macaroons until the 20th century, referred exclusively to small domed biscuit-like confections composed of sweet almonds, finely chopped, mixed with sugar and beaten egg whites, and baked lightly. They were home made or bought, as skill and necessity dictated. Mrs Beeton (1861) remarked at the end of her recipe for them that it did not cost much more to buy them from a good confectioner. ratafias were similar but usually contained a proportion of bitter almonds.
Macaroons were often served with wine or liqueurs as a light refreshment in the 18th and 19th centuries. They were also used in cookery, to provide texture and flavour in desserts and cakes. Typically, they were crushed and used in trifles; and used whole, as decorations and accompaniments for creams and syllabubs. Almond macaroons are used in this way.
Macaroon recipes have appeared in cookery books since at least the late 17th century. These early recipes are sometimes identical to recipes for baked marzipan, including the use of a wafer underneath the confection. A wide range of flavourings was used with the mixture in the past; Jarrin (1827) gave eight recipes, some using flavourings of chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon, lemon or orange peel. At present they have become the paradigm product of French pâtisserie, helped by the efforts of the house of Ladurée and the pâtissier Pierre Hermé. The current form is two macaroons sandwiching a ganache filling: the colours are pastel, the flavours recherché. It is possible that their use in the Sofia Coppola film Marie Antoinette (2006) was a stimulus to their wider esteem.
Amaretti are small Italian almond macaroons, typically flavoured with bitter almonds or apricot kernels. Amaretti di Saronno, from Saronno in N. Italy, use the latter.
© the Estate of Alan Davidson 1999, 2006, 2014 © in the Editor’s contribution to the second and third editions, Oxford University Press 2006, 2014.