Monday, August 20, 2012

Bitterkoekjes -Bitter Cookies?

Black Sheep

Bitter is kind of like the awkwardly loud uncle you don't learn to appreciate until at a later age. As a baby, any of bitter's attempts to entertain your palate is met with projectile spitting and a variety of grimaces only babies can produce. As a toddler you quickly learn to simply avoid him. That attitude usually persists, and works fine apart from the occasional unexpected run in. Until that tender age, when a royal dash of adolescent disgust is added to the equation, and, -in all honesty- it is starting to look like bitter and you will never get to know each other.

But after all them sweet cheerleaders and salty jocks, and after fooling around with all shades of sour, and who knows even some umami here and there, sooner or later bitter is likely to catch your attention again.

Ear wax
Who didn't accidentally and thoughtlessly put his finger in his mouth after a good ear poke as a kid?
For a lot of us, our first taste of bitter comes straight from our own body. Let's not digress, but what I mean is this; bitter seems a lost cause from the get go with that sort of advertising!

When booze enters our lives, just around the same age as when you start driving a car (...), it turns out the weird uncle might have been the best thing that never happened to us. Time to catch up! Bitter is here to stay. Cheers.

Bitterkoekjes

These crackled almond cookies are a Dutch classic. In flavor they are very much related to Italian amaretti, with a more chewy interior. The very specific and pleasant bitter undertone comes from the use of bitter almonds. Nowadays apricot pits are used, don't ask me why, it's probably cheaper. They are also related to the 'macarons de Nancy', the precursor to the now so fashionable French macaron.

The ingredients and technique used are very basic, but you will find yourself operating within very narrow parameters when it comes to moisture in the dough and getting them baked just right. They are fickle, but very rewarding when you get it right. Be prepared to produce some very tasty duds before you find the 'soft spot' for this great classic Dutch cookie.

Bitter almonds have had a bad rep for a while. But they are back with a vengeance! The minute traces of amygdalin, yielding glucose and cyanide when ingested, easily evaporate  when the bitter almonds are heated in the oven. If you feel uncomfortable working with bitter almonds you can substitute it with some bitter almond oil. Working only with sweet almonds is also a possibility, but your cookie will be devoid of that very specific bitter undertone.






Ingredients
(makes about 30 cookies)

125 gr. blanched almonds
  25 gr. bitter almonds
150 gr. fine sugar
   2  egg whites (more or less)
edible wafer paper (optional and highly recommended)

Method

First off, heat your oven to 200° C and put in the bitter almonds for about 60 minutes to get rid of the amygdalin. Towards the end of that hour, boil water in a small saucepan. Throw in and blanch the bitter almonds for about a minute to easily peel off the skins. Make sure to dry them after you have skinned them. 

Preheat your oven to 185° C.

Put all almonds in a kitchen machine and grind them as fine as your machine can manage. Put the sugar and the almonds in a stand mixer and mix well. If you are working with almond oil, mix in a few drops with the egg whites. Add the egg whites a bit at the time and mix on low speed with a paddle until the dough smooths out (a few minutes). The consistency should be so stiff that piping it is quite a challenge. If piping is a breeze, you can bet your sweet **s your cookie will ooze to a flat disk.

To make life easier you can use edible wafers to pipe onto. You will find your dough will tend to stand taller, for moisture is being sucked towards the wafer instead of oozing over your baking sheet. Pipe the dough in 2 cm rounds onto the wafer paper. After baking and cooling,  breaking off the excess paper is a breeze.

After piping the rounds, use a damp towel or the palm of your hand to gently push down the cookies into a nice round shape. 
Bake in the middle of the oven on 185° C for about 15 minutes. Turn the tray halfway the bake for even browning. Keep a close eye on them for the last few minutes. They are very easy to over bake. Bake until golden brown.

Let the cookies cool completely on a rack and break off the excess wafer paper if using.

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Enjoy!