Macarons vs macaroons: a moot point

9 Jul 2013

I remember being chastised by an employer when I was starting out in the workforce. This particular incident was notable because I had reached that level of working maturity where I understood why I had done what I did, and I felt I was in the right. Yet I happily bowed my head to my boss and nodded to his reprimand until he had dropped that fateful word: irregardless.

As I type this, spellchecker is madly underlining that word with a red squiggle. This is something I normally cannot live with, but for the sake of today’s lesson, I am going to soldier on. 

For those of you still confused, let’s have a little chat. Irregardless, no matter what you think it might mean, is not a valid word. It is a ‘double negative’. ‘Regard-less’ or ‘in spite of regard’ is a valid word. Irregardless therefore cancels itself out by meaning ‘the alternate of in spite of regard’. It is a word, in short, with no meaning and cannot be used in a game of Scrabble (or Words with Friends for all you pop culture peeps). You may have heard this word used a lot, but excessive use does not validate it. Want to know what you can say instead? Either regardless, or irrespective will suffice.

 So who cares? I mean, really? Does it matter if someone lets an incorrect word slip here or there? Speaking as someone who is vexed when living in a world of red squiggly lines, it matters very much. It is a moot point.

No, not a mute point. Moo (like a cow) with a ‘t’ on it: moot.   When I used this term, it is likely that you might not have caught my meaning. Nowadays, the term ‘moot point’ is commonly used to brush off a debate when one of the parties thinks the debate is of little consequence. This is akin to calling it a ‘fickle debate’. What moot actually means in this context is that the point is debatable. How did this word get such diverse interpretations? It can mean that a point is open for discussion or that a point has no value. How it got this way is (according to my literary snob friends) constant incorrect use. People used it so much, that it adopted a new context.

Those of you with a sweet tooth are possibly wondering what all this has to do with macaroons, or macarons, or whatever you want to call them. Now you have the context, let me explain.

My dear friend Lady Claire grew up with her family making delicious coconut macaroons (hazelnut macaroons pictured). They are a childhood happy place for her which she describes fondly. They are made of coconut and egg whites which makes them lumpy and are golden brown in colour. In some countries they also mix in cinnamon and other seasonings to go with the coconut (I’m salivating just thinking about it). They have a rough and crunchy texture. They are delicious. They unfortunately have their thunder stolen regularly by the upstart of French confection: the macaron.

The macaron is a French biscuit with over a century of history behind it. The patisserie Ladurée is famous for its stacked macarons, filled with ganash and fruits. They sell nearly 15,000 a day and their award winning pastry chef Pierre Hermé is renowned for his interesting and bizarre flavour combinations. Macarons are made of almond meal, egg white and a sweetener like icing sugar. Their texture is that of smooth, unresisting meringue or a more toffee pavlova: light crunch on the outside, melting texture on the inside.

Yes. There is a very big difference between the two biscuits. When Cindy Meyers trekked around France for a month to study the macaron, she didn’t report back to Gastronimca: Journal of Food and Culture in her article The Macaron and Madame Blanchez (2009) that patisseries all over the country were calling the confection macaroon or macaron interchangeably. Perhaps this is because the French also eat macaroons, and they invented the macaron, so they know the difference. Yet in Australia people vehemently and viciously argue that the terms are interchangeable or even worse, that a macaron is a macaroon. Why?

When sitting in a nice café recently, staff offered me a macaroon fresh from the kitchen. I asked if it was a macaron or a macaroon and they informed me that they are the ‘same thing’. I declined their offer (pinching the bridge of my nose). This is a very common mistake, but one not made by Ladurée or local Australian favourites La Belle Miette or Cake Bakeshop. These are patisseries that know their craft and they push the culinary envelope with their creations. The owner of Cake Bakeshop recently related to me her tale of a woman arguing aggressively that macaron was spelled ‘macaroon’ and that Cake Bakeshop ‘had it wrong’. The woman eventually left, flustered and annoyed.

Somewhere along the line, someone in Australian pop culture called a macaron a macaroon (let’s not point fingers). This incorrect terminology moved into common language and it was regurgitated on the web, in print, on air… Macaron vs macaroon became a moot point. With macarons in such high demand, everyone began having a go at creating them and macaroons (read macarons) started popping up everywhere. So when someone is presented with both macarons and macaroons and they want to know the difference and they do an internet search, they aren’t going to find the answer because ‘macaroon as macaron’ is now so entrenched in our culture.

Why is this unjust classification a big deal?

At the risk of sounding like Ego from Ratatouille, when I eat a macaron, I want to eat a good macaron. It is highly unlikely that a venue that doesn’t know the difference between a macaroon and a macaron has enough delicacy, flair, or understanding for the treat to do anything revolutionary. By confusing the names, over 100 years of history of 2 remarkable sweets are disregarded as being irrelevant, inconsequential and indistinct. Not to mention the reputation Australians will get if they keep walking into French patisseries asking “Puis-je avoir un macaroon s'il vous plaît?” (Please say that entire French sentence [especially macaroon] to yourself in a bad occa accent to do the tragedy justice.) Sigh. It is a moot point.

So now you know the difference, irregardless of whether or not you agree, get down to Cake Bakeshop and have one of their amazing red skin macarons for me.

- L

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