My dad is funny, a talented chef, and a cat-lover. But one thing that he is not is a person with a sweet tooth. His ideal dessert consists of graham crackers with a small scoop of bitter chocolate ice cream. He dislikes most sweet desserts, especially the sugary frosting on a slice of cake or cookie. One of the few desserts that my dad never minded the sweetness of was what he described as “chewy almond cookies” from Italian bakeries. He spent his junior year of college studying abroad in Florence, Italy, enjoying espresso with these almond cookies on a daily basis.
Almost forty years later, my dad continued to rave about these almond cookies. For one of his recent birthdays, I was stumped with what dessert to bake for him. As an avid baker, it feels instinctual to make a dessert for a family member’s birthday. For example, my mom loves chocolate peanut butter cupcakes, while my sister prefers a red velvet layer cake. However, my dad is always a tough case with his aversions to overly-sweet desserts. This birthday, though, it finally hit me to try and make the memorable almond cookies from Italy. I began my research on Google. I searched “Italian chewy almond cookies,” hoping that at least one of these keywords could connect me to my dad’s beloved recipe. I found just what I was looking for: recipes to make Italian almond cookies called amaretti.
I printed out a recipe and gathered the ingredients in preparation. My dad always preaches about creating a “staging area” before beginning any project. This could mean laying down old newspapers before beginning a messy art project or moving shoes and bags off the floor before vacuuming. In my case, I washed the dirty dishes in the sink and sponged down the counter before attempting to master amaretti cookies. As the cookies came together, a sweet almond aroma filled the kitchen from the almond extract and almond flour. My dad is a fan of anything almond, from marzipan to almond croissants, so I began to understand why he adored these cookies so much. I rolled out the cookies and topped them with sliced almonds, carefully placing one almond atop every cookie to create an army of uniform cookie soldiers with almond hats.
After I baked and cooled the cookies, I arranged them on a tray to present to my dad. I closely watched as he took a bite, hoping that my cookies would live up to his memories of the authentic ones from Florence. He smiled and told me that they were just as almondy and chewy as he had remembered, managing to strike the perfect balance of sweetness and stir up feelings of nostalgia for him. As a second part of his birthday gift, my dad requested amaretti cookie lessons so he could enjoy them whenever his cravings struck. I happily obliged, and now the amaretti cookies are his specialty dessert that he brings to any dinner party or special occasion. I successfully reunited my dad with his favorite chewy almond cookies, transporting him from our kitchen to a bakery in Florence.
2 ¼ cups almond flour
1 cup granulated sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites
¼ teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon almond extract
Powdered sugar to dust cookies
Sliced almonds (options)
Preheat oven to 300°F. Stack two cookie sheets on top of each other to prevent the bottoms of the cookies from browning too much while baking. Line the top tray with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the almond flour, sugar, and salt. In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites and lemon juice together until the egg whites hold soft beaks. Fold the beaten egg whites and almond extract into the dry ingredients until the fixture forms a soft, sticky dough.
Use a tablespoon to portion the dough into one-inch balls. Roll the balls in powdered sugar. Place a sliced almond on the top of each cookie if desired. Arrange the cookies on the prepared baking sheet with one inch of space between each cookie.
Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the tops are cracked and the bottoms are a pale golden brown. Remove the cookies from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.
Recipe adapted from loveandoliveoil.com.
Cover Image Courtesy of The Clever Meal