Almond macaroons are one of the most ancient types of cookies. French records reveal that royal chefs baked macaroon cookies as early as 1553.
But the town of Cormery, France lays claim to their origin: they claim macaroons were originally made by the monks there, in the Benedictine Abbey St-Paul, founded in 791. You can buy their famous macaroons at local pâtisseries.
Either way the cookies have had centuries to evolve into many varieties of flavors and textures. Many other countries have their own versions.
Recipes and methods vary a lot, but they all have the same basic 3 ingredients: almonds, egg whites, and sugar. Here are a few of many regional variations:
England: ratafias—macaroons made with bitter almonds added.
France: classic crackled macaroons, and smooth and shiny macaroons, often sandwiched, some with fillings
Italy: amaretto cookies, aka amaretti—flavored with bitter almonds or apricot kernels–usually crisp and dry, but chewy in the center when freshly baked. Also: brutti ma buoni: ugly but good—these chewy macaroon siblings have more egg white so don’t hold their shape. They aren’t as pretty but they’re delicious—and really easy since they can be dropped by a spoon onto the cookie sheet. Other Italian macaroon cookies include Pignoli–topped with pine nuts, and Pinoccate–coated with pine nuts and flavored with vanilla.
Japan: makaron—one version of the Japanese makaron, available in Sendai, Japan, is made with peanut flour. You may find these served in a tea ceremony.
Morocco: Almond Ghoriba—way less sugar and a little butter, lemon zest and vanilla
Spain: carajitos—found in Asturias, made with hazelnuts; almendrados with lemon zest and topped with sliced almonds
Turkey: Acıbadem kurabiyesi—contain bitter almonds or almond extract
Switzerland: Luxemburgerli—look like French macaroons but are much lighter and airier
In addition to almond macaroons there are coconut macaroons, chocolate macaroons, and even cinnamon, vanilla, orange and lemon macaroons. Some are made with other nuts like hazelnuts, pistachios or cashews. But almond macaroons are the earliest and most popular, and are often the base for the other flavors.
There are two basic types of French macaroons distinguished by how they are made: meringue macaroons and almond paste macaroons. The method and different proportions of ingredients influence the consistency of the batter, which in turn determines how they are shaped, and their texture and chewiness.
Meringue macaroons, which usually have a smooth and shiny surface, are very popular in France today. To make them you start with a meringue: egg whites beaten with sugar. Then almonds are added, along with other flavorings. They have to be baked right away or the air beaten into the meringue will leak out and the cookies will deflate. NOTE: Amaretti are an example of the exception: they are meringue type macaroons but have a rough surface.
Almond paste macaroons usually have a rougher, often crackled surface, although there are some exceptions. They are made by processing the egg whites, sugar and almonds all together, until the proteins of the egg whites are denatured (unfolded), and some oil is released from the almonds. The proteins then combine with each other and with the other ingredients to form a stable batter that rises well. This type of macaroon cookie is left to rest before baking so they form a crust on the surface, often resulting in a crackled texture.
Both types of French macaroons are baked at a moderate temperature: too low and they will be dry but not brown, too high and they’ll be brown and not cooked inside.
I’ve posted a recipe for a quick and easy Italian variation called Brutti Ma Buoni (not French bakery approved but delicious anyway!) that you may like to have handy for a quick almond macaroon fix.
I will be posting more recipes for almond macaroons soon, as well as other types, so be sure to subscribe to my blog to find out when they are posted.