One of my favorite cookies are amaretti. I usually buy them once a year around the holidays. I never knew how easy they are to make — they only have three ingredients — until I stumbled upon the recipe in the Artusi.
The Artusi is the classic Italian cookbook first published in 1891 by Pellegrino Artusi, a prosperous Italian silk merchant who collected recipes from homemakers he met during his travels all over Italy. If you want a truly authentic cookbook with recipes from the north and south of Italy that Italians still use today, get this one (the hardcover is available on Amazon).
Although the book is very popular in Italy — it has gone through 111 printings and most homes there have it — it wasn’t translated into English until 1996. (Full disclosure: My father and I had talked about working together to publish an English version but never got around to it.)
The recipes are authentic and have probably been passed down through generations for hundreds and hundreds of years. Most are pretty easy and simple to make too, making them perfect for Rootsliving. However, they often refer to old techniques that I figured out could be performed quicker and easier using modern methods and in some cases, modern machines.
Such is the case with this recipe that called for crushing the almonds with a mortar and pestle. I tried that the first time I made them but it was very labor intensive so the next time I made them, I used a food processor and there was no difference.
While making these a few times following the recipe in the Artusi, I found it necessary to make some other adjustments too:
- I floured a pastry board so the dough wouldn’t stick to the pastry board when I rolled it into a snake shape.
- And I greased (with Crisco shortening) and floured a cookie sheet before putting the cookies on it for baking. In fact, I recommend putting a good layer of grease on the cookie sheet before you flour it. One of my cookie sheets wasn’t greased enough. The cookies stuck to it and broke when I tried to remove them.
The end result are amaretti cookies that are a little different than the ones you can get in Italian speciality stories in the U.S. The main difference is the consistency. They are even more brittle than the crunchy store-bought variety.
I liked them better but still thought they might be improved by adding an ounce or two of Amaretto liquor. So the next time I made them I tried that and determined that just a little bit of Amaretto, about one or two tablespoons, gave them a little better, stronger, flavor. The difference was small and so this is completely optional.
The main thing to remember is to use only a small amount of the dough (about one teaspoon) to form each cookie. Roll the dough between your hands to form a small ball and then press down on it slightly, but don’t flatten it out. And be sure to give each cookie enough space to expand on the cookie sheet.
One batch I made, I used too much dough for each cookie, flattened them too much, and put them too close to one another on the cookie sheet. The result looked like one big cookie. Everything was stuck together. It tasted great but the presentation was awful. I also whipped the egg whites in that batch until they were stiff although I’m not sure if that caused some of this problem. What I am sure of is that you don’t need to whip the egg whites.
This is a simple recipe and my recommendation is don’t try to make it more complicated.
Here’s the (slightly altered) recipe from the Artusi:
Amaretti (Macaroons) (From the Artusi)
- Almonds (1 1/2 cups, plus 1/8 cup)
- Egg whites (2)
- Confectioners sugar (3 cups)
- (Optional: Amaretto liquor, 1-2 tablespoons)
- Flour (for dusting)
- Shortening (to grease cookie sheets)
- (Optional equipment: Food processor)
- Step 1 Put almonds in a food processor with one of the egg whites and process until fine (about 10-20 seconds).
- Step 2 Dump mixture into a large bowl (add the optional Amaretto if you’re using it) and mix in half of the sugar with your hand.
- Step 3 Add half an egg white and stir with your hands. Add the rest of the sugar and stir with your hands. Add the remaining egg white and mix with your hands.
- Step 4 Grease two cookie sheets and flour them by sprinkling flour on them and dumping the flour out so that both sheets are completely covered in flour. Be sure to put a good layer of shortening on the cookie sheets before sprinkling the flour because these cookies like to stick.
- Step 5 Roll dough into the shape of a snake on a lightly floured board. Cut the snake into small pieces. Roll those pieces into a ball in your hands and then press down on them slightly before putting them on a greased cookie sheet. (Note: Take care to round the cookie edges because any irregularities will be enhanced when the cookies rise and expand while cooking.)
- Step 6 Bake for 30 minutes in a preheated 325 degree oven.