Saturday, 27 April 2013

A Dream Deferred: Italian Almond Cookies

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When my guy and I were in Rome a couple of years ago with my brother and his girlfriend for Christmas, the apartment we stayed in was just down the street from a tiny bakery that had the reputation of selling some of the best cookies and panettone in the whole city – a lucky accident of which we took full advantage!  Every few days we would wander in and make use of my ever-more-limited Italian to buy a bag of treats: chocolate-dipped Christmas trees, jam studded thumbprints, mini pistachio biscotti, and our absolute favorites, chewy, dense, heavy-sweet almond cookies.  Those ones were always the first to go, and we kept finding ourselves having to negotiate over who got the last one.  If only I didn't require so much time stalling while I tried to remember the word for almond (mandorla – of course now I can remember it!), we might have just gotten bagfuls of those each time and called it a day!

So of course the minute we got back to the UK I looked up a recipe.  And then I bookmarked that recipe, bought ground almonds, and... promptly put off making the cookies.  I think I avoided it for so long at first because almond paste (one of the main ingredients) is super expensive, but after a while I just kept forgetting about them.

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So when I saw almond cream (crema di mandorla – kind of like nutella, but no chocolate and a lot more almond) in the Italian coffee shop by my office, I snapped it up and made a resolution to attempt the favorite cookies sometime soon.  And then, two months later, when the cream was about to expire, I finally got to it.  Of course when I went to make the cookies I discovered I hadn't bought enough almond paste (because I am nearly always teetering on the edge of broke), but I had one tube, and some ground almonds in the pantry, and I'd splurged on the 'crema di mandorla' (200g), so I figured I could probably bung all those together and make something at least resembling the cookies of our dreams. 


I had no idea if it would work, but I decided to give it a go – a very expensive kitchen experiment!  I made up the difference in almond paste with the crema and the ground almonds, and I ended up having to add a couple more egg whites to make the batter wet enough for the toasted flaked almonds to stick to it, and even then not many of them stuck, but it all looked okay enough, so I stuck them in the oven and crossed my fingers.

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My experiment was a definite success!  I was well pleased with myself.  But then I burned the second batch, which I had, in a stroke of lazy genius, decided to press into a pan as bars, sprinkling the almonds on top.  And then I promptly forgot about them.  I'm not even kidding – I think they were in the oven for like 40 minutes.  When I finally remember and levitated, gasping, off the couch to pull them out they were very dark brown and smelled...toasted.  And yet, once we managed to hack off the very burned edges, they were still delicious!  A bit darker and more complex than the properly baked cookies, and very chewy, but we ate them all so they were definitely not a fail.

In other words, I was beginning to think this recipe was foolproof.  Normally I would avoid that word, since I'm just the sort of fool to prove its use wrong, but in this case I think it's warranted...

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Biscotti di Mandorla (Italian Almond Cookies)
     from Allrecipes 

Note: I'm posting the original recipe here because I don't condone following my example exactly... that said, if you feel the need to experiment I'm pretty sure these cookies can handle it!
Preheat oven to 350F/175C. Grease two cookie sheets.
In a large bowl, use your hands to mix together until well blended (this part is really sticky and kind of gross but hands are really the best way):

      2 pounds almond paste 
      1 cup all-purpose flour  
      8 egg whites
      2 cups white sugar 
      2 cups confectioners' sugar 

Pour 2 cups of sliced almonds into a shallow bowl.   Scoop out rounded teaspoonfuls of the dough and drop them into the almonds – roll until completely coated.  Place the cookies 2 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets.
Bake 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on cookie sheets for a few minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

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P.S. I know it's been forever since I last posted – I've been caught up in a bit of an emotional roller coaster situation over the past couple of months and I've barely had the wherewithal to bake, much less photograph and post.  I hope you can forgive me, and I'm also hoping that things will be better from here on out and I can get back to my normal, sugar-laced life.

6 comments:

  1. Each time I read your blog, which is sporadic at best since my life, too, is a rollercoaster, I find myself grining from ear to ear. I thoroughly enjoy your writing style. I'm glad you continue to write despite the challenges that interupt. You are appreciated. :o)

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    1. That's so kind of you to say! Thank you so much, Nana.

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  2. P.S. thought you should know that when I went to pin this blog using the "pin it" button there is no picture, just solid yellow. So, I decided to just copy and paste your link to pin it. With that approach the only pic option is your happy shallot and garlic logo guys and no ability to scroll through other pic options

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    1. Argh, that 'pin it' button has been such a pain lately! I'll give fixing it another go today (I'm so not techie so when there are problems with things like this I'm pretty ineffective). No idea why the image options on the link were so weird either... I'll look into that and see what I can do. Thanks for the heads up!

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  3. Images and tree products, Argan oil, trees of Staff, the benefits of Argan Oil....

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  4. Cookies and the holidays go hand in hand and almonds in all their yummy forms are just the ingredient you need to create a variety of scrumptious cookies for your friends and family to enjoy this season.

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