The Christmas baking has begun. Actually, it’s been going on for quite some time now. Every year I bake something to give as gifts. In years past there have been a trio of macarons, Christmas biscotti and biscuits for cheese. This year I wanted to keep it simple and elegant. I decided I would choose one fabulous recipe and stick with it. After much deliberation I picked Yotam Ottolenghi’s Amaretti with honey and orange blossom from his new book Sweet. The orange blossom provides that touch of elegance I was looking for and the almond flavour and the dusting of icing sugar are for me, evocative of Christmas.
I’m now on to my 4th batch and have found that I don’t use quite as much icing sugar as in the recipe and I don’t use the full amount of flaked almonds (not enough room for all of them). The other thing to bear in mind is that there is a lot of resting time in the recipe (that’s for the mixture, rather than the baker!), so do allow plenty of time. I usually do the mixture first thing in the morning, roll them mid-morning then bake them in the afternoon. The hands-on time is actually pretty short. The results are truly delightful, they look great and taste even better!
200g ground almonds
110g caster sugar
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
finely grated zest of 1 orange
1/8 tsp salt
60g egg whites (from 1 and 1/2 large eggs)
25g runny honey
1/8 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp orange blossom water
100g flaked almonds for rolling
25g icing sugar for dusting
· Combine the almonds, sugar, lemon zest, orange zest and salt in a large bowl and set aside.
· Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment in place and whisk on a medium speed. Heat the honey in a small saucepan over a medium heat, and just before it comes to the boil, increase the speed of the whisk to medium-high while the honey continues to boil for 30 seconds and the egg whites form soft peaks. Remove the honey from the heat and carefully pour into the egg whites, in a continuous stream, whisking all the time. When all the honey has been added, keep whisking for a minute until the meringue is fully whipped and cooled. Stop the mixer, remove the whisk attachment and change to the paddle attachment.
· Add the almond and sugar mixture, along with the almond extract and orange blossom water. Mix until it all comes together to form a soft, pliable paste. Alternatively, use a wooden spoon or your hands to bring everything together. Transfer to a bowl, cover with cling film and transfer to the fridge for 1 hour to firm up. The mixture will still be very soft but the chilling will help when rolling out.
· Once chilled, divide the mixture into four portions of about 90g each. Sprinkle a quarter of the flaked almonds on a clean work surface and roll out one piece to form a log 30cm long and 1.5cm wide, covered with almonds.
· Line a baking tray (that will fit inside your fridge) with baking parchment, and either lift the log on to the tray by hand or roll it on to a clean ruler and use that to transfer it to the tray. Continue until you have rolled all four pieces into logs, sprinkling more flaked almonds on the work surface with each batch. Place them all on the tray, cover with cling film, and place in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or up to 2 days.
· When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C Fan/Gas Mark 5. Line a baking tray with baking parchment.
· Remove the tray from the fridge and cut each log into five smaller logs, 6cm long. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and roll each piece in the icing sugar so that they are covered all over. Spread out on the parchment-lined baking tray, spaced 2cm apart, and bake for 13–15 minutes, rotating the tray halfway through, until the Amaretti are golden brown but still soft. Remove from the oven and set aside on the tray for 10 minutes. These can be served warm or transferred on to a wire rack to cool and firm up before serving.