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Are macaroons cookies or cakes?

Some people think of a macaroons as a cookie. Some people refer to a macaroon as a small cake. So which is correct? No matter what you call it, May 31 is celebrated as National Macaroon Day.

May 31 is National Macaroon Day
Photo by John Parra

To set the record straight, macaroons are small unleavened cakes with a crispy outer layer and a moist, chewy center. Although they are the same size as cookies, macaroons do not contain any flour. Therefore, macaroons are cakes and not cookies..

A macaroon is a type of small circular cake, typically made from ground almonds as the original main ingredient or coconut or nuts or even potato, with sugar and egg white. Macaroons are often baked on edible rice paper placed on a baking tray. The most popular macaroon varieties are coconut, almond, and chocolate.

Culinary historians believe that macaroons originated in Italy and not in the United States. A key ingredient in early macaroon recipes was almond paste. In 1533, Italian monks and nuns brought macaroons to France. Two Benedictine nuns, Sister Marguerite and Sister Marie-Elisabeth, baked and sold the tiny cakes in order to pay for their housing. They became known as the “Macaroon Sisters.” Their macaroons became famous throughout Europe.

Because macaroons have no flour or leavening, Italian Jews later adopted the small cakes and enjoyed them during the eight-day observation of Passover. Now macaroons are eaten as a year-round treat by European Jews. Over time, coconut was added to the ground almonds and replaced in certain recipes. To give macaroons more body, potato starch is also sometimes included in the recipe.

You can celebrate National Macaroon Day by buying some delicious macaroons from your local grocery store or by baking a homemade batch to share with family, friends and coworkers.

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