Italy: Amaretti

Amaretti is the Italian name for macaroons, which means "little bitter things". Crisp and crunchy on the outside and soft inside, these small, domed shaped cookies originated in Venice, Italy during the Renaissance period.

Amaretti cookies are made from either ground almonds or almond paste, along with sugar and egg whites and can be flavored with chocolate or liqueurs. Oftentimes, two baked cookies are sandwiched together with ganache, buttercream or jam.

Traditionally these cookies were served with a sweet dessert wine or liqueur, but they are also wonderful with a bowl of ice cream, sherbets, or mousses. Another favorite way to use these cookies is to finely ground them and then add them to desserts (such as trifles) for added texture and flavor.

Amaretti Cookies

8 oz almond paste
1 cup superfine sugar
2 large egg whites
granulated sugar for dusting finished cookies

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Have ready a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch plain tip.

Break the almond paste into small pieces and place in bowl of electric mixer along with the sugar. Mix on low speed until very fine. Add the egg whites in three additions, mixing well after each addition. Continue mixing the dough until very smooth, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Fill the pastry bag with the almond mixture. Pipe 1-1/2 inch mounds onto the parchment paper, spacing about 1 inch apart. After you have filled the baking sheet with cookie mounds, take a damp paper towel and lightly press the top of each cookie to smooth out the surface (you want to smooth out the tip of dough at the top of each cookie caused from piping). Lightly sprinkle a little sugar on top of each cookie.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cookies have risen, are a deep golden color and have tiny cracks.

Remove from the oven and place baking sheet on a rack to cool. When cooled, gently peel cookies from parchment. If they stick to parchment, turn the paper over, take a damp paper towel and gently wipe the bottom of the parchment paper to loosen the cookie.

Yield: 3 1/2 dozen

Adapted from Great Italian Desserts by Nick Malgieri

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