Chewy Almond Cookies

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2013 is almost coming to an end.

It’s been a year full of ups and downs, challenges and accomplishments, and I’ve learned so many life, love, and work lessons that helped me grow as a person. Not only did I start this blog in 2013, but I also had the amazing opportunity to travel to New York to pursue my passion in graphic design and get lost in a big city full of opportunities and inspirations. I’m simply amazed at how much I enjoy the work that I do today (my full time job, freelance work, and baking blog!) and how many awesome people I get to meet everyday. I’m so grateful for having incredible parents, family, and friends who have been encouraging me and supporting all of my decisions. I’m also grateful for the people who have been following Brownie Box; the past few months have been slow but I’m working hard and putting a lot of effort into every single post.

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We’re still in the stretch of the holidays and some of you might be relieved that Christmas is over because of the copious amount of FOOD we ate for 3 days straight, but I’m not done baking. In fact, I’m still using the “Christmas/New Year” excuse to constantly replenish the supply of cookies and chocolate.

Today’s post is about these incredibly chewy almond cookies. I still can’t believe that I recently discovered this recipe. It’s so GOOD it’s making me sad that I just started baking these; they’re perfect with coffee, tea, or even dipped in chocolate ganache! I seriously can’t stop munching on them all day.

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The recipe calls for almond paste: a combination of almond meal and sugar in equal quantities mixed with a little bit egg white to hold the ingredients together. You can buy almond paste at the grocery store or make your own (see below!) because it’s tastier and more economical. Now there’s a difference between marzipan and almond paste: the former is sweeter and commonly used for decoration purposes – like fondant. Almond paste contains double the amount of almonds, which is perfect for baked goods because of its intense flavor.

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Almond Paste

Almond Paste

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I guarantee that everyone will love these cookies because they are so light and versatile! What’s your favorite holiday cookie recipe?

Ingredients:
Almond Paste:
150 grams (1¼ cup) halved blanched almonds
150 grams (¾ cup) powdered sugar
1 egg white
Note: This recipe yields 8½ oz. (250 gr.) of almond paste. The cookies recipe calls for 3½ oz. (100 gr.), so you can freeze the rest or double the cookie recipe!

1. Place almonds in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process the almonds until they are very finely ground, stopping periodically to scrape the sides of the bowl.
2. Add the sugar and egg white, process until smooth.
3. Knead the dough on a working surface until firm and smooth (you can also use a dough hook).

Cookies: Yields ~ 36 cookies
1 large egg, room temperature
½ cup (100 grams) sugar
1 stick (113 grams, ½ cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
3½ oz. (100 grams) almond paste
1 teaspoon vanilla or vanilla bean paste
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

1. Beat together the egg and sugar using a stand or hand mixer.
2. Add the softened butter, almond paste, and vanilla. Continue mixing until homogeneous.
3. Add the sifted flour and salt to the egg mixture. Then mix by hand or using a wooden spoon until combined.
4. Shape the dough into a disk and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
5. Preheat oven to 320ºF or 160ºC.
5. Transfer dough to a large parchment paper that fits a 19″x13″ inch baking sheet (48×32 cm). Press down the dough with a rolling pin and move it from the center out to form a flat dough of ¼” inch or 0.5 cm in thickness.
6. Cut out the dough using a cookie cutter. (Note: you can also shape the dough into small balls and flatten them with the palm of your hand).
7. Bake for 12 minutes (the cookies will stay white and soft), take out the baking sheet of the oven, and let cool completely until they harden.

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Christmas Fruit Cake

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Can you believe it’s almost 2014? Where did time fly?! I haven’t posted a recipe here in over 5 months! But I’m back just in time for the biggest holiday of the year.

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It’s that time of year again when people start shopping, wrapping presents, decorating their homes, cooking, and of course baking Christmas cakes! I’ve been wanting to share this recipe at the beginning of the month; I finally got my act together and prepared all the ingredients ahead of time.

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This cake, paired with coffee, is my weak point. It has a perfectly balanced taste of sweet dried fruits, dark brown sugar, and brandy. The secret to a richly moist cake is the amount of brandy you add to it: my mom bakes it a week before Christmas Day to mature it, and brushes the top of the cake with brandy at regular intervals. Woah! That’s an insane amount of liqueur. I prefer sticking to this recipe which is equally tender.

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Dried fruits are soaked in honey, brandy, and spices overnight to create juicy bursts of fruits.

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Baking pan is lined with two thicknesses of baking paper and batter is leveled with metal spatula.

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Ingredients: (Adapted from Women’s Weekly Cookbooks)
1 cup dried currents
2 cups dried raisins
1 cup dried dates, chopped
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup Brandy (liqueur can be substituted with rum, sweet sherry, Cointreau, or Grand Marnier)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

250 grams (2.2 sticks/ 1 cup) butter, room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) firmly packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1+3/4 cups (300 grams) plain flour, sifted
2+1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons orange zest
Handful of blanched whole almonds (optional)
2 tablespoons extra brandy

Directions:

1. Chop dried raisins, dates, and apricots to the size of the currents. Toss with brandy, honey, and spices in a small bowl.
2. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight or up to two days.
3. Preheat oven to 350 °F (180 °C).
4. Line base and sides of deep 19-cm (7.5 inches) square cake pan with two thicknesses of baking paper, bringing paper 5 cm –2 inches– above side of pan.
(Can also be baked in a deep 22 cm – 9 inches– round cake pan).
5. Beat softened butter and dark brown sugar in a small bowl with electric mixer until just combined.
6. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until just combined between additions.
7. Transfer mixture into a large bowl, add dried fruits, and mix by hand or wooden spoon.
8. Sift flour over the mixture, add the orange zest, and mix well.
9. Scrape and spread mixture into the pan.
10. Drop cake from a height of ~ 15 cm/5 inches onto the kitchen counter or the floor to settle mixture into the pan and to get rid of air bubbles.
11. Level surface of cake mixture with wet metal spatula. (Optional: decorate top with blanched whole almonds)
12. Bake cake in oven for 1 hour. Give the cake quarter turns during baking to avoid uneven browning.
Note: Cover cake loosely with foil during baking if it starts to over-brown.
13. Remove from the oven, brush top with extra brandy, and cover pan tightly with foil; cool cake in pan.
14. Cake can be served the same day, or stored for several days to create an even more moist cake (read storage tips below).

Tips:
• Nuts can be added to the fruit mixture ~1 cup / 125 grams blanched whole almonds or walnuts chopped coarsely.
• Dust cake with powdered sugar before serving.
• For storage: Turn cake upside down onto wire rack and peel the paper away from the sides, leaving the base paper in place. Wrap cake in plastic wrap and then foil to keep airtight, and place in a sealed plastic bag in a cool dry place. Cake can be refrigerated for up to 2 months, or frozen for up to 8 months.