On the 3 (yes, only 3) intermediate days of Passover when I could actually research online and digitally capture what I was cooking to make what I was in the mood for, the pull of the kitchen was stronger than that of the computer. Since I firmly believe in only making food on Passover that I would make all year round, I figured it was still legitimate to post these ex post facto.
Scratch that. These are so good, that I will be making them year found. My British and South African friends would call them “moreish.” As in, you eat one and you want to eat more. I have had to hide the cookies in the back of the freezer to prevent myself from sneaking. The worst is that I made two different types of cookies because I could not decide between almonds or hazelnuts. So, I ended up with one light, crispy, and flat. The other dark, chewy, and puffed.
Everyone who tries them side-by-side has a favorite. What I find is that, like eating salty followed by sweet, if you alternate, it’s hard to stop.
First I start with an amaretti disc. I made them the size of quarters. I thought they would rise. They didn’t. But I’ll gladly take them this way. These light crunchy little guys snap between your front teeth if you can force yourself to eat them in 2 bites. Granted, they are the perfect size for grabbing by the handful and popping into your mouth one right after the other. All gone, before you even knew you had them. Sort of like losing poker chips. But at the end of the night, the house doesn’t win. You do. And you smile. And this recipe makes so many little guys to shuffle around in your palm that you can always reach for more.
The gianduia is a whole other story. The diameter is about the same. But these are dense and fudgey. When you bite in, you leave teeth-marks. My goal here was to capture the taste of my favorite gelato flavors – nociolla and gianduia. I had some Droste cocoa powder, so gianduia it was. And I added egg yolks in the process of experimenting, but this mimics a gelato recipe (sort of?), so it’s all good.
Inspired by the little almond bites I first tried in Italy. You can find these in various forms in supermarkets and gourmet stores. A classic is the Amaretti di Saronno in their collectible red tins, made from apricon kernels (“the poor man’s almond”) — plus they’re O-U (parve). And then of course, there are the online recipes that I scoured for inspiration. Essentially, there are a few decisions to make when baking your own: To beat the egg whites or not? (I chose not.) What type of almonds to start with? (I chose pre-ground because that’s what I had.) To fill or not to fill? (I left mine pure because they were too crispy and flat.) The end result – super easy, prolific yield, and very moreish.
I (virtually) consulted Deb at Smitten Kitchen, Garrett at Simply Recipes, All Recipes (with US and metric conversions), and a hard copy recipe for “Almond Delights” that Ellie, the Baking Architect sent me a few years ago.
Makes ~150 little quarter to half-dollar sized cookies
– 2 C ground almonds (I used pre-ground); you can also use raw almonds, blanched, slivered, etc. The larger the nut, the more you’ll need to get to 2 C. We’re talking chemistry here…volume, mass, you get the idea. My guess is something like 2.5 slivered almonds, 3 heaping C whole almonds.
– 1 C sugar; most recipes call for more (remember, marzipan already has sugar in it). These cookies are sweet with only 1 C.
– 3 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of orange flower water or amaretto liqueur
Preheat oven to 300º F and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a food processor, pulse together the ground almonds (or whole/blanched/slivered, etc. almonds) and sugar. The sugar will help keep the mix granular and prevent this from turning into almond butter. Keep pulsing rather than letting your processor go while you leave the room for 5 minutes.
Add the vanilla and orange flower water extract and pulse for a few seconds. Add the eggs and continue to process until the dough is smooth.
Put into plastic bag (see below how I fold my “piping bag” over a glass to fill it single-handedly), zip up, snip off corner, and pipe into quarter sized circles. Leave about 1/2 – 3/4 inch between cookies. I was able to fit up to 40 on a single (medium-sized) cookie sheet.
Bake 20 – 24 minutes. The cookies slip easily off the parchment.
Supposedly if you underbake them, they will be chewy — I could not get this to happen. Oh well!
Gianduia cookie bites
Most flourless chocolate nut cookies call for real chocolate, but I only had cocoa powder available. And, like the amaretti discs above, they call for egg whites only. I checked out some chocolate almond cookies such as this version from Gourmet and recreated by Kelly over at Sass and Veracity, but I didn’t have the patience for rolling out a dough. I really wanted to just pipe away, and when I get my mind set on something, I’m hard to sway. Since baking is chemistry, the least I could do is experiment. I figured I’d add a few egg yolks to the batter until it was closer to the amaretti consistency so that I could pipe nice little quarters onto my parchment. I mean, between the 2 recipes, I had already used 6 whites and could just not bear to throw out more yolks. Plus, doesn’t gelato have lots of egg yolks in it? So, 1 yolk. Still a dark brown crumbly mess, yearning for a rolling pin. A second yolk. Getting better. A dash more vanilla. Sold!
Well, I ended up rolling out little balls and plopping them onto the parchment. They worked out well, but the whole experimentation process left my kitchen a bit of a mess. I could have also used a teaspoon to make drop cookies as suggested in The PepperMill’s recipe (that I of course forgot I had until after the fact), but as you may already know, I tend to prefer a hands-on approach.
Makes about 60
2 C ground hazelnuts (sometimes called filberts) – or use whole or chopped hazelnuts, ideally skins removed, but you’ll really work your poor little food processor (especially if you only have a little “chop chop” like mine)
1 C sugar
1/2 C cocoa
3 egg whites + 2 yolks (aka, 2 eggs, 1 extra white)
2 t vanilla extract
Extra sugar for dusting parchment
Preheat oven to 300º F and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a food processor, grind together the ground hazelnuts (or whole) and sugar. The sugar will help keep the mix granular and prevent this from turning into hazelnut butter. Keep pulsing as above.
Add the vanilla and pulse for a few seconds. Add the 2 eggs and continue to process until the dough is smooth. Add one egg white.
[NOTE – In the spirit of full disclosure and complete veritas, I must admit that I first beat the 3 egg whites to soft peaks, folded in the chocolate-nut mix, but it just looked like a crumbly mess. So I returned the mixture to my little “chop chop” after grumbling to myself about more dishes to wash, and gave that little motor a whirl with two of the eggs other halves. You do not need to repeat my trials and tribulations. I assure you that maybe whipping the egg whites makes a difference for pure amaretti, but add cocoa powder or chocolate with the nuts, and I think it’s a lost cause.]
Do NOT try to put into a bag and pipe as with the amaretti above. This will not work. I know because I tried. The first mini-batch looked like a little bunny hopped across the parchment and left little, ahem, gifts. And I’m not talking about Easter eggs. But, I got a method down pretty quickly. Once I extricated the batter from my bursting at the seams ziplock-come-piping bag.
First, sprinkle some sugar onto the parchment paper. This will help release the cookies after baking.
Then, roll the dough into marble-sized balls (~1 t each). The dough is pretty sticky (due to the egg yolk addition), so keep a bowl of cold water handy for frequent finger dipping. I even dipped the little gianduia balls in the water to help shape them – the water made no difference to the cookies once baked and they just looked prettier.
Bake for 18-20 minutes.
Remove parchment from baking sheet and allow to cool completely on parchment (at least 5 minutes) before trying to remove. If you remove early, the centers will stick. The easiest way I found to remove the cookies is to twist them carefully off of the parchment.