by Dorie Greenspan
Contributing Baker: Nick Malgieri
The book states that amaretti means "little bitter things", due to the use of sweet and bitter almonds in the dough; and that bitter almonds cannot be imported into the United States*.
These not so little cookies of mine, are made from only a few ingredients; four to be exact, and one of them being optional: almond paste, sugar, egg whites, and pine nuts (I used sliced almonds).
The almond paste is mixed with the sugar in two increments until the paste turns into very fine crumbs; next, the egg whites are mixed in. Bam! Done. How easy is that?!! So easy, it felt as though something was missing.
The dough is transferred to a pastry bag and small mounds are placed on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment, about one and a half inches apart. I obviously made mine too large, for I only yielded a baker's dozen, as where the recipe states it makes about three dozen! Oops.
Before baking, the cookies are dabbed with a wet towel to remove the points and ridges made from the pipping tip; this also helps produce the crinkly top. If using the optional nuts, they are applied at this time. I topped a third of my cookies with almonds, another third with powdered sugar, and left the last plain.
They are baked in a 325° oven for about twenty minutes.
The cookies did stick to the parchment, as noted in the book that this could happen. I have a very thin metal spatula that I used to remove them - it worked OK. It is recommended to wet the underside of the parchment, using a pastry brush with hot water, and allowed to sit for a few seconds, until the cookies can be released. I started with this method, but when I lifted the parchment paper, the powdered sugar started falling off my cookies.
The cookies were wonderful the day they were made, but I liked them even more a day or two later. They became a little more crisp on the outside, with a wonderfully chewy center. They do become rather dry and too crispy, after day two.
Though I enjoyed them all, the powdered sugar ones were my favorite.
These were so easy, so sweet, and so dangerously good (not knowing just how dangerous they could be!)
*Of course I had to find out why bitter almonds were not allowed to be imported into the US as mentioned in the book. Did you know, that bitter almonds contain a naturally occurring toxic chemical, hydrogen cyanide? This chemical has serious side effects such as slowing of the nervous system, breathing problems, and death. According to WebMD, they advise not using bitter almond. Ah yeah...
In my research, I ran across this current recall from Whole Foods for said almonds, imported from Italy and Spain??? Hmmm - maybe import restrictions have eased since 1996 - when this book was printed.
Do head over to the TWD website by clicking here to see the results of my fellow bakers.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies
8 ounce can almond paste (avoid paste in tubes – it has too much sugar and will not give you a superior consistancy.)
¾ cups sugar
2 large egg whites, beaten slightly
¼ pound pine nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Put the almond paste into ½-inch cubes and toss into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add half the sugar and mix on low speed until the paste is broken into small crumbs. Add the rest of the sugar and continue to mix until the crumbs are very fine, about 2 minutes. Add the egg whites in three to four additions, scraping down the bowl when the mixture starts to stick to the bottom and beating until the batter is free of lumps. You don’t want to beat a lot of air into this mixture, because it will cause the amaretti to rise in the oven and then fall – what you want is a nice, even puff that persists.
Place the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a ¾-inch plain tip and pipe the dough into mounds, about 1¼ inches in diameter and about ½-inch high. Leave about 1½ inches between each cookie. Alternatively, you can use a small ice-cream scoop – about two tablespoons in size.
Wet a kitchen towel (not terry cloth) and squeeze out the excess water; don’t wring it out, you want it to be more wet than dry. Fold the towel into a strip about two-inches wide and, holding one end of the towel in each hand and letting the center droop, gently dab the tops of the cookies with the center of the towel several times, until the tops are smooth, slightly flattened, and glistening. (Wetting the tops removes the ridges formed from the piping bag, and helps produce a crackly top). If you are using the pine nuts, press them gently on top of each cookie.
Bake the amaretti until they are well risen, lightly colored, and covered with fine cracks, 15-20 minutes. Transfer the cookies, parchment paper and all, to a rack and cool completely.
If you are unable to remove the cookies from the parchment, lift the paper, brush the underside with a little hot water, and give it a few seconds to seep in, then peel off the cookie.
Store in an airtight tin or plastic container for a few days.
Baking with Julia | Dorie Greenspan | Nick Malgieri