Tastes of Europe – Amaretti

These delicious macaroons of the Italian peninsula and of Ticino, in southern Switzerland, epitomise the sunshine flavour of southern Europe, where the almonds and apricots are particularly sweet and enigmatically aromatic.

The combination of toasted blanched almonds and fine ground kernels of apricots (or peaches) capture that flavour, leaving an intense aftertaste that lingers. Baking soda is a relatively recent addition to the recipe, although yeast has also been used. In the past macaroons were made with honey and contained lemon or orange peel.

Traditionally the ratio of sugar to almonds including kernels has fluctuated between 3:2 and 5:4. Sometimes it is 1:1. Amaretti are definitely a modern Italian confection, with Ligurian, Piedmonte and Sicilian almond growers all claiming the idea originated in their regions, citing recipes over 1200 years old.

That date also indicates an earlier tradition, and the argument that these confections were Arabic and travelled from north Africa across to Sicily and made their way north with the Normans and Spanish is plausible. What is certain is that amaretti are either hard or soft, and sometimes they are crisp with a soft centre.

300 g almonds, blanched, dried, lightly toasted, ground 
150 g caster sugar 
150 g icing sugar 
2 egg whites 
30 g apricot kernels, ground 
½ tsp baking soda

Sieve the almonds into a large bowl, add the kernels and baking soda, mix thoroughly, add sugar, mix again, and finally the egg whites. Knead into a ball, wrap in clingfilm, refrigerate for overnight or for 12 hours. Preheat oven to 230ºC. Shape into small balls, about 10 g each, place on a parchment on baking trays. This amount makes about 65 macaroons. Bake for seven minutes. Leave to cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

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