Many Sardinian sweets are made with almonds, these include amaretti, gueffus, gattò and sospiri, to mention a few. My aunt, zia Angelina, used to be a great patisserie chef, she specialized in making cakes and sweets for weddings.
Back in the 1970’s I used to help out when she prepared batch after batch of sweets for the next village wedding.
My role was minimal, but still I felt I contributed a lot.
For instance I would cut the ciambelle cookies into shapes and place them on the baking trays, or I would put the whole almond on top of the amaretto biscuits before they went into the wood oven.
I would also gratefully take care of any mis-shaped cookies, or those that were overly cooked. In fact, these were my favourite, as I loved crunchy sweets.
I remember how once zia Angelina invited me to go and help pick almonds from their almond orchard.
My dad was driving, and we set off on a late summer day; it was scorching hot. I had picked peaches, apricots and cherries before, but never almonds, so I was curious.
When we got to the orchard, I saw lines of trees, over a ground that was quite uneven and covered in burnt out grass and the occasional weeds.
I was wearing shorts, and as I walked across, my legs would get pricked by the sharp, withered stems. We were carrying huge baskets and I was told to pick the almonds that were on the ground below the trees.
Zia and dad started to hit and shake the branches with two long sticks and I was supposed to gather the almonds from the ground and place them in the baskets. I was only eight years old at the time, but I distinctly remember how hot and bothered I felt, and how I disliked those buzzing bees and flies that would come to disturb the peace.
As the baskets
became heavier and heavier, my dad would carry them from tree to
tree, and I would help fill them up. On the way home that day, I
thought that almond picking wasn’t as exciting as I had imagined
and I would have been better off staying home in the shade, reading
my comic book.
It was only some time later, when zia Angelina was making amaretti biscuits, that she explained that those almonds we were using were the same we had picked on our day out, when I got sunburnt. She laughed as she said I had looked miserable and bored that day, but now I could see how the fruits of my labour had paid off.
As I grew up, I often made amaretti biscuits and tried a variety of recipes. It’s funny, because a bit like tiramisu or other sweets, each person who makes amaretti, will add their own twist or personalization. After trying many recipes, I eventually settled for Agnese’s, my sister-in-law’s recipe, which I happily share with you here.
1. Set aside 50-70g of whole almonds.
2. Place the rest of the almonds, the majority, into a blender, and chop them. Don’t overdo it, they need to have a thick consistency, like the photo below.
3. Place the chopped almonds into a large bowl.
4. Grate the lemon and add the zest to the almonds.
5. Add the liqueur to the mixture and, by hand, mix the ingredients.
6. Beat the egg whites, until they’re stiff.
7. Gradually add the egg whites to the mixture and gently blend with your hands.
8. Cover the bowl with cellophane and place in the fridge for an hour.
9. Line two baking trays with baking parchment.
10. Place a layer of sugar on a flat dish.
11. Put some liqueur in a small bowl.
12. Wet your hands with the liqueur and grab a handful of mixture. Roll into a ball – the size of a meat ball. Ideal weight should be 45g.
13. Roll the ball into the sugar (the one you previously placed on the flat dish).
14. Place the ball on the baking parchment.
15. Repeat the process, and align the almond balls on the baking tray. Make sure you leave plenty of space between them, as these will grow in size as they cook.
16. Remember the whole almonds you had previously set aside? Pick one whole almond and place it on top of the amaretto ball. Press it in such a way that 2/3 of the almond goes inside the pastry and 1/3 sticks out. Repeat for all the almond balls.
17. Heat the oven (fan oven) to 160 C, and place the first baking tray on the bottom rack. Cook for about 25 minutes, or until they amaretti appear golden on top.
18. Take the tray out of the oven and let it cool down. In the meantime bake the second batch.
19. Once all amaretti are cooked, make sure they have cooled down completely, before removing them from the tray.
20. The perfect amaretto biscuit will be crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.
21. Serve and enjoy.
1. You can store the amaretti in a Tupperware container and they will stay fresh for up 4 days.
2. You can also freeze them and defrost as needed.
3. In the past I’ve tried this recipe with ready grated almonds, but the amaretti didn’t come out as good. I think it’s because the almonds had lost moisture in time, inside the packaging.
4. You can use any liqueur you like, but the traditional recipe doesn’t have any alcohol in it. This is Agnese’s version.
5. The traditional amaretti recipe usually includes some bitter almonds, and a higher quantity of sugar.
6. If you find yourself short of whole almonds to place on top of the biscuits, just cut the ones you have in half, lengthwise, and place half an almond on each biscuit. For the future, it may work best to simply make a note of how many amaretti you get from these ingredients, so you can set aside the equivalent whole almonds.
7. If you want to add colour to your amaretti, you can substitute the whole almond that goes on top, with a candied cherry.
8. The traditional recipe doesn’t require the mixture to go in the fridge for an hour. Again, this is Agnese’s version and it works very well.