Sometimes wrapped in colourful tissue paper, sometimes in vintage-looking metal tins, these tender-crumbed almond biscuits appear in the baking tradition of many Italian regions, especially Liguria and Lombardy. In Venice, the tradition is likely acquired, though it found a perfect fit in the city’s time-honoured passion for crafting almond-based sweets.
Akin to Sicilian pasta di mandorle, the greatness of soft amaretti rests on the fragile equilibrium between the tender heart and the crumbly crystallised shell; the intense, marzipan-like sugariness and the contrasting notes of bitter almonds. Whether served aside a bowl of zabaglione, crumbled over ice cream or crushed on baked peaches, these will be in their element.
Excerpted from VENETO: Recipes from an Italian Country Kitchen by Valeria Necchio. Copyright © 2017 Valeria Necchio. Published by Faber & Faber. All Rights Reserved. —Valeria
- Makes about 20 cookies
(20g) dry apricot kernels (or use 3/4oz/20g ground almonds plus 1 1 /2 teaspoons almond extra
1 3/4 cups
(200g) powdered sugar, sifted, plus more for rolling
1 3/4 cups
1 tablespoon (180g) ground almonds
2 1/2 ounces
(70g) egg whites (about 2 egg whites)
- In a food processor or spice grinder, grind the apricot kernels together with 1 tablespoon of the powdered sugar until you have a fine meal. (Or mix the 20 g 3/4oz ground almonds plus 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract). Transfer to a large bowl and add the 180g| 1 3/4 cups + 1 tablespoon ground almonds and the rest of the sugar. Stir to combine.
- In a smaller glass or metal bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold them into the dry ingredients until it all comes together into a sticky but even ball of dough. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Next, preheat the oven to 180°C |350°F |gas mark 4 and line a baking tray with parchment, Scoop a scant tablespoon of dough (about 20g | 3 /4oz) and work it between your palms to form a ball. Roll it in icing sugar, shake off any excess, flatten it slightly and seas it onto the lined baking tray. Repeat with the rest. Ensure a couple of centimeters between each cookie—if one tray is not enough, bake in 2 batches, keeping the remaining dough in the fridge while the first batch bakes.
- Place the tray in the upper middle part of the oven. Bake for 18 minutes, or until golden and wrinkly. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container or metal tin for up to 2 weeks.
- Note: Apricot kernels, or else bitter almonds (armelline), are definitely worth seeking out for this recipe. They are known for being poisonous when ingested in high amounts, but the dose listed here is far from lethal. If you can’t find them, a few drops of almond extract make a fine substitution; just use more almond meal to make up for the weight difference.