Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Almond Macaroons: A Hint of Rosewater Makes These Taste Truly Historic

Blanched Almond Macaroons

Unblanched Almond Macaroons

This recipe comes from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. The recipe below is one of many from the manuscript that will be included in a book I am writing. The book will contain biographical information about Mrs. Morris, an annotated transcript of the entire manuscript as it was written, and a section of modern recipe adaptations.

Macaroons (or, macarons in French) are small, round almond biscuits that are crunchy on the outside but soft, moist, and sweet on the inside. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest printed record of macaroons is from 1611 in R. Cotgrave's Dict. of French & Eng. Tongues. This work defines macarons as "little fritter-like Bunnes, or thick Losenges, compounded of Sugar, Almonds, Rosewater, and Muske." However, the biscuits may go back even further than 1611 to Renaissance Italy. Indeed, the name "macaroon" may derive from the Italian word for paste "macarone". Other sources place the earliest macaroon recipe to a monastery in Cormery, France dating back as far as 791 AD.

Whether the macaroon (macaron) is of French origin may be debatable, anyone who has been to France can see how popular they are there to this day. Macaroons in every color of the rainbow and sandwiched around luscious and decadent flavored fillings adorn French pastry shops. Here is a photo of the beautiful majesty of these baked jewels from the shop window at La Grande Épicerie in the deli department of Le Bon Marché, Paris:

As beautiful as these culinary gems may be, most of the macaroon recipes in 19th century American cookery books do not list directions to color the biscuits or sandwich them with tasty fillings. Instead, the biscuits seem to have mostly been made in their natural color in a round or oval form and served along with wine or liqueurs. 

Here are some examples of American recipes from  19th century cookery books (note the suggestion to use coconut in the first recipe, a more traditionally 20th century way to make a macaroon):

Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt Book by Catherine Beecher (New York: 1850 ed.)
Domestic Cookery by Elizabeth Lea (Baltimore, 1869)
La Cuisine Creole by Lafcadio Hearn (New Orleans, 1885)

Another form of a macaroon is called a Ratafia Biscuit. These are very similar except they usually (though not always) contain a portion of bitter almonds, which can be fatal if eaten in large quantities. Italian Amaretti are also similar to Ratafia Biscuits as they too can be flavored with bitter almonds and/or ground apricot kernels.

Making Almond Macaroons 19th Century American Style:

Just as in Morris's recipe below, many 18th and 19th century cookbooks contain recipes for almond macaroons with the instruction to add rosewater "to prevent oiling." When grinding the almonds in a mortar, the addition of the rosewater would presumably prevent the almonds from forming an oily paste or butter. For the recipe adaptation, below, I have added rosewater for the flavor, but it is not necessary because I am using pre-ground almonds.

Note: You can use coarser, whole nut almond meal which will be speckled with dark spots, or you can use peeled, blanched ground almonds for a lighter, smoother more refined look. I like the taste and texture of the coarser meal, but the more refined blanched almond meal was probably more fashionable in the 19th century. Either way tastes good so it's your choice!

(from the manuscript of Ann Maria Morris, c. 1824)

To one pound of sweet blanched almonds, put 1 lb. sugar, a little rose-water to prevent it oiling, beat the whites of 4 eggs to a froth. Then beat them well together; drop them on a paper greased. Grate sugar over, and bake them white.

Macaroons: Modern Recipe Adaptation
Yield: About 16 1-Ounce Cookies or 32 Half-Ounce Cookies

Whites of 2 Large Eggs
1/2 Teaspoon Rosewater
1/2 Pound Ground Almonds, Blanched or Un-blanched (You can make your own or buy pre-ground meal)
1 Cup Granulated Sugar, Plus Extra for Tops of Cookies

1.  Heat oven to 325º F.

2.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

3.  Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until light and frothy. Add the rosewater to the egg whites and beat again just to mix it into the whites.

Frothy Egg Whites

4.  In a separate mixing bowl, stir together the ground almonds and sugar. 

5.  Add the almond mixture to the frothy egg whites and beat with the electric mixer until all of the ingredients are evenly mixed.

6.  Drop the batter by 1 ounce spoons onto the parchment lined cookie sheets and then shape the cookies into circles or ovals with your hands. Make sure your measuring spoon and your hands are wet or the cookie batter will stick and be very difficult to manipulate.

7. Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with granulated sugar.

8.  Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the cookies are just barely starting to turn golden on the edges and crack slightly on top.

9. Remove from the oven and slide the parchment paper with the cookies off the baking sheet. Do not attempt to remove the cookies from the parchment paper until they are completely cool and firm. 

Storage: Eat fresh macaroons within 1 day; Refrigerate for up to 1 week; freeze for up to 6 months. 


  • Oxford English Dictionary
  • Alan Davidson, The Penguin Companion to Food, 2002.
  • Larousse Gastronomique, The World's Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia. New York: 2001

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