If your childhood was anything like ours, you grew up with chewy, unkempt, possibly chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons. Like us, you were probably confused when these "new" almond macarons bearing no resemblance to those childhood macaroons started appearing in fancy boutiques. As several of you have pointed out, almond macaroons may just be the next big thing, so let's take a look at these two cookies...
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
(Images: Flickr members cbcastro and yuichi.sakurabalicensed under Creative Commons)