This past weekend I went to dinner at the house of one of my kitchen mentors, Beth. This woman has written her own cookbooks, and edited and published countless more. And she asked me to make dessert.
“Just family,” you understand, and we were eating cold lobster, so this did not have to be too fancy. I thought “lemon,” and then remembered that when Beth and I sat down to discuss desserts and the book a while ago, she’d mentioned really liking almonds, particularly in cookies. A lemon dessert plus some almond cookies sounded like a good finish for a rich lobster dinner.
I have an almond cookie in the cookbook stack, but it is brutally rich, too rich for this. Then there is always a macaroon, light and chewy. But what I wanted was something thin and crispy, sweet and buttery enough to show off the almonds but not kill them, something that would rest well on the side of a plate of lemony dessert.
I found a good start, tucked away in a Christmas-cookie cookbook, and then adapted like crazy. Toast the almonds to kick up their flavor; add a bit of almond extract for the same purpose. Don’t grind the almonds too fine, and don’t worry about cake flour (though I may rethink that).
The kicker was cooking: I tried four different ways of getting the dough from bowl to cooked — drop; drop and mash; roll into a marble-sized ball and then mash; and refrigerate in a long block-shape before cutting thin rectangular wafers.
The judges at the table were close to unanimous in liking the refrigerated version, so here’s the adapted recipe. (That is, adapted so far; I have a feeling I’ll keep working on this one.)
Makes about six dozen cookies
- 3/4 cup butter
- 1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/2 teaspoon each almond and vanilla extracts
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1-1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds, lightly toasted* and ground
- 1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds, lightly toasted* and chopped
Cream butter, then add sugars slowly, creaming well as you go. Add egg and extracts; mix well. Measure dry ingredients together and add with the ground almonds, mixing just until well blended. Using waxed paper to help you shape it, form the dough into two flattened rolls, about an inch and a half high and three inches wide. Refrigerate for at least two hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line a cookie sheet with parchment. Spread chopped almonds on a cutting board or counter. Remove dough from the fridge and take off the waxed paper. Press the sides of the dough-blocks into the chopped almonds. Slice the dough-bars a scant one-quarter inch thick and arrange on cookies sheet (they will not spread much). Bake 12-14 minutes; cool for a few minutes on cookies sheets, then transfer to tin or serving plate.
*This is where a toaster oven helps — put blanched slivered almonds on the pan in the oven at 350 degrees, and watch them ferociously. They take about 3-5 minutes to get toasty light tan (your goal), and about 7-10 minutes to start burning. If you have no toaster oven, dry-roast the almonds in a pan on the stovetop. Again, the watching is key.