Monday, April 16, 2007

Me and my almendrados

Before I tell you how I rocked my own world and made almond-lemon macaroons that actually turned out, I should inform you of several Bad Home Cook standards:

Sunday morning I went to make toast for Tony and burnt black the last piece of bread in the house. Not long afterwards I forgot to watch the half and half warming on the stove for coffee, and it boiled over, making a mess of my stove top.

At least I had the sense not to try and make eggs or anything. Tony swore up and down he wasn't actually hungry, but I think he was just being smart, in the Darwinian sense.

It's my tendency to botch the simplest things that pisses me off most. That's why the Almendrados so delighted me. They've restored my faith in myself. Maybe I can be taught.

Tony, ever helpful, had sent me a link to the New York Times' food section piece about Sephardic cooking from Morocco (I wish the link were still free, it was a wonderfully-detailed article about a woman collecting old Jewish Moroccan recipes that were in danger of being lost forever). One recipe jumped out at me for some reason: Almond-lemon macaroons, or Almendrados.

Four ingredients. Three steps. The name alone had me tasting the Levant. If I closed my eyes I could almost feel the Sirocco wind on my face, smell the lemon tree outside my window and hear a distant Muezzin wailing away the appointed hour.

I opened my eyes again. There was a Santa Ana blowing debris around the yard. I could smell the Lemon Pledge underneath my sink. I listened to the distant drone of the leaf blower. And I knew I'd make these macaroons, damn it. They were calling me.

Here's the recipe, adapted from "Dulce Lo Vivas," by Ana Bensadon (Ediciones Martinez Roca)

2 cups whole blanched almonds, plus about 30 for decoration
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
zest of one lemon

The recipe calls for grinding the two cups of almonds, but that's much too difficult for someone like me, even if I did have a working food processor. I scored a bag of ground almonds from Trader Joe's and used that instead.

Mix the almonds together with 3/4 of the sugar. Add the egg and the lemon zest. Mix together until you have a cohesive dough.

Cover and chill for at least 12 hours. I chilled mine for almost 48 hours because I couldn't get around to baking any sooner than that.

Preheat oven to 350.

Pinch off dough about the size of a walnut and roll into balls. Roll the balls in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Place them on parchment paper on a baking sheet. Gently press the decorative almond into the center and reshape if necessary. This step made me deliriously happy for some reason. Even my son got into the game.

Bake for between 8 and 10 minutes. Don't touch them until they're cool. This makes them firm and crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside. Oh. My. God. I was so impressed with myself.

I want you all to be impressed, too. Of course, they could look fancier. They could be bigger. And I probably should have used whole almonds instead of the slivered blanched I had in the back of my pantry. But one thing at a time. Besides...the taste....

Macaroons make good monsters, too.Jacksmacaroons

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