The very first recipe I ever made out of Ada Boni‘s classic recipe book, The Talisman, was probably also one of the easiest: amaretti biscuits, or what my 1950 English translation of The Talisman calls ‘Italian macaroons’ (not to be mistaken for French macarons, those overly fashionable discs of colourful meringue sandwiching sweet, fudgy ganache filling). ‘Italian macaroons’, much more like a good old fashioned coconut macaroon, are made with three simple ingredients: ground almonds, egg white and sugar. Better known as amaretti (from the Italian word amaro, bitter) for the bitter almonds used in traditional recipes, these lovely, aromatic biscuits come from northern Italy. The most famous ones are the amaretti di Saronno with their colourful, flammable wrappers (read Rachel’s wonderful post on this childhood memory and party trick).
Bitter almonds, which Artusi often calls for in recipes too, used to confuse me as an ingredient and often I’ve simply used regular almonds, which do the trick but lack that extra flavour and darker colour. The thing is (and this is why it is easy to get confused), bitter almonds are not actually almonds at all but apricot kernels – the insides of apricot pits, which look a lot like almonds and have a bitterness to them that balances out the sweetness of the regular, ground almonds (Note: Ada Boni’s recipe simply calls for ground almonds).
Boni’s cookbook, originally published in 1927 with the title, Il Talismano della Felicità (“The Talisman of Happiness”), had great success as a cookbook that, like Artusi’s, made its way into the kitchens of every respectable casalinga across the peninsula. The 1950s English version, designed to do the same thing for American households, although abridged, comes with a wonderful introduction by Mario Pei, a linguistics professor who talks about the connection between language, food and culture – it’s highly worth seeking out just for a read.
Making these amaretti – little dome-shaped blobs that go wonderfully with coffee or an after dinner liqueur – is a cinch and can be done from start to finish in less than twenty minutes. Just a few weeks ago I posted about a Piemontese classic, Ada Boni’s recipe for stuffed peaches – my new favourite summer dessert – and incidentally it calls for amaretti. So if you really wanted to impress some guests, you could use this recipe to make your own traditional amaretti to stuff peach halves. Or you could do something highly untraditional and make flat, round amaretti to house your favourite ice cream or gelato for some quick, homemade ice cream sandwiches. It is still summer down here, after all.
For me, the perfect ice cream sandwich has soft, slightly chewy biscuits and ice cream that’s not too hard but at that perfect melting moment where it will dribble a little through your fingers. Amaretti have that soft, sinking consistency that make them an ideal vehicle for vanilla ice cream laced with some homemade espresso syrup, turning a childhood favourite into something a little more ‘grown up’.
Amaretti Ice Cream Sandwiches
Amaretti recipe adapted from Ada Boni’s recipe for ‘Italian macaroons’.
Note: Ada Boni’s original recipe also calls for ½ teaspoon of almond extract and the recipe also has you sprinkle powdered sugar on top of the spoonfuls of biscuit batter before popping in the oven.
Normally dome-shaped, here I’ve used an egg ring and flattened with a spoon to make the amaretti uniformly sized and flat for the purpose of sandwiching them. Feel free to leave out the coffee syrup for a simpler recipe; I think these would be delicious with a very good, dark chocolate gelato too.
Makes about 10 biscuits (5 ice cream sandwiches)
For the amaretti:
200 g blanched almonds
2 egg whites
100 g of sugar
For the coffee syrup:
75 ml of strong espresso
150 g sugar
5 scoops of your favourite vanilla ice cream
For the amaretti biscuits:
Blend the blanched almonds in a food processor until they are fine; add the sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form and fold in the almond meal and sugar.
Prepare a baking tray with baking paper. Using an egg ring or a round cookie cutter as a guide, place roughly two tablespoons of the amaretti mixture inside the ring and with the back of a spoon, even out the mixture (it should be about 1cm tall). Don’t worry about being too precise, the rustic nature of these biscuits is all part of the homemade appeal! Continue until you have used all the mixture, noting that they will spread a little when cooking.
Bake in a moderate oven (180°C) for about 5-10 minutes or until delicately brown and dry on top. Remove from the oven and let cool on a cake rack until ready to use.
For the coffee syrup:
Place the freshly made espresso in a small saucepan with the sugar and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. As soon as you see the liquid begin to simmer, take off the heat and allow to cool. Keep in a jar in the fridge until you need to use it. This will make plenty coffee syrup to last you for many more ice cream sandwiches to come, or try it on your favourite desserts.
To assemble the ice cream sandwiches:
Allow your vanilla ice cream to soften slightly. Stir through the coffee syrup. Sandwich one generous scoop of the coffee-laced ice cream between two amaretti biscuits and serve at once.