Amaretti are small macaron-style biscuits, made from egg whites and almonds, from the Lombardy region in Italy. They are small, fragrant and cracked on top, some are dome-shaped, some are flatter. But you probably know them best for their wrappers: certainly that was their key role in our house when I was little. The wrappers of amaretti, when set alight, float upwards until they burn out, dissolving into a tiny puff of ashes. They make the perfect party trick, and one that my father happily embraced. Traditionally, you should make a wish as the wrapper flies away. Although I’m tempted to associate them and the beautiful, distinctive tins that hold them with Christmas, legend has it that the first amaretti were made with apricot kernels, so I feel I’m on surprisingly safe ground, seasonally.
My childhood memories of the biscuits themselves are not terribly fond ones: hard and dry and smelling like dreaded marzipan. But my memories are unfair, as long-held memories sometimes are: in the tins, the hard biscuits are denoted by white wrappers, but there are a host – orange, yellow and green-wrapped – which are soft. My version tends towards the latter: these amaretti retain just a little chewiness in the middle, their outsides are crisp and crunchy, but not dry. And as for the marzipan? Well, perhaps my tastes have just grown up a bit, and now I actively seek out almond-scented baked goods. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for the splash of amaretto. Who can say?
Although not actually related to amaretto, the liqueur, I rather like adding a dash of it to my mixture, to up the intensity of the almonds – but you could achieve the same with a ½ teaspoon of almond essence, or just give it a miss. They’ll still be gorgeous. They last for an age, and their sweetness makes a perfect partner to strong coffee.
Makes: Around 15 biscuits
Takes: 5 minutes
Bakes: 15-20 minutes
1 egg white
90g ground almonds
1/2 tablespoon amaretto
Caster sugar, for rolling
Icing sugar, for rolling
1. Heat your oven to 160°C and line two baking trays with non-stick baking paper.
2. In a very clean bowl, using a clean whisk, whip the egg whites until they’re stiff. When they’re ready, they should form proud peaks on your whisk that don’t flop over.
3. Fold in the sugar, almonds and amaretto in one go until all are combined. To do this, make a slicing motion through the middle of the egg whites with a large metal spoon, and then scoop from the bottom of the bowl, folding the egg whites over. Turn your bowl a quarter turn and repeat; keep going just until the mixture is all one colour and texture. This technique helps you hold onto the air you’ve beaten into the egg whites, but, to be honest, you don’t need to be too precise for this recipe. It’s pretty forgiving.
4. Take a teaspoon-sized portion of the mixture, and roll it between your palms to make a ball. Drop it first in the caster sugar and then the icing sugar, dragging the ball through it lightly, so it gets an entire covering.
5. Place on the baking tray and squish very slightly using the back of a spoon.
6. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the biscuits are golden, the top cracked and the exterior firm. The inside of the biscuits will still be soft, so leave to cool completely before removing from the trays.