Sweet Almonds From Puglia
by gina depalma
Sweet and crunchy almonds are an integral part of the agricultural landscape and the unique cuisine of Puglia, or Apulia, the distinctive region that forms the narrow heel of the Italian boot. Along with Sicily, Puglia is the largest producer of almonds in Italy, a nut in particularly high demand, since Italian bakers, cooks, and consumers consume nearly 200,000 tons of almonds a year.
Almonds are among the first cultivated foods on the planet; they originated in Asia Minor, made their way to Greece and eventually became part of the Roman diet. Almond trees are actually the cousins of plum trees; instead of producing a soft fruit, they yield a greenish, hard pod which eventually dries, splits and falls away, revealing the hard, woody shell of the almond. Inside lies what is unquestionably the world.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Spread the 1/2 cup of sliced almonds in a single layer on a cookie sheet and toast them in the oven until they are lightly golden brown. Allow the almonds to cool completely, then grind them finely in a food processor.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, ground almonds, salt and baking powder and set aside.
Using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg yolk, followed by the lemon zest and vanilla extract. Beat in the dry ingredients to make a stiff dough. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill until it is firm enough to roll, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease two cookies sheets with non-stick cooking spray or butter. Place the sliced, blanched almonds in a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl, lightly beat the egg white with a fork until it is frothy.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and and divide it in two pieces. Roll each piece into a log, about one inch in diameter and 12 inches long. With a knife, cut the log into slices, about ¼ inch wide. Dip each slice in the beaten egg white, then in the sliced almonds to coat them evenly. Place the cookies on a lightly greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet(s), evenly spaced, a ½-inch apart.
Bake the cookies until they are firm and the almonds are lightly golden brown, about 14 to 16 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool on the pan for 2 to 3 minutes, and then use a spatula to remove them to a wire rack to cool completely. Dust the cookies generously with confectioner’s sugar. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container, layered with parchment paper, in a cool, dry place.