In Search of the Perfect Soft Amaretti Cookies
Amaretti are highly-prized almond cookies reminiscent of a coconut macaroon but made with ground almonds. It’s not easy to find freshly baked ones in Switzerland, except in Ticino, the Italian-speaking canton along the southern Swiss border. Once you taste a fragrant and soft amaretti cookie, you will search for the freshest version in every bakery you visit.
What’s in there?
First of all, there’s no flour. Classic Italian amaretti are soft macaroons made almost entirely of almonds (bitter, sweet or a combination): ground almonds, almond paste, almond extract, and almond liqueur (Amaretto). Sometimes they are decorated with an almond on top. Sugar and eggs are the only other ingredients. Of course, it’s the quality of the ingredients and meticulous technique that give the final flavor and unforgettable texture.
Crunchy or Chewy?
The subtle flavor of amaretti cookies are distinctive and mesmerizing; the texture is soft and chewy with a crackly outer layer. Some deliberately bake the cookies longer to give a crisper texture, darker color, and longer shelf life. But the high-quality soft amaretti cookie(like the recipe we have here) is ephemeral and best eaten within a few days of being baked. Good news: soft Amaretti cookies can be frozen and still retain their chewiness when defrosted.
Finding an authentic one to try
Almost any pastry shop in Ticino will carry amaretti (think Lugano, Locarno, Bellinzona); they are that important. Bakeries are often known for the quality of their amaretti cookies and people will go out of their way to purchase the freshly baked almond confections from their favorite shop. You can be sure their amaretti recipe is a carefully guarded secret. Found throughout Italy and Ticino, each region will claim to have “the best” version of this cookie. You can be the judge of which you like best on Alpenwild’s Swiss Food Tour in Ticino.
Amaretti di Saronno
The best-known amaretti cookies are sold in the US are Amaretti di Saronno, the super-crispy round ones made by the Lazzaroni family in the Lombardy region. They are speckled with sugar crystals on top, indiviudually wrapped, and packaged in the recognizable red tin can. The Lazzaroni family has been making these amaretti since 1719. Surprisingly, the cookies contain no almonds at all; instead, they are made of a common substitution—ground apricot kernels. Apricots are related to the almond, but the kernels inside the seed don’t have quite the same flavor.
Meaning of the name
It may surprise you to learn that the word amaretti comes from the word amaro, which is Italian for “bitter.” Traditional recipes use bitter almonds, which are not readily available in the US due to naturally occurring toxic compounds. We have chosen to add some almond extract to intensify the flavor and give you an excellent version to try at home without having to track down bitter almonds.
Soft Amaretti Cookies
Almond macaroon that’s soft and chewy
Prep Time: 15 minutes | Cook Time: 15 minutes | Total Time: 30 minutes
- 1 ½ cups Almond Flour
- 1 ½ cups Sugar
- 3 egg whites, room temperature
- 1 tsp. Almond extract
- 1 tbsp. Amaretto
- White Sugar in small bowl
- Powdered sugar in a small bowl
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Combine almond flour and sugar in a mixing bowl. With clean beaters and a clean bowl, beat the eggs whites until stiff peaks form. Fold in ⅓ of the egg whites into the almond flour mixture; it will be stiff and sticky. Stir in the almond extract and amaretto until blended. Fold in the final ⅔ of the egg whites.
- Using a spoon, scoop out a walnut-sized piece of dough. Roll it in your palms. Drop it into the white sugar to coat all sides, then into the powdered sugar to coat all sides. Place the cookie on the baking sheet, giving space for some spreading. Bake immediately.
- Bake for 12 minutes at 350 F. Reduce heat to 325 F for an additional 10 minutes. When done, the cookies should be golden brown and crunchy on the outside and moist and chewy on the inside.