When I was in London in October I made sure we had time to have lunch at Ottolenghi. Ottolenghi is everything I want in a food shop. Huge platters and bowls of the most colorful and delicious salads. I'm not talking about sad wilted lettuce greens with a couple of chunks of pale tomatoes. I'm talking about grilled broccolini with mild red chili peppers and toasted garlic or roasted potatoes with sunchokes, olives, lemon and sage or red rice and quinoa with orange, pistachios and arugula.
But Ottolenghi is really known for their lovely pastries, cakes and cookies piled high on cake stands and trays. From obscenely large multicolored, multiflavored meringues to perfectly precious cupcakes, muffins and teacakes and bow tied cellophane bags of cheese straws or cookies, their abundant display of baked goods beckons you inside.
I find the place stylish yet unpretentious. It isn't frou-frou or fancy. Just great imaginative food done well with quality ingredients. Even though San Francisco is a food mecca, I have yet to find someplace similar.
I first tasted these amaretti at Ottolenghi's Islington location. Like most things in London, they were not cheap. 5.50 GBP for a bag of 7 cookies. Since it's basically lightly whipped egg whites stirred into ground almonds, I could easily make them at home. Armed with my copy of the Ottolenghi cookbook, I cranked out a batch of the amaretti. Two days later I baked another batch. And yet another batch.
This amaretti is now my new favorite cookie. I used dried apricots, bergamot orange zest and orange blossom honey in the ones pictured. But this recipe is so versatile that any dried fruit and citrus zest you like can be used. I like dried cherries with orange zest, dried blueberries with lemon zest or dried cranberries with lime zest. You can use any honey you like or even agave nectar.
My amaretti always seem to turn out a bit softer than the ones sold by Ottolenghi, but I'm not complaining. They have a wonderful almond flavor that is given a spark by the citrus zest. I love the jewel like nuggets of apricots. I think the powdered sugar coating is non-negotiable but the cookies will taste just as lovely without it.
(adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook)
(makes 20 biscuits/cookies)
180 grams ground blanched almonds
120 grams sugar (granulated, superfine or caster)
1 tablespoon finely grated citrus zest
a pinch of kosher salt
2 large egg whites
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 tsp pure natural almond extract
60 g dried fruit, roughly chopped
powdered or icing sugar for rolling
[Note: For this recipe I always weigh my almonds and sugar so I cannot vouch for the volume measurements. According to joyofbaking.com, 180 grams finely ground almonds = 1 3/4 cups and 120 grams granulated sugar = 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons.]
Preheat your oven to 170C/340F. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the ground almonds, sugar, citrus zest and salt. Rub everything together with your fingertips to disperse the zest evenly. Alternatively, give it quick whirl in a food processor.
Using a stand or hand mixer, whip the egg whites and honey until medium peaks form. Fold the meringue and almond extract into the almond and sugar mixture. Add dried fruit. Your dough should be a soft but malleable paste.
With your hands, roll the dough into 20 balls or logs or whatever irregular shape you desire. Roll them in powdered sugar. (I like to use a small ice cream disher to scoop out 20 balls of dough. Then I shape each ball into a flattened log and roll them in powdered sugar.)
Place on a baking sheet tray lined with parchment paper and bake at 170C/340F for about 12 minutes. They should turn a very light golden color, but stay relatively pale and chewy in the center.