Friday, September 11, 2009

Little Bitter Things

The other day I changed the pictures in my blog header, and someone asked for the recipe for the cookies on the far right. They're amaretti, or macaroons, Italian style. You would think that the name refers to amore, love, little love, young love, something like that. Far from it: when translated literally, amaretti means "little bitter things," meaning the bitter almonds that are classically used to make them. Almond paste can be purchased in tubes or in cans; use the canned if you want the flavor and texture that the Italians cherish. The egg whites act as a binder and prevent the nuts from releasing too much oil. The result is sublime almond flavor with a memorable crunchy-chewy texture.


Makes 40 cookies
Storage: in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. These cookies are best eaten the day they are made.
Special Equipment: large pastry bag fitted with a 3/8-inch plain tip (such as Ateco #4)

One 8-ounce can almond paste
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
Coarse sugar, for sprinkling

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Crumble the almond paste into the bowl of an electric mixer and, using the paddle attachment or beaters, beat at low speed for about 30 seconds. Gradually add the sugar and mix until blended (the mixture will still be very crumbly). Add the egg whites, in 4 additions, mixing well after each addition. Increase the speed to medium and beat until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape the batter into a large pastry bag fitted with a 3/8-inch plain tip (such as Ateco #4). Pipe the batter onto the prepared baking sheets in 1-inch mounds, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Pour some water into a small bowl. Dip a finger into the water and smooth the top of each cookie, eliminating the peak and redipping your finger in the water as necessary. Sprinkle the cookies with coarse sugar and bake for 18 to 22 minutes, until they are golden brown and their surfaces are cracked. Carefully turn the parchment paper with the cookies sticking to it upside-down on a work surface and brush it lightly with cold water, avoiding splashing the cookies. Let stand until you are able to pull the cookies easily off the paper, about 1 minute. If they stick, repeat the brushing process until they release. Cool the cookies completely on a wire rack.

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