Amaretti and ice cream parfait

Yes, here I go with another ice cream related post - again.  But actually, it really started with homemade amaretti cookies.
My alter ego likes crisp and crunchy whereas I'd normally identify myself as the soft, chewy, warm, ooey gooey type when it comes to treats.  And take a look at my recipe index and you'll find a number of recipes featuring nuts and almonds, specifically.  Needless to say, I like them.  In this case, we have Amaretti, which is a crisp, lightly crunchy, dry cookie that's full of fragrant almond flavor.
I realized as I was making these that I've made them before in the guise of amaretti crisps.  The recipes are very similar but here we're going for the traditional round Italian Amaretti, which you readily see around the holidays though you should be able to find them in places like Whole Foods all year round.  It turns out that authentic amaretti are made with apricot kernels, not almonds - who knew!  So theoretically, the homemade version isn't actually the "real" thing, but I don't mind.  I thought it would be fun to make a batch to keep around the house (they keep well for a couple of weeks) - to munch on or use in, say, an ice cream parfait.  Now if you're thinking I made these as an excuse to make ice cream parfaits, you would be correct. 
For this parfait, think of a cup of coffee or espresso with a couple of amaretti cookies on the side.  To turn that idea into an ice cream parfait, I layered coarsely chopped amaretti cookies and chocolate covered espresso beans between  layers of coffee ice cream.  Needless to say, it helps to use good coffee ice cream; you know the usual suspects.  In this case, I used Starbucks coffee and espresso swirl ice cream.
The result was divine.  You have smooth ice cream with crunchy almond cookies that's just slightly softened by the ice cream.  Add to it chocolate and espresso beans that emphasize the coffee flavor and give it even more crunch, and we have a very good parfait indeed.  I think I now understand why parfait means "perfect" in French.  And make it perfect for you.  If you don't like the coffee idea, use vanilla ice cream or maybe vanilla ice cream with chocolate coated almonds and the amaretti.
This is another way to dress up some ice cream and make a simple dessert that's good enough for a dinner party.  And if someone doesn't like ice cream (are there such people?), you can offer coffee with amaretti cookies on the side.

Next up, I'm going to use some of these amaretti to make a chocolate cake!  Stay tuned...

Amaretti

Amaretti is essentially a meringue cookie.  We're going to fold a ground almond mixture to firmly whipped egg whites.  It's the kind of baked meringue that's crisp and dry all the way through, not soft and marshmallow-like in the center like a pavlova.  I say crunchy but it's in a mild way, not as hard as traditional biscotti.

Take a cup of toasted almonds (I used slivered) and grind it in a food processor with 1 teaspoon of flour and 1/2 cup of powered sugar.  Process until almonds are very fine.
Separately, whip 2 large room-temperature egg whites using the whip attachment of a standmixer.  Once the whites turn foamy, add a pinch of salt and continue whipping until the whites start to hold their shape.  Gradually add 6 tablespoons of sugar and whip, on high, until you have a glossy and stiff meringue. 
Now, incorporate the almond mixture into the egg whites by folding the almond mixture into the whites in 3 installments, adding a teaspoon of almond extract with the last addition.
Ideally, pipe the batter out using a pastry bag fitted with a plain 1/2 inch tip for piping.  But instead of the pastry bag, you could use a plastic storage bag and snip off a 1/2 inch tip.  I've also seen recipes where you scoop out the batter using a small ice cream scoop or even use two spoons. 

Aim for 1 1/2 inch rounds.  You should yield about 35 cookies.  I had about 40.  If you have little tips sticking out on top of your rounds, I'd recommend gently pressing them down and smoothing it out with your fingertips.
The cookies bake in a 300 degree oven for 20 minutes, until they are lightly browned.  Rotate the two baking sheets midway between baking.  After the first 20 minutes, turn the oven off and leave the cookies in the oven for another 20 minutes to dry.  Take them out of the oven and transfer it to a wire rack once cooled enough to remove.  They make a crackling noise as they cool out of the oven.
Store your fully cooled amaretti cookies in an airtight jar/container.  They should keep for a couple of weeks given how dry they are. 

Amaretti are great on their own, served alongside coffee, espresso, cappucino, or with dessert wine for a light after dinner sweet.  You can also try it as a crushed topping over fruit or yogurt.


Ice Cream Parfait

To use the amaretti in an ice cream parfait, simply chop a handful of them up coarsely.  I also chopped up a handful of chocolate covered espresso beans. 
I used small glasses, making the parfait with 3 layers of the topping between 2 layers of ice cream.  Start by scattering some chopped amaretti with a sprinkling of the chopped chocolate covered espresso beans at the bottom of the glass.  Add coffee ice cream and a second layer of amaretti and chocolate espresso beans.  On top of that goes another layer of ice cream, followed by the third layer of the amaretti/espresso bean mix on top. 
Serve immediately and dig in to all that cold, smooth, crunchy goodness!


Recipe:

Amaretti
From Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz

- Makes about 35 cookies -

1 cup almonds (I used slivered), toasted
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats (silicon works really well for cookies like these since they slip right off when cooled).

Grind almonds with the flour and powdered sugar in the food processor until almonds are very fine.

In the bowl of a standmixer fitted with the whisk attachment, began whipping the whites on low speed until they turn frothy.  Add salt, increase the speed to high, and whisk until whites begin to hold their shape.  Then, gradually add the granulated sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time, continuing to whip the whites until shiny, stiff peaks form.

Sprinkle one-third of the almond mixture over the whipped egg whites and gently fold it in with a rubber spatula.  Fold the rest of the almond mixture into the whites in two more additions, adding the almond extract with the last addition. 

Scrape batter into a pastry bag fitted with a plain 1/2 inch tip (or use a disposable freezer bag, with a 1/2 inch tip snipped off, or use two spoons or even a small ice cream scoop).  Pipe mounds about 1 1/2 inches in diameter on the lined baking sheet, spacing them about 3/4 inch apart (the cookies don't really spread).  If there are pointy tips on top of the piped mounds, you can gently smooth them out with your fingertips.

Bake, rotating the baking sheets midway, for about 20 minutes, or until cookies are lightly browned.  Turn the oven off and leave the cookies in the oven for another 20 minutes to dry.

Remove cookies from the oven and let cool before removing from the baking sheets and transferring them to a cooling rack to cool completely.  Fully cooled amaretti can be stored in an airtight jar or container for at least 2 weeks.

Amaretti and ice cream parfait:  Try using chopped or crushed amaretti cookies in an ice cream parfait.  I layered chopped amaretti with chopped chocolate covered espresso beans between two layers of coffee ice cream in a glass to make mine.  It is very good!




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