I found the cookie swap through my bloggy buddies Abe and Hap (they're pugs, check them out!) who play the Saturday Photo Scavenger Hunt. I loved the idea, organized beautifully over at My Smoky Mountain Homeschool.
So, here goes, folks: I submit for your consideration an Italian recipe for cookies known as Brutti Ma Buoni: Ugly But Good.
I've bought these cookies in bakeries here and the cookie swap was a perfect opportunity to try to recreate them in my own kitchen. I looked in a cookbook we have here at home (L'Enciclopedia della Cucina Italiana, no less) and found the recipe, and was surprised to see just 4 ingredients:
500 grams toasted almonds
300 grams sugar
5 egg whites
pinch of cinnamon
What? No flour? No milk? Not even water? I was intrigued.
1. Ground the almonds with a little sugar. (PS I don't think the almonds I bought were toasted, and they worked just fine.) I used a blender for this operation b/c I don't have a food processor. It worked fairly well, and the almonds turned into the fluffy concoction you see below. Hmmm, almost like flour...maybe I'm starting to understand.
2. Beat the egg whites until white and fluffy. (In Italian they call it a neve, like snow.) Add the sugar, then add the egg white mixture to the almonds, and add a pinch of cinnamon. Mix.
3. Pour the mixture into a large pan and cook over a very low flame, stirring constantly, until the mixture doesn't stick to the edges of the pan. (Frankly, I'm not sure how long you're supposed to do this for. I did it for like 15 minutes and I'm still not sure if the mixture wasn't sticking, but, it came out a little thicker.)
4. Let the mixture rest for a few minutes. Scoop spoonfuls (about 2 small teaspoons each) of the batter onto a greased baking sheet, about 1 inch apart.
5. Bake in a 150°C/300°F pre-heated oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a baking rack, then serve. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen.
Here's the final product:
They're not that ugly, are they? I am most happy to report that these came out even better than the ones I've tasted from the bakeries. I'm convinced it's because they are fresh. I think they keep pretty well and so I suspect the ones in the bakeries aren't always necessarily from that day. I was surprised at how soft and light they were--I thought with such a heavy almond paste, they wouldn't come out like that.
As part of the cookie swap, Smoky Mountain asks us to tell the "story" behind these cookies. I've kind of told it along the way. It wasn't passed down to me from anyone. I simply really like these cookies and I'm glad the cookie swap gave me the push to try them at home. I'm really happy with the results. And I'm also happy to break the myth that the only Italian cookies that exist are what we Americans know as biscotti (which in Italian simply means "cookies"), which here in Italy are often called cantucci and not dunked in coffee but rather in a sweet wine called Vin Santo.
Speaking of wine, leave it to an Italian cookbook to recommend what wine to drink with your cookies. Mine says that Brutti Ma Buoni go good with a dry, sparkling white, and suggests Prosecco di Conegliano. (Maybe you can stop by my buddy Brendan's Roman Wine Company and pick up a bottle! Or his new, revamped blog, where you'll learn all about Italian food and wine. One of his latest posts was a trip to an olive oil factory.)
If you love candy bars like PayDay or peanut brittle, I think you'll like these cookies. Even though it's almonds, not peanuts, they have that same sweet, nutty taste.
Let me know if you make a batch. I'd be curious to hear how they turn out and what you think!