I want to tell you about a very special cookie today, but it being the week of Passover and all, I’m afraid you might get the wrong idea. So to put my mind at ease, please allow me the following disclaimer: The cookie that you are about to meet is NOT a Passover cookie. Yes, it’s flour-free (as per the holiday’s dietary laws), but to call it a Passover cookie would be like saying that ice cream is strictly a summertime treat, or that frosted layer cakes are only for birthdays. That would just be silly.
This not-a-Passover cookie is, more precisely, a not-a-Passover macaroon. Unlike some macaroons that are crowded with coconut and chocolate (not that I have a problem with that), these macaroons are pure almond, through and through. You begin by tossing a cup of blanched almonds and some sugar into a food processor, and grinding the mixture into a fine-grained meal. Then, you add a splash of almond extract, and an egg white to bring the dough together. I find that a pinch or two of salt plays up the nuttiness in this cookie, and encourages the sugar and almond flavors to mingle. As if blanched almonds and almond extract were not enough, you press a whole almond into the top of each cookie, and then bake the macaroons until they blush ever so slightly. Once cooled, these macaroons are just crisp enough on the outside to elicit a near-crunch between the teeth, and wonderfully chewy within. But it’s their flavor that almost kills me dead. I don’t think that I’ve ever eaten a cookie that tastes so deeply, so movingly of almond. That’s high praise coming from a serious almond-lover like me.
Make them for these last days of Passover, for Easter (Happy Easter!), or for Hey, it’s Sunday, and I’d Really Like a Cookie. These are worthy occasions, one and all.
Adapted from Gourmet, June 1997
1 cup whole, blanched almonds
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg white
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1-2 pinches of sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a food processor, pulse the blanched almonds and the sugar until finely ground. Add the egg white, the almond extract, and a pinch or two of salt and pulse until combined. Roll the dough into about 16 balls, using 1 tablespoon of dough per macaroon. Arrange the dough balls about two inches apart on the lined baking sheet, and press a whole almond into the top of each one. The macaroons will flatten slightly as they bake, so I try to keep them as tall as possible when pressing in the almonds. My technique is to hold the cookie on the baking sheet between my thumb and index finger with one hand, and lightly press the almond into the dough with the other.
Bake the macaroons for 11-13 minutes, until they just begin to color. (As you can see from the pictures, they should remain mostly pale.) They will be pretty soft when you remove them from the oven, but they will stiffen up as they cool. Because the color that they take on is really so faint, I find that the best way to check for doneness is to peek at the bottom of one of the cookies on the tray. If the bottom is lightly – and I do mean lightly – golden, your macaroons are done. Take care not to over bake them. Leave them in the oven just a minute too long, and instead of soft and chewy, your macaroons will be rock solid. (Of course, it’s nothing that a dunk in a cup of Earl Grey can’t fix, but still.) Transfer the macaroons to a rack and cool. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.
The macaroons are best eaten on the day that you bake them, or the day after, but will keep for four days in an airtight container at room temperature.
Makes about 16 cookies. (I usually double the recipe.)