Sephardic Almond Macaroons

Cooking with ground nuts and nut pastes was popular in medieval Jewish and Islamic cultures across Iberia, North Africa and the Mediterranean. At the time, beaten eggs and egg whites were the primary way to leaven baked goods. They bake up flatter than what is usually thought of as a macaroon, are crispy outside, chewy inside, and totally addictive.

Makes about 24 cookies

2 cups almond meal
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
4 large egg whites
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting (optional)
About 24 whole almonds or almond slices (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place oven racks in the middle of the oven. Line 2 large baking sheet pans with parchment paper (preferred) or lightly grease the pans.

Use a whisk to combine almond meal, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Add egg whites and extracts and whisk together about 10 seconds until the mixture is smooth and well blended. Do not over-mix once the whites are added.

Alternatively, in a food processor with the metal blade, pulse a few times to combine almond meal with granulated sugar and salt. Add egg whites and extracts and pulse a few times. Stop to scrape down the side and anything stuck on the bottom. Pulse a few more times just until the mixture is well blended and a bit lighter.

Do not over-beat by hand or machine. Drop the mixture by teaspoonfuls, using another teaspoon to help drop the batter about 2 inches apart on baking sheet. Use the back of a spoon to gently round the shape and flatten it slightly. If you like, carefully place an almond or almond slice on the center of each cookie.

Bake in the middle of oven. After 10 minutes, turn the baking sheet around 180 degrees and bake another 10 minutes, or until macaroons are pale golden on the bottom. Cool on the sheets for about 10 minutes, then gently transfer macaroons to a rack and cool completely. Macaroons keep 4 days in an airtight container at room temperature with layers separated by waxed or parchment paper. The macaroons can also be frozen when packed this way. To serve, just separate the layers and defrost.