Macaroons and macarons both start off with a base of egg whites and sugar. Some recipes vary, but this base is typically whipped into a stiff meringue - just as if you were making meringue cookies.
For coconut macaroons, shredded coconut is folded into the meringue at this point. Spoonfuls of this batter are dropped onto a cookie sheet in little haystacks and baked until crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle. Chocolate-dipping optional!
Almond macarons require a little more technical finesse, much of which seems to be steeped in pastry chef lore and mythology. After the meringue is whipped, a combination of powdered sugar and finely ground almonds gets folded in. But not folded too much or too little, or else all is lost! The resulting semi-liquid batter is piped into exact rounds and baked.
Perfect macarons have shiny, slightly domed tops with a crinkled "foot" around the bottom edge. And then, of course, the cookies are paired with a flavored buttercream filling and formed into elegant little sandwiches.
As seen in the recent explosion of macarons on dessert menus and in boutiques, the basic almond batter is really a blank canvas for any flavor or combination of flavors you might imagine, and which can all be further complimented by a creative buttercream.
With so many common characteristics, it's easy to imagine the coconut macaroon evolving as the quick, home-cook version of the more elaborate macaron. We're curious about the true origins of these two cookies - does anyone know or care to guess?!
• For more info on macarons and a few recipes, check out our post International Cravings: French Macarons, Minus the Plane Fare to Paris.
Related: DIY Almond Meal