I love the distinctive flavour of almonds. They lend themselves so nicely to all sorts of dishes, from hefty sweet pies to flourless cakes, cookies to Chinese desserts like almond cream with red bean-filled rice balls and delicately brittle Chinese almond cookies. I enjoy them on top of fragrant, spiced pilafs both Indian and Middle Eastern, as well as on top of ice cream sundaes dripping with chocolate sauce. My mother, a retired chemistry teacher, does not share my sentiment. She does not enjoy the flavour of benzaldehyde, she says – which is the almond flavour that I like. Hydrogen cyanide smells just like it, she tells me, to strengthen her case against the nut. That may well be, but I am not dissuaded.

While exploring the fabled beaches of Sardinia on a recent trip, we came across a farmer’s market laden with fresh cheeses, handmade woodcraft, hats and olives. It was at a stall there that I sampled some excellent amaretti cookies. Plump and rounded, with cracks on the edges, hiding the delights of chewy, fluffy, almond-y insides. I bought a few bags, nibbled my way through them and vowed to make them myself. Over the course of this past year and after numerous unsatisfactory attempts, I have finally achieved a cookie that I am happy with, and eager to share.

What makes this recipe different from most others is whisking the egg white. While many recipes call for vanilla essence, I used 1/2 tsp of almond essence because I do like the flavour of benzaldehyde. But if you don’t love it as much as I do, use vanilla essence instead. The dough is very very sticky, so wet your hands when you shape them to prevent the dough from sticking. This is a Chinese technique and which makes handling the dough much easier. I have also used significantly less sugar as I don’t like my cookies cloyingly sweet. (Do remember that each will be coated in sugar as well before baking, which adds even more sweetness.) Finally, I used castor sugar rather than icing sugar for dusting as I like the added sparkle and crunch of sugar crystals.

I have been enjoying these with my morning coffee, and hope you would too.


Amaretti Cookies

  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Makes about 28-30

280 g ground almonds

150-160 g caster / fine sugar

4 egg whites

11/2 tsp cognac or amaretto, or just water

1/2 tsp almond or vanilla essence (or 1 tsp if you like really the almond flavour like I do)

More caster sugar for coating


  • First, set out a plate of sugar and a baking tray lined with baking paper or silicone mat. This is your misc en place. Preheat the oven to 170°C.
  • Whisk egg whites until stiff peaks.
  • Mix ground almond and sugar in a separate bowl, then fold it into the egg whites.
  • Stir in the almond or vanilla essence, and cognac.
  • Wet your hands and shape the dough into walnut-sized balls. The dough will be very sticky, but wet hands help prevent it from sticking to your fingers, making it easier to handle.
  • Coat the dough balls in a light dusting of sugar, then place on a baking tray lined with baking paper or silicone. Use your fingers or spatula to squish each ball down gently so it is slightly flattened on the top, but still rounded and puffy on the sides. Don’t worry if the dough cracks. That’s the look.
  • Bake in oven for 15-20 mins. Remove from oven, and leave it to cool for 5 mins before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.


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