There are many varieties of almond-based cookies in Italy, with the taste and texture of each varying significantly. These are my favorite. They are firm on the outside and moist, tender and chewy on the inside and can be eaten in two bites.
Amaretti di Gavi are shaped like a triangle or pyramid and pinched or indented slightly to give them their characteristic look. Made of seven ingredients and rolled in confectioners’ sugar, they are easy to make. Traditional recipes call for a blend of regular and bitter almonds (amaro means bitter, hence the name of the cookie). Bitter almonds are hard to come by as they are toxic when eaten raw; their sale in some countries is even prohibited. This recipe uses only regular almonds and substitutes the intense flavor of the bitter almonds with almond extract.
These cookies originated in Gavi in the Piedmont region of Italy, but they are also popular in Sicily, where they are called pasticcini di mandorla. Depending on the region of Italy, this cookie varies in ingredients and shape – round, pinched, piped into stars, coated with nuts, and topped with cherries are some of the many variations.
Preparation time 15 minutes (plus 1 hour for dough refrigeration) Bake time 11–14 minutes Makes up to 36 cookies
For the dough
2 egg whites*
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
½ teaspoon almond extract [Instead of almond extract, I prefer 1 tablespoon of rum]
40 grams (2 tablespoons) honey
½ orange zested**
250 grams (2½ cups) finely ground almond flour
For the coating
120 grams (1 cup) confectioners’ sugar, for coating
* Medium sized eggs work best. Otherwise, the dough is too runny.
** If the orange is small, zest the whole thing
Measure the ingredients.
Whisk the egg whites until frothy. Add and whisk/stir one-by-one the following ingredients into the egg whites: sugar, salt, extract/rum, honey, orange zest and then finally the almond flour.
The dough will be very sticky. Keep the dough in the mixing bowl, cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour (preferably overnight) to stiffen.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 175C (350F). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the confectioners’ sugar into a shallow bowl.
Take a scant tablespoon of dough (the size of a small walnut or about 16-18 grams) for about 32-36 medium-sized cookies. Roll the dough between your palms so that it is perfectly round.
Coat each dough ball heavily in confectioners’ sugar and place on the baking sheet – the sugar will be absorbed so they should be well coated. Space the cookies at least 2.5cm/1in apart on the baking sheet as they will increase in size when baked.
With your thumb, index and middle fingers (see photos), pinch each sugar-covered ball so that it a triangular or pyramid shape with 3 indentations – to give the cookies their characteristic shape.
Place one baking sheet in the oven at a time. Bake for 11-14 minutes, until the cookies have puffed and are set at the edges and golden. The exact time will vary from oven to oven and on taste preferences - less baking time will result in a soft, moist cookie, while more bake time will result in a chewier, crunchier cookie (my preference). Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn.
Cool completely before serving.
Serve. [Before serving, you may wish to sprinkle a little more confectioners’ sugar on the cookies if it was absorbed during baking (optional).]
Store leftover cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 week.