Sunday, April 08, 2007
Something (slightly) different...
Mondays with Maida is taking a little Easter holiday, but will be back next Monday with the Chocolate Oatmeal Crispies originally promised for this week. In the meantime, here's a non-Maida cookie to tide you over...
I first wrote about these cookies about two years ago, after my trip to Sicily. These Belli et Brutti (beautiful and ugly) are more commonly called Brutti ma Buoni (ugly but good). I've never made french macarons, but as I made these it occurred to me that you could think of them as a very rustic italian version of that confection. But maybe that's a stretch.
In any case they too are primarily almonds, sugar and egg whites. I had trouble last time I made them because instead of remaining pleasantly chunky as I remembered them from Maria Grammatico's Pasticceria, they spread until they were flat as could be. So this time, I decided to cut the baking powder in half and leave out some egg white. They still spread but were much closer to what I remember. I question whether the baking powder is needed at all and think I might try leaving it out completely next time.
This time I also ground the almonds myself rather than purchasing almond meal. Since a hand cranked meat grinder was recommended over a food processor, I tried the grinder attachment to my Kitchenaid mixer which I reasoned was similar in design. It "ground" to a halt in about 15 seconds. With great difficulty I finally opened the grinder to remove the almonds and sugar and found that a solid almond disk had formed just under the plate with the blade embedded in it. I literally had to chip away at the almond to remove the blade. Moral of the story: use the food processor!
The cookies are wonderfully crunchy on the outside and moist and chewy within. They are very, very sweet, but as I recalled no one complained about that last time I made them. I am very tempted to play with this recipe some more - perhaps toast the almonds (or even use another nut), reduce the sugar, or maybe try beating the eggs whites (something it seems is done in every other recipe for Brutti ma buoni).
Belli et Brutti
(Adapted from Bitter Almonds by Mary Taylor Simeti & Maria Grammatico)
1 lb whole blanched almonds
1 lb sugar (2 1/4 cups)
about 2 1/2 large egg whites (3 egg whites less 1 tablespoon)
1 tbs honey
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp baking powder
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grind the almonds and sugar together in the food processor until the almonds are fairly consistent in size (I did this in two batches). Place all ingredients in the mixer bowl and beat on low speed using paddle until the dough comes together. Use a tablespoon to scoop out pieces of dough (or pinch them off with your fingers). You want them to be roughly shaped and kind of spikey. Place on parchment paper lined cookie sheet about an inch apart and bake for 10 to 12 minutes. I had planned to bake two sheets at a time, so my racks were adjusted so that the oven was divided in thirds. I ended up baking one sheet at a time, so I started them on top and then moved them to the bottom rack halfway through the cooking time - they were nicely browned on both the peaks of the tops and on the bottoms. Dust with powdered sugar and remove to racks to cool. Makes 3 to 4 dozen.