One Little “o”

It’s amazing the world of difference one little “o” seems to make in the world of confectionary. There are macaroons and there are macarons. Many people associate the double “oo” with the common chewy coconut cookie and the single “o” with an upmarket airy almond confection. Although macaroon and macaron may have taken on their separate meanings now, this distinction actually has no historical basis.

meringue

Both double and single “o” are formed from meringue – whipped egg whites and sugar – with additional ingredient(s) such as coconut or ground nuts. The French word, macaron, is derived from an Italian dialectical term for meringue, maccarone or maccherone (derived from ammaccare, to bruise). In fact, in many accounts, the history of meringue is linked to Italy and/or France. One French form of macaron (from the town of Nancy) is very much like the Italian amaretti. And, some contesting stories for the origin of meringue attribute either Italian or French chefs with its creation.

The meringue has a slightly later introduction to Britain. The English word macaroon is derived from its French equivalent with one “o”. The practice of adding an additional “o”, my dictionary tells me, was common in 15th to 17th century English adaptation of French nouns ending in -on in order to place the stress on the last syllable. The earliest macaroon recipes in English contained almonds (like their French counterparts), not coconut.

All of this research because I had been wondering what to do with the 6 egg whites left over from making my chocolate custard Georgian Tart. Naturally my thoughts turned to meringue, something that I am not entirely confident making.

Most of the websites I consulted dealt with the science or chemistry of making meringue. I knew that the trick to baking them was a low temperature and long enough to let them dry. Moisture is the meringue’s worse enemy. Other science tips say the eggs must be at room temperature and all bowls and utensils must be clean and free of fats or oils. Acid in the form of lemon juice, vinegar or cream of tartar also aides the production of crisp meringues.

Sounds intimidating, and I wondered, just how difficult was it to produce nice, crisp meringues? After seeing Foodbod’s elegantly simple meringues, I thought it worth another try. I followed the rules, but experimented with two different baking methods – see below for the results.

cc_meringue

Chocolate Chip Meringue Cookies
What can I say ? this is simply a meringue version of that quintessential American cookie.

  • 3 egg whites, at room temperature
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 3/4 cup caster sugar (=American superfine sugar)
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare baking trays by lining them with parchment paper.

Mix the sugars in a bowl and set aside. Prepare your mixing bowl (a clean metal one is best) by rubbing the half lemon over the inside. This provides a little acid to the mix, a necessary ingredient in producing good meringues.

Using your electric mixer with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites and salt until they are forming peaks. Gradually add the sugar mix to the eggs. Continue to beat until the whites form very stiff, glossy peaks. Fold in the vanilla, chocolate chips and walnuts. With a tablespoon, drop the batter onto the prepared cookie sheets.

Place the cookies into the oven, shut the door and turn off the oven after 1 minute. Let cookies sit in the turned off oven overnight (at least 6 hours). It is essential that the oven is an electric one – cooling is slower than a gas oven. Peel the cookies from the parchment. Store in an air tight container at room temperature.

chestnut_macaron

Chestnut Macaron
Unlike many recipes out there on the Internet, this is not a fiddly two-part Paris style macaron with a chestnut filling sandwiched between, but its rustic cousin with chestnut purée incorporated into the meringue before baking.

  • 3 egg whites
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup icing sugar (= American confectioners’ sugar)
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 8 oz. sweetened chestnut purée
  • 2 oz. good quality dark chocolate

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line 2 large baking trays with baking parchment.

Prepare your mixing bowl (a clean metal one is best) by rubbing the half lemon over the inside. Put the egg whites in with the salt. Mix using the whisk attachment of the electric mixer until soft peaks form. Slowly add the sifted icing sugar and continue mixing on high until stiff peaks form. Fold in the chestnut purée a little at a time using a metal spoon. Spoon the batter by tablespoons onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Leave space between as they will spread when cooked.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until cookies are browned, shifting the trays half way through.

Let them cool completely on their trays before peeling them from the baking parchment. If they do not peel away easily, return to the cooling oven for another 5 to 10 minutes.

When cooled and peeled from the baking parchment, place them on a wire rack. Melt the chocolate and with the tines of a fork, flick streaks of chocolate of over the cookies. When the chocolate cools, the cookies can be stored in air tight containers at room temperature.

chestnut_macaron_prep

Results on the Baking Experiment: The over-night method seemed to yield perfect, consistent results – evenly crisp on the outside, slightly chewy on the inside. The chestnut macarons were probably hampered by the addition of the moist homemade chestnut purée to the meringue. I had to return them to the oven to dry further, and even then, their texture was less crisp than the chocolate chip meringues. Next time I find myself with excess egg whites, I have some experimenting to do with the chestnut version back in the lab I call my kitchen. If anyone has foolproof tips they would like to share, I always feel there is room for improvement! By the way, both macarons tasted wonderful!

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12 comments

    • I, too, have grown up with the double “oo” version – usually those chewy coconut ones (which I love) and have only recently noticed the trend in producing those Paris style sandwiched macaros (with one “o”!). A friend of mine, who is truly gifted in confectionary making, produces beautiful ones in all different colors and flavors.

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  1. nice one or you can whip the whites with sugar and then fold in corn flour and vinegar and make mini pavlovas! Always a favourite in my house. Again I am learning more facts about food from you.

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  2. Love your researches and experiments! I never tried meringues or macarons… I should try to investigate and experiment too 😉
    You’re an inspiration!

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