2 cups ground almonds (lightly packed)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons almond extract
5 teaspoons agar powder
5 tablespoons cold water
pinch of salt
extra sugar for coating (preferably course ground)
whole almonds or maraschino cherry halves for garnishing
I recently rediscovered these cookies that I can remember from various parts of my childhood. They are commonly found at Italian weddings and are most likely often made in any tradition Italian home. Their name translates into "Little Bitters", though, they're actually not bitter at all. Traditionally, they are made with BITTER almonds, but you can use whatever type you want.
I received this recipe from my aunt only to find out that, like most Italian baking, it was loaded with eggs... egg whites in particular. So I fiddled around with the recipe a bit and changed a couple small things to suit my own personal taste... and of course made them vegan... :P Hey! They are also gluten free!
This is how its done:
In a medium-sized bowl combine the agar powder and the water. Whisk until agar is completely dissolved and the mixture begins to thicken (about 30 seconds or so). Place in fridge to chill for about 10 - 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the ground almonds, sugars, and salt. Mix throughly.
**For optimal freshness its best to use whole or sliced almonds and grind them yourself using a food processor or blender. If you'd like you can blanch the whole almonds in boiling water for a minute to remove the skins (but this is not necessary).**
Remove the agar mixture from the fridge and whisk again for about 1 minute. The mixture should now resemble the texture of egg whites, but a little less goopy. If you find the mixture too thick then add a few drops of cold water and continue whisking. If you think the mixture is too thin and watery then you probably haven't chilled it long enough.
Gently mix in the almond extract. FOLD in the almond mixture until a wet gritty dough is formed.
Prepare two baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper and then GENEROUSLY greasing them.
Roll the dough into balls by the tablespoon full, roll each in sugar and place on the baking sheet. Press whole almonds or maraschino cherry halves down in the center of each cookie. Place in fridge and chill for about 30- 45 minutes.
Bake at 325 degrees for 16-18 minutes (rotating baking sheet half way between) until cookies are golden on top. If you find that the bottoms are browning too quickly (a problem I often have with my oven) then place another baking sheet underneath to avoid burning.
Let cool completely before removing from baking sheet. These cookies stick very easily. You may have to peel the parchment paper carefully from the bottoms. :) You can store these for up to week and they will remain soft and chewy! They actually taste better once they have sat for a day or two! I enjoy these most with a hot cup of espresso or with a bowl of vanilla soy ice cream! YUM!