Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Chicago travels to Italy

Living in such a large city has given me a chance to experience a lot of interesting things. There is always a new band playing or an exhibit opening, and you can never complain that there's nothing to do. The summer festivals here are outstanding, full of food, music, art, and so many people. And the diversity around the city is amazing. I think if I tried hard enough, I could find food from any country or ethnic group you can imagine!

Some of the food is not quite as foreign, but is still exciting and different from what I am used to eating. Italian food is nothing new to me-- I have two full blooded Italian grandmas, after all. I've always enjoyed Italian food, and I grew up with fantastic variations of homemade sauces and freshly baked biscotti. But I have yet to visit Italy, and I have not experienced many Italian desserts beyond my ever-favorite tiramisu.

This changed about 8 months ago, when I got a job at an office in the Hancock Building on Michigan Avenue. You might wonder how this landmark building has anything to do with Italian cooking. It's not so much what's in the building as it is what's below it. L'Appetito is an Italian deli that is in the basement of the building, and it's sweet and decadent pastries and cookies are the special treat that helps me survive any rough (or regular) day at work.

One of the standouts are their amaretti cookies. I've heard about and seen packaged versions of these before, but they sounded like kind of boring, crunchy, almond flavored cookies... nothing too special. The fresh ones at L'Appetito are another story. Moist, chewy, and bursting with almond flavor. They are hard to resist, and I find myself munching on this Italian sweet at least once a week.

Summer has been busy, and I've found myself less inspired in the kitchen lately. I was explaining this to my coworkers recently while munching on my favorite aforementioned almond cookies, and I realized the answer to my kitchen dilemma was right in front of me; it was time to attempt some amaretti cookies of my own.

I searched online for inspiration, and a couple blogs led me back to the source I should have consulted right from the begining. Cream Puffs in Venice is a blog full of delicious Italian desserts, and of course she had an amaretti recipe that sounded like a perfect foundation for my first attempt. I might try to play around with ingredients more, adding candied orange, pearl sugar, or sliced almonds on top, but overall I was really happy with how the cookies turned out. Chewy, sweet, and very 'almondy'... just as I hoped. If you're in Chicago, be sure to check out L'Appetito, then go home and make your own cookies!

"My Mother's Amaretti" from Cream Puffs in Venice

1-1/2 pounds almonds, finely ground (plus extra whole almonds to garnish cookies)

2 cups granulated sugar (plus 1 cup extra sugar to roll the cookies in)

1-1/2 tbsp. cocoa

4 eggs

3 tbsp. almond extract

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Position your oven racks so that one rack is at the bottom of the oven and the other rack is in the middle of the oven; line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine ground almonds, sugar and cocoa.
  4. Add eggs and almond extract and mix until well combined.
  5. Using a tablespoon or your hands, scoop out enough of the almond mixture to form a ball that is roughly 1-1/2 to 2 inches in size.
  6. Roll each ball in the 1 cup of extra granulated sugar and place on cookie sheet.
  7. Use extra whole almonds as garnish by placing one almond in the center of each cookie.
  8. Bake cookies on lower rack for 10 minutes and then move to middle rack for an additional five minutes.
  9. Remove cookies from oven and allow to cool in pan for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
  10. Once cool, store cookies at room temperature in an airtight container. Cookies will keep for up 10 days.
  11. Enjoy!

If you have a food processor, it's easy to turn these blanched almonds into ground up poweder for the cookies.

This recipe was also a perfect chance to use the Fair Trade Cocoa Powder that my mom gave me for an Easter treat.


Phivos Nicolaides said...

Well, Chicago travels to Italy. I wish one day Chicago travels to Greece and Cyprus as well. Just for a new taste!

A World in a PAN said...

The Hancock building is part of my teenage memories - I was a high school student in nearby Downers Grove and the building was the tallest I had ever seen!

Phivos Nicolaides said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phivos Nicolaides said...

Happy 4th of July. Enjoy it!