Macarons or macaroons? It’s a simple enough question, and yet so incredibly contentious. Clearly these a macarons – they’re French meringue sweets. Right? Apparently not. This (food) situation is actually more complicated than I originally thought…
There really seems to be a trend in my life recently, wherein I am rendered a fool (such fun) as my strong opinions slash outrage about certain food-related things is found to be completely unwarranted and unsubstantiated (see previous blog posts for evidence). You see, if you’d asked me 24 hours ago, I’d have said that macarons are French through and through. And as you’ve already guessed, I’d have been wrong. Macarons are actually Italian. No, I’m not kidding, but I really wish I were.
Macarons were apparently invented in Venetian monasteries in the 8th century. They’re so incredibly Italian that the Medici family is involved in their history (nothing in Italy happened without the Medicis – heck, it still doesn’t). It was Catherine di Medici who brought the macaron to France when she married the king of France in the 16th century, before things went grimly south (seriously, Google it, it’s a fascinating part of French history). The name macaron came from the Italian word for meringue or paste, maccherone, not the French word, because that would just be meringue… The French Gallicised the Italian word and in doing so stole so much credit that apparently belongs solely to the Italians. I mean, how many people do you know who go to an Italian pasticceria for macarons? None? Exactly, because everyone thinks that macarons are French! Oh the injustice. Although in saying that, it does appear that the French were responsible for taking two macarons and sandwiching them together with a tasty filling, thus creating what we call today macarons. Maybe they deserve some credit…
But to complicate matters further, there are also macaroons (now it gets really confusing). You see, Italian macaroons are those small, upside down cone-like sweets made from almond and coconut. They are chewy and squishy, unlike macarons which are famously crispy and light. Yet, macaroons are almost equally as old as macarons, arguably made in the same pasticceria (thank you, Catherine di Medici – there’s a thing I never thought I’d say). So there’s serious confusion here: is a macaroon just a strange, undercooked version of a macaron? Is the macaron really Italian, or is it the macaroon that is Italian and we’ve just got our wires crossed over the centuries so that we now think two completely different sweets are just odd versions of each other? Are macaron and macaroon completely interchangeable words or polar opposite sweets? Is it all just a plot to confuse and enchant? Who knows. I’m thoroughly confused and would appreciate a time machine to know what was really going on when Catherine crossed that border in 500 years ago. But I think I can say fairly confidently that these are macarons, Italian, not French, and very tasty.
Chocolate Raspberry Macarons
Makes about 30 macarons | Allow 1.5 hours
220g almond meal, sifted
120g icing sugar, sifted
4 egg whites
80g caster sugar
1 or 2 drops pink food colouring
1 tsp raspberry extract/flavouring
2 tsp cocoa powder (optional)
150g unsalted butter
1 or 2 cups icing sugar
1 tbs cocoa
1 tbs milk
- Make the macaron shells: beat egg whites and caster sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer on high speed until you have a meringue – you want the mixture to be firm, white, thick and glossy, and not too dry!
- Remove the bowl from the mixer and carefully stir in half of the almond meal with a large spoon or spatula – go slowly as you don’t want to beat all of the air out of the egg whites!
- Repeat with the remaining half of the almond meal, food colouring, extract and then the icing sugar. Stir until well combined – but again, go gently!
- Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a plain 1cm circular nozzle.
- Place a bit of the meringue mixture in each corner of 3 baking trays, line with baking paper using the meringue to stick the paper to the trays – this will help with the piping.
- Pipe round about the size of a 20c piece until you’ve used all the meringue. Dust the tops of the shells with cocoa powder.
- Let the macaron shells sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes – this gives them a nice crusty edge. Pre-heat the oven to 170C fan-forced.
- Meanwhile, make the filling: beat butter in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed until pale and soft.
- Gradually add enough of the icing sugar, cocoa and milk so that you have a thick, pliable filling that will be soft enough to pipe, but firm enough to hold its shape.
- Scoop the filling into another piping bag fitted with a plain 1cm circular nozzle. Set aside.
- Bake the macaron shells for 12-15 minutes until they are crispy on top and are no longer sticky on the bottom – check this by scraping one off the tray with a knife or palette knife. If they’re still sticky, give them another minute and check again.
- Remove from the oven to cool entirely before filling.
- To fill, pipe a small amount of filling onto half of the shells and sandwich them together with the remaining shells. Try to make sure that you sandwich similar sized shells as they will look better.
- Macarons can be served immediately or stored at room temperature for a few hours before serving.
- Macarons can be kept at room temperature for a few hours before serving and a few days in the pantry. They can be kept for about a week in the fridge, however this will make them lose their nice crispiness, so they’re best eaten before refrigeration is required.