Pasticcini di pasta di mandorle (Sicilian almond dough cookies) + FUN NEWS
|April 18, 2011||Posted by ameliaps under cookies, dessert, Italia, Italian, italy, sweets|
I am on a Sicily roll (see my recent post on pasta with bottarga). I love that region of Italy, the scenery, the culture, the food, the history, the ingredients, the people. Sicilia is pure Mediterranean. A land that has been influenced and shaped by so many different cultures over the centuries: Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, Arabs, North Africans, Byzantines, Goths, Spaniards, Persians, Bourbons… The melting pots reflects in its unique archaelogy and arts, as well as – naturally – in more daily elements, such as its cuisine: sophisticated, rich, full of unique ingredients (such as saffron, cinnamon, raisins, swordfish, sardines) and flavor combinations (such as the association of sweet and sour). I am patricularly fond of Sicilian patisserie. And it’s not just the most well know items (such as the ever-present cannoli). The fruit shaped marzipans, the granitas, la cassata, il biancomangiare… the list is endless, and I can never leave a Sicilian pastry shop in less than one hour!
Here I present one of my favorite recipes from Sicily: pasticetti di pasta di mandorla, which means cookies made with almond paste (marzipan).
Although Sicilian in descent, these cookies are present in every pasticceria (bakery) in Italy, from south to north. Almond paste is the baking artisan’s pride and glory. Rightfully so. It is delicate and sophisticated.
The basic recipe is finely ground almonds and sugar bound with egg (egg white is traditional, but some add just yolk, or the whole egg). There are many different variations in ingredient and shape. The original kind adds a few ground bitter almonds (but I use just the extract). Some toss the cookies in powder sugar, before baking them, which creates a crackled look. These are typically shaped as “pinched” cookies or “S”s. The more traditional shape is a piped or rolled mound. Some people like to add candied fruit inside, or fresh grated citrus zest (lemon or orange), or orange flower water. Some add some percent of honey which softens the dough. Yet others add a few drops of alcohol, such as wine or a rosolio (such as limoncello – see my previous post on how to make it). Almonds are traditional but I have seen them before made with pistachios (which have a nice green hue). The typical decorations are candied cherries and almonds. However you make them, they are delicious, especially the next day, when they have had some time to sit. They travel well and make a good package to ship to someone special.
They are barely baked for 10 minute, just enough to allow the outside to brown, while leaving the inside still chewy and sticky. Try them with a cup of espresso and you will be transported to Sicily immediately.
And now for the FUN NEWS:
1) So honored! I will be speaking at BlogHer Food in Atlanta, on May 20th. The topic: “Off the Dish: Writing About Food in Travel, History and Experience”, in the Voice track.
Pasticcini di pasta di mandorle (Sicilian almond dough cookies)
Makes about 4 dozen
1package (about 300 gr.) blanched almonds
300 gr. Sugar
70 gr. egg white (from about 2 eggs)
A few drops of bitter almond extract (if you can’t find it – I saw some on Amazon – you can use regular almond extract)
Candied cherries, almonds, or candied citrus, to top the cookies
In a food processor, finely grind the almonds and the sugar. Slowly pour in the egg whites and the almond extract to form a dough that comes together but is not too stiff or too loose.
Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper. Using a pastry bag (you will want to wet the inside with water so the dough does not stick) fitted with a star tip starts creating some rounded shapes. If you find it hard to use a pastry bag you can also roll the dough in your hands to form small balls and then (like you would do for thumbprint cookies) gently press your thumb in the center of them to create a small depression. In the center of the cookies place your decorative element. I used candied cherries: they are very colorful and fun.
Allow to rest and dry overnight: this is very important, because it will allow them to set and loose some humidity so they can keep their shape when baked the next day. The next day, when ready to bake, turn the oven on at 400F (200C). Bake until barely browned on the edges. The center should be soft and chewy. Cool them on cookie trays.