Flowers are blooming. Tree buds are opening. The lawn needs mowing. Darn.
But when work calls, I answer with a preemptive tea break. Accompanied by something sweet.
Now spring weather, at its loveliest, calls for something delicate, elegant. Like a French Macaron.
Which matches spring weather in other ways—confusing, changeable, shifting.
Because is it a macaron or a macaroon?
Dan Jurafsky provides a fascinating history of the macaron/macaroon, explaining how the sweets are linked with macaroni and even the Macarena. Really! Check out his article.
In short, . . . well, it’s actually quite involved, even though early in his article Jurafsky states that
both are new fads, invented around 1900 by modifying the original almond cookies called macaroon in English or macaron in French.
If only it were quite that simple!
To start the whole story:*
Once upon a time, according to Jurafsky, a honey and starch confection was eaten by Persian kings to celebrate the new year. Adapted by the ʿAbbāsid dynasty (750–1258) of the Caliphate, the sweet evolved into nut-and-sugar creations.
~with pasta and confection intertwining, oddly~
Pasta also originated in the Muslim world, and both Greeks and Roman ate dough products. When the Romans planted durum wheat in Sicily, that region became the center of pasta, exporting it to Muslims and Christians alike.
By 1279 the word maccarruni appears in writing, referring to both a sweet (almond paste with rose water, egg whites, sugar) and a pasta (flour paste with rose water, egg whites).
Almond paste creations proliferated in the Middle Ages, with marzipan becoming part of Christmas and Easter celebrations. Eventually a baked version showed up in Europe, with the French calling both it and pasta macaron, whereas the Italians used various names for the confection but reserved maccherone for pasta.
Finally, an actual definition!
Eventually, as Jurafsky relates,
the first English language recipe in 1611 defines the English word “macaroon” as derived from the French “macaron” which are “compounded of Sugar, Almonds, Rosewater, and Muske, pounded together and baked with a gentle fire.”
Which held for around 300 years
But then, around 1900, a pastry shop in France began using a filling to stick two macaron shells together. Voilà, the modern French macaron!
Meanwhile on this side of the ocean, the coconut palm had come to Florida, initiating a coconut craze. Coconut went into everything, including the macaroon. The first Jewish cookbook that was published in the States substituted grated coconut for the almond paste—which made it kosher for Passover and created the coconut macaroon.
So it’s totally clear, right?
The dictionary on my computer has this to say:
macaron: a small round cake with a meringue-like consistency, made with egg whites, sugar, and powdered almonds and consisting of two halves sandwiching a creamy filling
macaroon: a light cookie made with egg white, sugar, and usually ground almonds or coconut
Confusion still abounds!
But no matter. Macaron or macaroon—either pairs well with tea!
*Here, I am abridging Jurafsky’s account, so credit for the text goes to him. The mouth-watering French macaron, however, is one of TeaHaus‘ amazing creations (flavor: White Russian).
Source: Jurafsky, D. “Macaroons, macarons, and macaroni,” The Language of Food. April 16, 2011.
Filed under: History