Amaretti: Italian Almond Cookies

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According to legend, in the early 1700s, a Milanese bishop made a surprise visit to the town of Saronno in Lombardy. A young couple paid tribute to the bishop by welcoming him with their unique homemade cookies, made from crushed apricot kernels and almonds, egg whites, and sugar. The bishop so loved the cookies that he blessed the couple, and the recipe became a local favorite.

Today, bakeries throughout the region, and in Italian communities around the world, carry amaretti di Saronno, but it’s worth the (small) effort to make them yourself. The recipe is simple, and fresh from the oven, they have a crisp-yet-tender texture that’s beyond compare.

ITALIAN ALMOND COOKIES

Makes about 3 dozen

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups blanched whole almonds (about 12 ounces), plus 15 for garnishing
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 15 glacéed cherries

Italian Almond Cookies

Directions

Arrange racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat to 350°F. Lightly oil 2 large baking sheets, then line with parchment paper.

In food processor, combine 2 1/4 cups almonds and 1/3 cup sugar. Process until finely ground, scraping down sides once or twice. Set aside.

In electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat egg whites and salt at high speed until soft peaks form. Reduce speed to medium and gradually sprinkle in remaining 1/3 cup sugar. Return speed to high and beat mixture until stiff, shiny peaks form. Gently fold in ground almond mixture and almond and vanilla extracts.

Roll mixture into 1-inch balls, place 2 inches apart on baking sheets, and flatten slightly. Top each with glacéed cherry or almond. Bake until cookies are golden, switching positions of pans halfway through, about 25 minutes. Cool on sheets 5 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely.

Cookies keep, wrapped, several days, or frozen, several weeks. Recrisp in warm oven.

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