Most years I don’t do a ton of Christmas baking (mainly due to my lack of restraint when it comes to sweets). Of course, there’s the annual Lukken-making Extravaganza, and I sometimes make a batch of these incredibly yummy Peanut Sitting Pretties, but that’s usually about it. This year, however, I’ve added a delicious and unique cookie to the line-up.
Reading the Star Tribune’s Taste section a couple weeks ago, I came across this recipe, which was the winner of their annual holiday cookie contest. After returning to the states from a year of school abroad, the winner/author worked by trial and error to recreate a cookie his Italian girlfriend’s family made from a recipe they declined to share. The perfected version makes light lemony almondy morsels that are unlike any cookie I’ve ever had. Without the characteristic butter, flour and whole eggs that typify quality cookies, these are made with almond meal/flour, sugar, lots of fragrant lemon zest, almond and vanilla extracts, a kiss of honey, and a beaten-to-soft-peaks egg white. That’s it, that’s all.
A super simple recipe, the cookies come together quickly and the only real difficulty is to not over-bake them. I’ve made several batches, in several different shapes, and found the 15-20 minute baking time in the original recipe to be too long, with 8-9 minutes being just right in my oven on the convection bake setting. Also, the recipe says to roll the dough into a 1” in diameter log and cut into ½” slices, then form into egg-shaped cookies. My egg shapes ended up looking pretty sad, so then I tried rounds, which were better, and finally, in the last batch, I decided to make balls, using a cookie scoop, which resulted in by far the prettiest cookie. All delicious, regardless of shape.
I should also mention I used Trader Joe’s Almond Meal in the first batch and Bob’s Red Mill Finely Ground Almond Meal/Flour in subsequent batches. The finely ground stuff results in a much better texture and color. If you have the Trader Joe’s brand, try whirring it in your food processor for a bit to get a finer grind and you should be good.
Italian Almond Cookies
2 ¼ cup finely ground almond meal/flour
¾ cup organic granulated sugar
Zest of one large lemon (preferably organic)
1 egg white
½ teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Powdered sugar for coating cookies
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the almond flour, granulated sugar, and lemon zest.
In a medium bowl, beat egg white until soft peaks form.
With a wooden spoon, stir beaten egg white, honey, almond and vanilla extracts into the almond flour mixture. Then use your hands to fully mix all ingredients until dough holds together.
Fill a shallow bowl with about a half cup of powdered sugar. Using a half ounce (#60) cookie scoop, form dough into balls. Roll balls in powdered sugar until evenly coated and place balls 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheet. Bake until cookies start to develop a cracked exterior, about 8-10 minutes, rotating pan halfway through cooking time. Do not over-bake (they will become very hard and chewy if you do). Remove from oven and cool 5 minutes on baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes about 2 dozen cookies. Keep several days in an airtight container or freeze for longer storage.