Monday, December 19, 2011

Almond Paste Cookies (The 6th Sweet of Christmas)

When people think of Italian cookies, I bet a lot of people picture the delicate, chewy cookies kissed with almond flavor and topped with a jewel of a candied cherry.

That's right, I'm talking about almond paste cookies.

My husband had never tasted almond pastes until he met me.  (He's not Italian.  But nobody's perfect.)  I think they're now his favorite Christmas cookie.

The number of ways to make almond paste cookies is great and varied, but I'm going to share an extremely simple recipe passed down from my Nana Savona.  It's so simple, in fact, that when I first got the recipe from my great aunt, we thought she'd forgotten to write down some of the ingredients.  But then we were perusing my nana's recipe box at my grandmother's one day and discovered her original recipe card.  And after some trial and error in preparation and storage, we discovered the secret to making these almond paste cookies the way my mom remembers from her childhood.

Almond Paste Cookies

  • 1 pound almond paste (use the kind that comes in the cans, you'll need two cans)
  • 1 pound confectioner's sugar
  • 3 egg whites
  • candied cherries or almonds to top

Separate the egg whites from the egg yolks into a large metal mixing bowl.  Fit your mixer with the whisk attachment and beat the egg whites on high until stiff peaks form.

Add the confectioner's sugar and continue to beat on high, periodically scraping the sides of the bowl, until stiff peaks form.

Change the whisk attachment for the regular beater/paddle attachment (if you're using a KitchenAid Artisan mixer like me).  Add crumbled almond paste to the mixing bowl and beat it until incorporated and a smooth, sticky dough has formed.  You may want to take a spoon and stir it up a little bit more before proceeding to the next step.  Sometimes you need to mash up larger pieces of almond paste that didn't get mixed in well.

Using a tablespoon sized cookie scoop, scoop balls of dough out and place them onto sheets of parchment paper on your counter.

Dip your thumb into some confectioners sugar and make a small indentation in each cookie.

Cover the cookies with paper towels and allow to dry overnight, at least 12 hours, before baking.  Just before baking, place a candied cherry or a whole almond in the center of the indentation you made.

Transfer the parchment to a cookie sheet.  I suggest holding the cookie sheet next to the edge of your counter and sliding the parchment onto it.  Or, if you have help, you can lift the parchment to move it.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes.  Start with 10 minutes and add one or two minutes at a time if needed. These can burn very quickly.  You want them to be a golden brown.  12 minutes was perfect for this size and my oven.  Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.

After the cookies are completely cool, pack them, between waxed paper, in an airtight container and freeze.  This is a very necessary step for these cookies to reach the correct consistency and texture. Otherwise they are too sticky.  To serve, bring them to room temperature.