Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Lilli's Almond Paste Cookies

If your house is like mine, cookie baking is in high gear as the holidays approach. One of my favorites is this recipe from my friend Lilli. Originally from Salerno, Italy, Lilli is a terrific cook who can throw together a delicious meal on autopilot. That goes for sweets too. Her biscotti recipe here is the best around. It's my go-to recipe whenever I get the urge for cookies.  These almond paste cookies are another great example of a classic recipe I got from her years ago. 

 I'm lucky enough to be a recipient of her baking prowess on many occasions, but especially as Christmas approaches. I've made these almond paste cookies many times, but Lilli's are always better than mine, even though I use her recipe. They're made with just three ingredients - egg whites, sugar and almond paste. But after so many years of making them, she's got the right "touch." I called her before posting this recipe to find out any special "tricks" in getting these cookies just right -- and there are several that she shared with me, and that now you'll  be privy to as well if you follow the recipe at the end.

Unless you've got a Lilli in your life, try making them yourself. You can top them with an almond, with pine nuts, or with candied red or green cherries in the Christmas spirit. They're really easy to whip together in your food processor and will taste great, even if they're not as perfect as Lilli's.

Lilli's almond paste cookies

printable recipe here

1/4 cup egg whites (not quite two large egg whites, but more than one)

1 scant cup sugar (take out two tablespoons)

1 heaping cup almond paste (more like a cup and a few tablespoons)

The consistency of the dough for this recipe can vary according to the almond paste you buy. Some brands are softer than others, affecting the final results. In any event, make sure the almond paste is at room temperature. Cut it into thin slices, so that when you mix it with the other ingredients, it will blend well and not leave any large pieces in the dough.

Put the egg whites into a food processor and whir for a few seconds until they start to turn white and lose their transparency.  Keeping the machine running, add the sugar, then the almond paste, a small amount at a time, until the dough becomes a solid mass. Remove the dough from the food processor, and with a spatula, feel around to make sure there are no unblended pieces of dough. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

Roll the dough into small balls and place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. With the heel of your hand press down a bit to squash them a little. Decorate either with an almond, pine nuts, or a half of a candied cherry pressed into the center. Bake at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes, watching closely so they don't become too browned.

These cookies harden in a few days, even when left in a tin. They freeze beautifully, so if you don't plan to consume them right away,  freeze them and thaw them before serving to maintain the freshness and softness.

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