I have always had a thing about Amaretti di Saronno. You know the ones? They are made by Lazzaroni, and come in a bright red tin, each pair of amaretti wrapped in a light embrace within a fine printed piece of paper, its edges twisted together … they are such a delicate and romantic little cookie. To me, they represent a beautiful expression of bitter and sweet in perfect harmony.
I used to collect the tins and the wrappers. It was such a treat to buy them. A rare treat, for sure, as they were always a bit on the expensive side. Lucky for me, my father also had a major thing for amaretti. Then again, what sweet thing does my father not have a thing for? Bless his discerning sweet tooth. Long may it offer opportunities to indulge I still have a few wrappers, delicately marking favourite recipes in much-loved old cookbooks.
Years ago, I decided I wanted to recreate them at home. I borrowed and pored over so many cookbooks, searched online, and pretty much anywhere I might find a trace of amaretti lore and authenticity. I tried and tested a number of recipes that seemed legitimate. Each one lovely and delicious in its own way but NOT. THE. REAL. DEAL. So I basically decided to figure it out from scratch myself. How many iterations did it take?
Roughly about N, where N >> 1
At times, it felt like N ➝ ∞
I became a little obsessed. You see, they need to keep that lovely little dome shape and they need to be crisp and friable … they must crackle and fall apart and melt in your mouth. They must have just the right balance of bitter almonds and sugary sweetness. Most of my early attempts suffered from my usual reticence in using copious amounts of sugar. For amaretti, though, you need to go overboard with the sugar to balance out the bitter almond flavour and to get that delightful crunchy, crackly texture … friable.
The best part was always the taste testing. My father and I would sit down at the table, excited to bite into my latest version of amaretti and compare notes. Too much bitter almond? Not enough? Too soft? A little too browned? Maybe baked too long? Not enough? Wrong shape? Right shape? Eventually, though, it seems to have paid off … because, voila`, these are the amaretti I have made ever since. They are so close to the original, I’m pretty happy with them.
I sometimes still want to shift the balance of bitter almonds to sweet almonds in favour of the bitter almonds … but every small amount you add contributes to a stronger flavour and once you reach a tipping point of just a bit too much? The amaretti become bitter and you could swear you get a whiff of cyanide.
Bitter almonds are actually apricot kernels, but look for all the world like small almonds. They should be used with a measure of caution in recipes as they do contain traces of cyanide. They have been used in baking in Europe for centuries, however, and in small quantities are perfectly fine to use. You can sometimes find them in Italian specialty food shops and increasingly, in health food and organic produce shops as well.
Amaretti are one of the most versatile cookies on the planet. They are a cousin of the macaron and, it is often cited that they are the precursor to the macaron. Unlike macarons, however, amaretti should have a crackly surface and no feet! Amaretti with feet would be an epic fail If you click on the images, you can see how crisp delicate and easily cracked apart they really are. That’s a sign of amaretti success.
They can be crushed up and used in desserts, in savoury dishes, especially paired with pumpkin and sage or in a stuffing for meats. They are at their best served simply with a glass of Amaretto liqueur or an espresso (or both!). I sometimes sandwich two amaretti together with a little chocolate ganache, plain melted chocolate, or an Amaretto or coffee flavoured cream to serve as a petit four. Here, I thought I’d give you a little something different … almonds go so well with berries and stone fruit that a lovely tangy raspberry and white chocolate ganache seemed like a perfect match and it certainly is. I used fresh raspberries and Valrhona Opalys white couverture for the ganache.
I hope you love this recipe too. It’s been around the traps a little. I first published it in a column in the Epicure section of The Age newspaper, here in Melbourne. It was also included in a recipe book on baking. I thought it would be lovely to share them with you here too.
This recipe makes a lot of amaretti. There will be less if you make large versions of course.
Makes about 8 dozen small amaretti
165 grams raw almonds, blanched
85 grams bitter almonds (apricot kernels)
250 grams caster sugar
135 grams egg whites (equal to 4 large), at room temperature
pinch of salt or cream of tartar
150 grams sugar
Pre-heat your oven to 140°C (285°F). Line several large baking trays or cookie sheets with Silpat sheets or silicone baking paper and set aside.
