” to a party, you won’t immediately imagine a tray full of handcrafted cookies from Paris—or vice-versa. (But let’s be honest, either way, you’re not likely to be disappointed.)