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The Tender, Chewy Cookies That Give You a Reason to DIY Amaretti

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Everyone knows amaretti, right? They are the crunchy Italian almond cookies wrapped in printed, pastel tissues and sold in giant tins at Italian delicatessens. They are the sweet little bonus that might be served with your espresso or dish of ice cream.

Figgy Almond Macaroons
Figgy Almond Macaroons

Amaretti are unassuming and often fly under the radar. They are most often an accompaniment or even an ingredient in other desserts, rather than the main event. For exactly that reason, amaretti could become the new secret weapon in your pantry. Unexpected company? Fire up the espresso machine (or get out your best tea leaves) and whip out the amaretti. And if you need some more ideas to get you started, here are a few:

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  • Accessorize a bowl of berries or fruit compote with amaretti.

  • You can make an impromptu parfait with layers of whipped cream, crumbled amaretti, preserves or fresh fruit.

  • Turn chocolate pudding into dinner party fare by topping it with whipped cream and crushed cookies. For an even grander finale, layer warm chocolate pudding with crushed you-know-what in tall dessert glasses, then chill to set the pudding and hydrate the amaretti. Whipped cream goes on top before serving.

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  • An icebox cake made with amaretti.

  • Did you know that some of the best pastry chefs sprinkle crushed amaretti crumbs in the bottom of fruit tart crusts to absorb and thicken the juices?

  • You can also press amaretti crumbs around the sides of a frosted cake or fold them into whipped cream or buttercream to make a textured cake filling.

  • Mix melted chocolate to make bark with cookie clusters.

Once you’ve got amaretti in your pantry, you’ll think of dozens of other ways to put them to work.

How to Make Any Icebox Cake in 5 Steps

How to Make Any Icebox Cake in 5 Steps by Brette Warshaw

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Alice's Chocolate Pudding

Alice's Chocolate Pudding by Alice Medrich

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Dark Chocolate Whipped Cream by Alice Medrich

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However, useful as they are, amaretti may still just not sound exciting enough to DIY. Stay with me…

Amaretti morbidi are whole other story. Imagine sexier and more decadent amaretti. Their wonderfully sinister sounding name simply means soft almond cookies. In fact, they are meltingly tender, chewy, and almost-but-not-quite gooey inside, with a delicate golden crust. They are super sweet (in a good way) and redolent of bitter almonds—irresistible to secret marzipan and other almond lovers. Now they sound worth making, right?

There’s a bonus if you make amaretti morbidi yourself: The recipe is a two-fer. Bake the cookies low and slow (at 300°F for 30-35 minutes) for the crunchy, long keeping pantry staple described above, or bake them hotter and faster (350°F for 12-15 minutes) for soft and chewy amaretti morbidi. Either way, the recipe is fast and more foolproof than finicky. Although you must fold a whole lot of almond flour and powdered sugar into whipped egg whites—which sounds scarily similar to the procedure for making French macarons—the batter is surprisingly forgiving and the results are always good. (There are no visual signs of “failure”, such as the absence of “feet” on French macarons).

Here are a couple other selling points: You don’t need a pastry bag and the recipe is especially quick if you use purchased almond flour (especially superfine) rather than spinning your own in a food processor. Purchased nut flours are also finer than homemade to begin with, producing a very light cookie.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

As soon as you make amaretti morbidi, if you're like me, you will begin to imagine all of the ways you could fool around with the recipe. Go ahead, swap out the almond flour for hazelnut or walnut flour, add almond and little vanilla extract, or introduce some spice. I know I’m just getting started with amaretti morbidi…

In the holiday version that follows, I kept the almond flour, but added a rich and festive note with chopped dried figs (I think about dried apricots, cherries, raisins, or cranberries would work, too) and an abundance of fragrant aniseed (you could also consider cardamom, cinnamon, or ginger).

Happy holidays to all.

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Figgy Almond Macaroons

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Makes about 45 1 1/2-inch cookies
  • 1 1/2 cups (170 grams) powdered sugar, extra for dusting.
  • 2 cups (170 grams) fine almond flour (I use Bob’s super-fine almond flour, which is blanched) or 1 rounded cup (170 grams) whole blanched almonds
  • 1 teaspoon aniseed, slightly crushed with a rolling pin
  • 1 cup (170 grams) lightly packed moist whole dried Mission or golden figs, chopped into pieces about the size of large raisins
  • 3 large egg whites, cold or at room temperature
  • 3/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup (66 grams) granulated sugar
  • Powdered sugar, for serving (optional)
Go to Recipe

Tell us: Have you made your own amaretti before?

Alice Medrich is a Berkeley, California-based pastry chef, chocolatier, and cookbook author. You can read more about what she's up to here.