Strictly speaking you don’t really need to blanch the almonds but I like to do it. Unless I’m pressed for time, I usually prefer to blanch them myself. Much better flavour than pre-blanched sad and sorry-looking almonds, yes? If you wish to do so, simply pour some boiling water over the almonds, in a bowl, and let stand for 30 seconds or so. Drain the almonds and the skins should come off fairly easily. Let the almonds dry completely, spread out on paper towels, or in a very low oven for a few minutes. You do not wish to roast them. They should be cool before using. If you are really pressed and all you have is almond meal (flour) at home, use that. They will still be perfect.
Place the blanched almonds, the bitter almonds and 125 grams of the caster sugar into the bowl of a food processor and process until the mixture is like a fine meal. Transfer to a bowl, add the remaining 125 grams of caster sugar. Mix well and set aside.
In the bowl of a bench top mixer, add the egg whites and a generous pinch of either salt or cream of tartar. Using the whisk attachment, start mixing at a slow speed for a few minutes until the egg whites are frothy and starting to build a meringue. Increase the speed to medium and whisk until soft peaks form. Continue whisking and slowly add the 150 grams sugar, in two or three batches. You don’t really have to add the sugar in this way, but if you are unsure and making these for the first time, it’s a fairly bullet proof method to make sure the meringue is stable.
Once all the sugar has been added, continue to whisk until there is no sign of sugar in the meringue. I like to increase the speed to high for about a minute or so at the end, just to make sure the meringue is stiff and glossy. All up, you should be whisking the meringue for about 10 minutes or so. It’s not dissimilar to making a French meringue for macarons. When finished, the meringue should sit in a stiff, glossy clump on the whisk when you raise it.
Add the almond mixture to the meringue and gently fold it together until no streaks of meringue or almonds remain. Do not overfold the meringue. We are not making macarons here. It should be like a thick almond cream and still have quite a bit of body from the air in the meringue.
Fill a piping bag, fitted with a plain tip about 1.5 to 2 cm in diameter, with the amaretti mixture. Pipe small mounds on to the prepared trays. Allow a little room for spreading, although they do not spread much as they bake. With a finger dipped in cold water, smooth down the peak on top of each amaretto so that the mounds have evenly rounded domes.
Bake at 140°C (285°F) for about 30 to 35 minutes. They should be light golden in colour and not overly browned. Remove from the oven, and let sit for a few minutes before gently remove them from the baking sheets on to a wire rack to cool completely.
You can bake these in batches, given the large quantity. Simply pipe all the amaretti on to the prepared trays. They can sit awaiting their turn to bake, quite happily. The only time I would caution you is when the weather is very humid as humidity can deflate and add moisture to the amaretti batter. You may end up with flattened amaretti as a result. We don’t want that!
Once cooled, they can be stored in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to 3 weeks. In theory
Oh wait, you’d like to fill them with this delicious and prettily rosy raspberry ganache?
It’s a good idea to make the ganache ahead of time and let it set to a piping consistency, tightly covered, in a cool, dry spot at less than 18°C.
Raspberry & White Chocolate Ganache
Makes enough for about 30 filled amaretti (60 amaretti required)
50 grams fresh or frozen raspberries
160 grams white couverture (e.g. Valrhona Opalys) or best quality white chocolate
120 grams light cream (18% fat) or half-and-half
15 grams butter, at room temperature
Purée the raspberries and pass the purée through a sieve to remove the seeds. Chop the couverture into small even pieces and place in a bowl, and set aside.
Add the raspberry purée and cream to a saucepan. Stir to mix well and bring to a boiling point over a gentle heat. Remove from the heat and pour evenly over the chocolate. Gently whisk or stir from the centre until the chocolate is completely melted and the ganache is smooth. While still warm, whisk in the butter until melted and the ganache is glossy.
Set the ganache aside to cool, covered. If not making the ganache ahead of time, you can cover it tightly and place the cooled ganache in the freezer for five to 10 minutes until it reaches a piping consistency. Do not forget about it and leave it too long in the freezer though!
Pair up the amaretti. You will need about 60 amaretti for 30 filled cookies. Fill a piping bag with the ganache. You can use a plain or decorative tip for a ruffled edge. Pipe a little ganache on to half of each pair and gently press the matching cookie. Set aside to set completely.
Store filled amaretti in an airtight container for several days. I would recommend filling them close to serving time (i.e. on the same day or the day before) for best results. Amaretti keep their lovely crunchy texture best when stored in a cool, dry place. Refrigeration softens them and they lose some of their magic.