Summer has come to an end and so has much of the time we spent together during the days in that season. Instead, Monday to Friday, morning and afternoon, we make our way down tree-lined Corso Francia to and from her new school, teachers and classmates. A lover of playing dress-ups, she insists on wearing her typically Italian school uniform – a red and white checkered grembiule or apron – there and back. She’d rather not leave it to hang in her locker.
Despite assurances from her teachers that she’s eaten lunch in the mensa or canteen at noon, she has a big appetite upon our return home. Sometimes she wants something savoury, like a tomato, slices of capsicum or the natural peanut butter spread I loved as a child. Occasionally, she prefers something sweet and opts for the apples I’ve bought from Corso Brunelleschi. These must be whole, never sliced! Then, there are the pre-packaged Mulino Bianco biscuits and pastries that, to my annoyance, TP constantly stocks our pantry with for breakfast. And, in an attempt to be like the grown ups around her, she often asks for ‘coffee’ (orzo with milk in her case) to accompany these. Obviously, I’m most satisfied though when she takes an interest in what I’m making in our kitchen and asks to ‘cook’ and ‘try’ my creations for her afternoon snack or merenda.
With its slighty sticky consistency, my crushed almond, sugar and egg white mixture for making amaretti has, unsurprisingly, been a little difficult for her to mould into walnut-sized spheres before baking. She’s had more luck with another afternoon snack-worthy biscuit I wrote about last month for Italy Magazine, ciambelline al vino. During one baking session at the cascina a few weekends ago, she came up with an assembly line of ‘snakes’ for me to form into ciambelline or ‘little rings’. It’s fair to say, however, that these sugar-dusted cracked domes are her preferred accompaniment to that requisite cup of caffè d’orzo and milk come 4:30pm.
In a post about bonet several months ago I mentioned the two main varieties of amaretti, which literally means ‘little bitter ones’, found in Italy. There are amaretti di Saronno, which are crisp and macaroon-like. These are thought to have originated in the Lombard town of Saronno and are used to make several Piedmontese desserts, such as the above-mentioned bonet and pesche ripiene or stuffed peaches. Then, there are the softer, chewier amaretti morbidi I’m posting about today. The origin of these biscuits is contested between the Ligurian town of Sassello and the southern Piedmontese town of Mombaruzzo but you’ll now find them almost everywhere in Italy, often sold commercially in glaringly colourful wrappers. Despite their differences in consistency, both varieties of amaretti are made with an identical list of ingredients: sweet and bitter almonds, sugar and egg whites.
I’ve yet to try my hand at making the shatter-in-your-mouth amaretti di Saronno, preferring for the moment to rely on supermarket-bought amaretti when preparing bonet or pesche ripiene. The same cannot be said, however, for amaretti morbidi. And, on and off for many years, I’ve rarely been satisfied with my efforts. That was until last month, when TT started school and my recipe-testing for my new market-to-table cooking lessons began in earnest. I had this biscuit in mind as a possible mid-morning merenda or a dessert to conclude a meal for guests. By chance, I came across Piedmontese pastry chef Luca Montersino’s recipe for making these delectable domes and I finally realised the key to his perfect cupola-shaped amaretti; rolling the sticky but firm mixture into little spheres and chilling these in the fridge (about six hours or overnight) or freezer (about 1 hour) before baking.
Ingredients (makes about 20 – 22 amaretti)
- 300 g blanched almonds (of which 4-5 should be bitter almonds or apricot kernels)
- 200 g caster sugar
- 2 egg whites
- icing sugar, for dusting
Grind blanched almonds and sugar in a food processor until almonds have turned to a fine meal. Transfer ground almonds and sugar to a large mixing bowl and add egg whites. Mix until the all ingredients have come together. The mixture should feel sticky but firm.
Dust your hands with icing sugar. Take a walnut-sized amount of the mixture and roll until obtaining a smooth sphere. Roll in a bowl filled with icing sugar and place on a lined baking tray. Repeat procedure with remaining mixture, ensuring that the spheres are placed at least 2-3 cms away from each other.
Place baking tray in refrigerator and leave spheres to chill for at least 6 hours or better yet, overnight. If you’re in a hurry, place the tray in the freezer for an hour instead. Preheat oven to 170 ° C and bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until the spheres have sunken into domes, and are lightly golden and cracked on top. Remove from oven and leave to cool completely on baking tray. Store in an airtight container in a cool and dry place.
Looking for more afternoon snack or merenda inspiration? Here’s what my fellow #cucinaconversations bloggers have been preparing for the first anniversary edition of our roundtable:
- Carmen of The Heirloom Chronicles has gone the savoury route and has made pizzette montanare, or little fried pizzas from Naples.
- Daniela of La Dani Gourmet is sharing her nonna‘s recipe for pan meino, a childhood favourite from her home region of Lombardy.
- Flavia of Flavia’s Flavors will be making the crustless sandwiches or tramezzini I mentioned in my #cucinaconversations aperitivo post in August. Torinese institution, Caffè Mulassano, claims to have invented them.
- Lisa of Italian Kiwi will be making pasticciotti, pastry cream-filled tarts from that Baroque gem of the Salento, Lecce.
- Marialuisa of Marmellate di Cipolle indulges her love of baking with her sandwich al carbone vegetale. This bread is charcoal-flavoured (yes, you read it correctly, charcoal-flavoured!)
- I’ll also be sharing a similar recipe for amaretti morbidi which uses unblanched roasted almonds (pictured in my merenda-style photos) in my upcoming Autumn 2017 newsletter in late November. These are of a denser and chewier consistency and are slightly less sweet than their blanched counterparts. I personally adore them. Anyway, to get the recipe for these, be sure to subscribe to my mailing list at this link here.
Finally, curious to know the winner of my Two Kitchens giveaway? The lucky recipient is Erin Browne! A copy of Rachel Roddy’s stunning new cookbook is now on its way to you. Thank you very much to those of you who entered the contest. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your comments about eating, cooking and preserving tomatoes.