These are very easy to make and wonderful. They look a bit funky and there’s really no way to make them beautiful-looking; hence in Italy they’re referred to as ‘Brutti ma buoni’ which translates to ‘ugly but pretty’.
The almonds and pine nuts are toasted first which intensifies their flavor. Dipping some of the cookies in chocolate once they’d cooled was something I felt compelled to do as I love chocolate with almonds and I thought it helped slightly with their appearance; making their lumpiness more forgivable. But they taste equally scrumptious without the chocolate.
The other advantage is that the recipe only calls for 2 tablespoons of flour so people with wheat allergies can use rice flour, oat flour, spelt or whatever they like. I prefer oat flour as it has a nutty quality that compliments the almonds but any regular flour will do (not self-raising). They’re dairy-free aside from the optional chocolate and will keep in an airtight container at room temperature, not in the fridge – for a week. You can freeze them.
They’re delicious dunked in a latte and they’re not as hard as biscotti but have a lovely crunchy outside with a more tender middle. Ditto, dunked in Moo-juice.
You’ll need a food processor.
The usual notes at the end include the best way to melt chocolate for coating anything from a home made truffle to a strawberry or small bunches of chilled grapes:
TUSCAN ALMOND COOKIES
(Makes 35-45 cookies)
2 cups of whole raw almonds, skins on – toasted (see below)
¼ cup of pine nuts, lightly toasted on the stove top in a dry skillet (Watch like a hawk as they’ll blacken in an instant)
1 1/3 cups of sugar (I use vanilla sugar – for reference, see my previous blog: ‘I dare you to serve this with turkey’ and the recipe for pears baked in marsala wine)
2 large egg whites (with an egg on the side in case you need more)
2 tablespoons of flour
Pre heat oven to 350F / 180C
Spread the whole raw almonds on a baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes turning around every 5 minutes, until toasty smelling. Remove from the oven and cool slightly (or do ahead of time and set aside).
Once the almonds have cooled a bit, combine with the pine nuts, sugar, salt and flour and process until the almonds are coarsely chopped.
In a bowl, lightly beat the 2 egg whites until just starting to get foamy. Add to the nut mixture and blend well. It should be crumbly but sticky enough to squeeze into balls. If not, add very small amounts of another beaten egg white until it is. Adding too much will create a flattened cookie.
Line the baking sheet with parchment.
Squeeze together heaped teaspoon-sized amounts (having wet hands helps) and place ½ inch apart on the cookie sheet. Then gently squeeze the tops between your fingers to create a pyramid shape. They’ll be casually approximate, unlike the Egyptian variety.
Bake for 12 – 15 minutes until golden. Cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely then store in an airtight container at room temp.
Always use good quality dark chocolate and for every 8oz / 226.8g of chocolate, you’ll need 1 tablespoon of sunflower/grape-seed/canola oil.
For this recipe I used 4oz / 113.4g of Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips and ½ tablespoon of grape-seed oil.
Any left over I polished off with a spoon.
Place chocolate and oil in a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water and cover. After about 5 minutes, give it a stir to blend. Once it’s glossy and liquid, take off the heat but keep the bowl of chocolate on the pan of hot water; quickly dunk the cookies any way you like and then put them back on the rack to set the chocolate.
Melting chocolate is a bit specific. Never melt over direct heat. The best way is in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. You can do it in the microwave for a couple of minutes but when it comes to chocolate I’m a Luddite and once you remove the pan from the heat, keeping the bowl over the hot water prevents it from solidifying too quickly. I use a Pyrex saucepan to simmer the water in so I can keep an eye on it because if the water gets too hot, the chocolate will ‘seize’ and becomes grainy and hard.
You can add butter or oil to chocolate before or after its melted.
You can melt chocolate with a small amount of liquid (such as espresso or a liqueur) but you can’t add a small amount of liquid to already melted chocolate – it will ‘seize’. If this happens, you may be able to save it by adding a small amount of oil; maybe not.
You can add chocolate to larger quantities of hot liquid such as hot milk.
Rather than a big chunk, chopped chocolate or chocolate chips melt quickly and evenly. Chocolate shouldn’t be heated to more than 110F / 44C (Seizure temp) but if you follow the gently simmering water method above you won’t need a thermometer.
Once melted and stirred, dip anything you like! Strawberries are a bit obvious but another lovely treat is to cut seedless grapes into small clusters (6-10 grapes) and dip in the melted chocolate – you don’t need to coat them completely. Cool then chill in the fridge. The chocolate coating will be crisp and the grapes will burst with chilled juice.
Costco; as always is good value for whole almonds, chocolate chips and organic eggs. Pine nuts used to be a great price but now they’re about $29 for a 1 ½ lb bag so you might as well buy them locally unless you use them often.