Hazelnut Amaretti with Candied Oranges

This recipe comes from our friend Viola Buitoni, an Italian chef instructor and food writer living in San Francisco. We feel these amaretti perfectly glorify the intoxicating scents of the Piemontese Alta Langa Hazelnuts and the Sicilian Pizzuta Almonds. Grazie per aver condiviso con noi questa ricetta, Viola!

Amaretti is the rare Italian delight to which no-one lays definite claim. From the Alps to the Islands, every region has at least one version of amaretti, yet no particular group clamors for ownership of their origin. A confection made with different proportions of almonds, egg whites and sugar, amaretti get their name — little bitter ones — from a percentage of bitter almonds in the mix. Their texture ranges from crunchy to soft, by way of crumbly and chewy. Some versions have butter, some whole eggs. In absence of bitter almonds, their character can be simulated with almond essence or with apricot kernels and while almonds are the norm, there are creative versions with other nuts and aromas.

This is mine, born from the technique I learnt from my friend and colleague Deborah Dal Fovo and re-adapted with inspiration from the scents and flavors of Sicily and Piemonte.

Ingredients

YIELD: about 48 cookies
TIME: 35 minutes (+ cookies resting time in the refrigerator)

125 grams Piemonte Alta Langa hazelnuts
125 grams Noto Pizzuta peeled almonds
150 grams white sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 pinch sea salt
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
Caffè Sicilia orange marmalade

Preparation

  1. Place the nuts and sugar in a food processor and grind until they look like sand. Alternate running and pulsing the food processor and be mindful not to overdo as the nuts will heat and release oil. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the zest and salt.
  2. Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks and incorporate them into the sugar and nuts in small batches until the mass holds together easily when pressed. It should feel firm but with some yield, and it should not weep when you pick it up. No streaks of egg white should be visible. It is possible that you will not use all of the egg whites.
  3. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
  4. Sift the confectioners sugar onto a wide shallow bowl. Divide the dough in 48 pieces about the size of a walnut. Barely dampen your hands and roll each piece into a sphere between your palms. Drop them into the confectioner sugar in batches of 6 to 10 depending on the size of your bowl. Swirl the bowl around to coat the amaretti. Keep the leftover sugar.
  5. Shake off the excess confectioners sugar from the amaretti one by one, and lay them on the sheet pan in rows leaving about 3/4 inch in between them. Gently pressing each cookie down just enough to turn the spheres into cupolas. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in the refrigerator to rest and set for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight.
  6. When ready to bake, heat the oven to 350˚F and position a rack in the center.
  7. Take the amaretti out of the refrigerator and lightly roll them again in the remaining confectioners sugar. Return them to the sheet pan and top each cookie with a piece of orange peel scooped from the marmalade. You may have to press down slightly to make the orange adhere to the cookie.
  8. Slide the baking sheet in the center of the oven and bake for 14 to 17 minutes.
  9. The amaretti will will soon crackle, when the edges of the crevices start to pick up a little tan, but the rest of the surface is still pale, the amaretti are ready. Note that they will still be soft. Let them cool all the way. They will start out soft but turn a little chewy with time. Keep them in a hermetically sealed container and they will last for over a week.