Soft Amaretti Cookies with Pistachio

Once upon a time, my best friend and I were driving around Houston trying to figure out a new place to grab coffee. We are creatures of habit and normally gravitate to one place – Blacksmith. I’m so glad that for once that we ventured out [a mile away from our usual spot] into this little spot called La Sicilia Italian Bakery & Cafe.

They had all kinds of gourmet pastries on display – crostatas, cannolis, donuts, croissants – but what caught our eyes were these fluffy, white little cookies shoved in the corner of the display. We didn’t care that we didn’t know what they were called, we just knew we had to devour them. The nice employee saw us ogling at them and told us they were called soft amaretti cookies (not like the regular crunchy amaretti) and made small talk while she weighed a pound of it that we ordered. We were kidding ourselves when we said we’d only eat one cookie each because we were still full from our previous meal. We ended up eating all the cookies in one sitting. These are almond cookies with a hint of lemon – crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, and they went perfectly with an afternoon cup of coffee.

I’m pretty sure we dreamt about those cookies for weeks to come.

However, it wasn’t easy coming back to keep ordering them because 1) that amazing little bakery is off the busiest, skinniest, most annoying road in Houston (Westheimer) and 2) they close early, as most bakeries do.

As usual, when I’m craving something, I have to have it at that exact moment or else I’ll go crazy. That’s when I googled a bunch of amaretti cookie recipes trying to find one that looks the easiest to follow since I’m challenged when it comes to baking. After going through a million recipes, I combined elements from here and there that sounded good to me, so instead of just making regular soft amaretti cookies, I went with a version of the recipe with pistachios mixed in… and they turned out pretty good. I’m excited to share this recipe because it is so simple. It was also my first time making meringue and I didn’t screw it up. If I can do it, you can do it better.

These are very simple to make, but they do require a couple of specific ingredients that a regular grocery store may not have (thank God that Amazon sells everything). I also believe that this is a recipe best measured by weight (grams), rather than by cups. It also requires a food processor, but a blender should work too.

SOFT AMARETTI COOKIES WITH PISTACHIOS

INGREDIENTS

  • 275g almond flour (recommended Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 250g caster sugar*, plus more for coating
  • 100g unsalted, unroasted pistachios, shelled
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar, for coating

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT

  • Food processor or blender, to ground pistachios
  • Hand mixer or stand mixer with a whisk attachment

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 355 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silipat mat.
  2. Add all the pistachios, salt, and only half the almond four (doesn’t have to be exactly half) to the food processor or blender, and pulse until the pistachios are finely ground. Add the remaining almond flour and blend to combine. Pour the almond-pistachio mixture into a large bowl, add about half of the caster sugar and mix to combine.
  3. Now it’s time to make the meringue! In a large bowl using an electric mixer or stand mixer, whisk the egg whites until it’s foamy (it will literally look like fine soap suds). Slowly add the remaining caster sugar into the egg whites and keep whisking until the meringue forms stiff peaks (haha).
  4. Add about 1/3 of the meringue to the almond-pistachio mixture, along with the vanilla extract and lemon extract and mix until well combined. Repeat this process in thirds until all the meringue is evenly combined with the almond-pistachio mixture. This process is not very fun since it doesn’t mix easily like regular batter, but the goal is just to make sure that there’s no clumps of meringue in the middle of the mixture.
  5. Once combined, take about 1.5 – 2 tablespoon scoop of the mixture and drop it into the extra caster sugar to coat, form into balls, then roll them into the powdered sugar to coat fully. Place the cookie balls onto the prepared baking sheet, about 1/2 inch away from each other. They don’t expand much so you can fit quite a bit of cookies in 1 sheet.
  6. Place the cookies in the oven and bake for 12-14 minutes. At the 12 minute mark, check the top of the cookies. If the tops of the cookies are SLIGHTLY browning, go ahead and take them out. If not, bake longer in 1-minute increments until you see a bit of browning.
  7. Remove from the oven and let it cool for about 20 minutes before eating.

Buon Appetito!

*Note: Caster sugar is something in between granulated sugar and powdered sugar. It’s something that’s widely used in the UK, but may be a bit harder to find in the US. If you live in Houston, Central Market will have caster sugar. You can also purchase it through Amazon. If you want to make your own, take granulated sugar and run it through your food processor for about 3-4 minutes. Make sure to check it it because if you process it too long, it will turn into powdered sugar (which is what you don’t want).

Alfajores (Traditional)

It’s September!

…although I’m not entirely sure where August went.

Today, I am sharing a recipe for the most delightful & heavenly cookies – Alfajores!

A couple months ago when my friend Kelly was in town, we ate our body weight during Sunday brunch at Caracol. If you live in Houston and never been – I highly recommend it! It’s a concept by Chef Hugo, and their menu is described as a “culinary tour along the Mexican coasts.” Their brunch is buffet-style and it’s super worth it. One of my favorite parts of their brunch is their DESSERT TABLE, which is an arrangement of traditional Mexican fresh based breads, cookies, candies, and pastries. I nearly peed my pants when I saw all the freshly baked goods, and amongst all the goodies, there was a plate of dime-sized alfajores.

I don’t remember much, but I must’ve eaten at least 10. They were melt-in-your-mouth kind of PERFECTION. While I’ve had alfajores before, none compared to those at Caracol. Since then, I’ve been craving them every. single. day.

I’m not an excellent baker (it’s too exact). But I also knew that I can’t possibly afford to eat at Caracol every single Sunday, so I sucked it up & I grudgingly researched recipes on how to make them myself. After a couple of trial & errors, I think I’ve finally got it down.

I think the most important thing is not to overbake the cookies. Other than that, these little cookies are SUPER easy to make (if you have tons of experience with baking, you can probably do this in your sleep).

Here’s how to make them:

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ALFAJORES (TRADITIONAL)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup room temperature butter
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks (about 2.5 yolks if you have small eggs)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 13.4oz can Dulce de Leche (You can be an overachiever and make your own, or you can make life 10,000x easier and just buy a jar of dulce de leche! This one is my favorite.)
  • Flour for sprinkling your work surface & rolling pin
  • Powdered sugar for dusting

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT:

DIRECTIONS:

  • In a medium bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to combine.
  • Add the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and, with the paddle attachment on, cream the mixture until light in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  • Add the egg yolks and vanilla and mix until incorporated. With a spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  • On low speed, gradually add the cornstarch, flour, salt, baking powder and soda and mix until just incorporated.
  • Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape it into a disk and wrap it tightly. Place in the refrigerator until firm, at least 1 hour.
  • When the dough is ready, preheat your oven to 350 F.
  • Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  • Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it, and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Lightly flour the top of the dough & the rolling pin.
  • Roll the dough to 1/4 (ish) inch thickness (the dough will crack but can be easily patched back together).
  • Cut out 20 to 24 rounds using a cookie cutters, re-rolling the dough as necessary until all of it is gone (If I’m using a 1-inch cookie cutter, I can cut about 44-48 rounds = 22-24 cookies. If I’m using a 2-inch cookie cutter, I can cut about 20-24 rounds = 10-12 cookies).
  • Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets and bake them in preheated oven for 10-11 minutes. (You can essentially place the cookies with 1/4″ space in between. They don’t expand, so they won’t touch each other in the oven. Also, make sure you don’t overbake! You’ll know it’s done when the dough has set, but the bottom hasn’t browned. Check the cookies after 9 minutes to make sure you don’t overbake.)
  • Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Spoon on half of the cookies about a tablespoon of dulce de leche. Place a second cookie on top and gently press to create a sandwich.
  • Dust with powdered sugar.

Enjoy!

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