March seems to be the month of after work drinks, date nights and dinner parties; I think it has something to do with the fact that the sun has finally come out from its winter hiding place, the nights are getting longer and people are ripping off their thick socks, abandoning their sofas and getting out there to socialise and enjoy things. It’s about time as well, even I, lover of all things wintry, have got a bit tired with being perpetually cold.
So last week I found myself attending a friend’s dinner party: and it was a lovely affair, full of good food, good wine and charming people. At the post food, coffee stage someone pulled out a tin of Amaretti biscuits - you know the kind, little almond rounds, crisp and crunchy and perfect for dipping in to rich, strong coffee, a glass of brandy or both – to the delight of all around (even me) as there is only one thing better than the taste of those little Italian numbers and that is the opportunity to take the paper they are wrapped in, roll it in to a tube and then set fire to one end. Dangerous you say? Never! What’s dangerous about a table full of drunk friends setting fire to paper I ask you? The effect of these little bonfires is that once burnt through, the amaretti lanterns (for that is what they should be called) shoot up in to the air, like ethereal rockets and then drift, gracefully and delicately downwards, and land, like cobwebs, draping themselves over half drunk glasses of wine. I love them; and although I got to indulge in a little pyromania I still thought it would be nice to be able to join in with the after dinner coffee and biscuits, and so I thought I would have a go at making my own little almond amaretti’s.
After a few attempts, I decided that it is the combination of almond essence and vanilla essence that gives you that wonderfully rich, intense bitter/sweet almond flavour, almost like a biscotti, although I would insist that you use really good quality almond and vanilla essence otherwise the flavour can be quite synthetic. These biscuits are meant to be crisp on the outside with a little bit of give in their centres, I think the addition of polenta provides a textural dimension that adds to their authenticity. I would serve them with a cup of delicious coffee but a friend told me that she has been enjoying them with a mid morning cup of tea, so I think they are flexible. If you keep them stored in an air tight container they will last for up to 4 days.
1 large egg – 1 heaped tsp Orgran Egg Replacer whisked together with 2 tbsp water
Preheat the oven to 170c (150c Fan) and cover 2 baking sheets in baking parchment. Cream together the butter replacement and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the almond extract, vanilla extract and egg replacer and beat together until fully combined. Stir in the flour and polenta and mix gently until fully combined.
Spoon out walnut size clumps of the biscuit mixture and, using the palms of your hands, roll in to balls 1 inch in diameter. Place the balls on the baking sheets, flatten slightly with your finger tips and sprinkle with a little sugar. Bake in the oven for 12 - 15 minutes until golden and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.