The Musette: almond marzipan batons

Hands down these are our favourite biscuits. Or, should that be biscotti since we generally buy them in Italy, made from almonds or pistachios, either as batons or more usually crescents. I’ve also seen way larger versions, tipped in chocolate, in Germany where they’re called Mandelhörnchen.

These satisfy my desire for something made with almonds, that’s dairy and gluten-free, and allows me to use up any egg whites lolling around in the fridge. Yes, I know I could freeze them but this is way more exciting. I also keep handy blocks of home-made marzipan in the freezer, as you do!

I’m not sure why I’ve never attempted to recreate these nutty crescents before, especially considering how easy they were to make. In any event, the texture was spot on: crispy on the outside with added crunch from the sliced almonds, with a soft and dreamy, chewy marzipan-like interior.

As I said, these were very easy to make, all you need is some some raw marzipan and the rest of the ingredients are easily thrown together.  You can, of course, use shop-bought marzipan but I recommend making your own (recipe below)  – cheaper and it tastes so much better!

Ingredients (makes 12 crescents)

  • 250g (8 oz) homemade or shop bought marzipan, chopped into small chunks
  • 120g (1 cup) blanched finely ground almonds
  • 125g (1 cup) icing (powdered) sugar, plus more for dredging
  • 1 egg white (approx. 40g)
  • pinch sea salt
  • 2 tsp freshly squeezed  organic lemon juice
  • 1 egg white (approx. 40g) for brushing
  • 110g (1 cup) sliced blanched almonds

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 170C (150C fan)/(325F/300F) gas 3½. In a food processor, grind the almonds to a flour, then add the sifted icing sugar, salt, lemon juice, marzipan, and egg white. Process in bursts until the mixture comes together in a thick and tacky, but not overly sticky, dough.

2. If it’s too sticky add a little more ground almonds and/or sugar to it. Wrap the dough in cling film (plastic wrap) and chill for at least 30 minutes (Note: this paste can be made days in advance).

3. When you’re ready to make the biscotti, break the dough off into pieces and roll them into golf-ball sized balls. Then roll each ball into a small log, tapering it off so each end is a little thinner. Or, for ease, just roll into short batons.

4. Use a pastry brush to brush egg white all over the dough.

5. Roll each biscotti into the slivered almonds. They don’t have to be completely coated. Now bend each into the shape of a crescent and place them on a lined cookie sheet leaving space in between, or just leave as batons.

6. Bake the marzipan almond horns/batons on the middle shelf for 10-15 minutes or until the tips are just starting to turn golden. Remove and let them cool completely before dredging in more icing sugar.

7. In theory these will last a week in airtight storage, in practice they disappear in nano seconds.

8. You can further embellish them with chocolate, in which case don’t dredge with icing sugar. Instead dip the ends or one half into melted chocolate (dark) or ganache. Place the biscotti back on the baking sheet or other surface to let the chocolate harden.

Homemade Marzipan

  • 180g (1 1/2 cups) blanched ground almonds
  • 190g (1 1/2 cups) icing (powdered) sugar
  • 1 tsp pure almond extract
  • 1 egg white (approx. 40g)

1. Place the almond flour and powdered sugar in a food processor and pulse until combined and any lumps are broken up. Add the almond extract and pulse to combine.

2. Add the egg white and process until a thick dough is formed. If the mass is still too wet and sticky, add more powdered sugar and ground almonds. Remember: it will become firmer after it’s been refrigerated.

3. Turn the almond marzipan out onto a work surface and knead it a few times. Form it into a log, wrap it up in cling film (plastic wrap) and refrigerate.

4. It will keep for at least a month in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer. Bring to room temperature before using it in any recipe.

5. Makes approx 400g marzipan/almond paste (approx 14oz).

Melt in the mouth hazelnut biscuits

I’m always looking for ways to use left-over egg whites and this is definitely one of my favourite ways. Brutti ma Buoni (English: Ugly but Good) is an Italian hazelnut biscuit with a crisp exterior and a heavenly chewy centre: perfect with an espresso after a morning bike ride.

The classic recipe uses finely ground nuts mixed into the meringue batter. I prefer some of them just roughly chopped so, when you bite into one, there are lovely chunks of hazelnuts. If you can resist, I find they’re better the following day, when their sweetness has softened and the hazelnut flavour is even more pronounced. They’re easy to make but don’t use very fresh egg whites. I’ve found the trick is to leave the egg whites to age in the fridge for a couple of days or for a month in the freezer.

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Just a few ingredients to make these tasty little morsels

Ingredients (makes 20 small biscuits)

  • 100g (approximately 3) organic egg whites
  • 300g (3 cups) toasted hazelnuts, half finely chopped and half finely ground
  • 200g (2 cups) caster sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

Method

1. Preheat oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas mark 4 (350°F/320°F fan).

2. Grease a baking sheet with butter and dust with plain flour or line with greaseproof (parchment) paper.

3. Stiffly whisk the egg whites in a grease-free bowl and slowly add the sugar. They’re done when you can invert the bowl over your head and the mixture stays in the bowl!

4. Gradually and carefully fold in all the other ingredients.

5. Pour the mixture into a bain marie (or a basin over a saucepan of hot water, ensuring the water doesn’t touch the basin) and cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for about 20 minutes – believe me, they are worth the effort! When it’s ready the mixture should have darkened and formed a ball.

6. Remove the pan from the heat and place heaped teaspoons of the mixture on the prepared baking sheet, spaced well apart.

Already for the oven (image: Sheree)

All ready for the oven

7. Bake in the centre of the oven for 15-20 minutes. Try to resist opening the oven door!

8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet and enjoy with a cup of coffee or as an after-dinner treat. I often package them up and give them as small gifts.

That'll do nicely!

Those will do nicely!

(Header image from La Cuisine de Bernard/Wikipedia)