Homemade Almond Paste

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I didn’t bake with almond paste until a few years ago, and now I can’t stop. Rich introduced me to marzipan (which is almond paste’s sweeter cousin) when we were dating, and I can’t say I was a fan. I’m not sure when that all changed – probably with my first taste of an almond-filled croissant from the French bakery in our neighborhood. Let me say, it is dangerous to have that bakery so close. Good thing their pastries are so expensive!

I used to buy almond paste in the grocery store when it was on sale. When it was fresh it was fine, though not that flavorful. But when it had been on the shelf for a bit, it was hard and tasted even less like almonds. I wished I could find a fresher source, but I never thought to make my own, until I read a few discussions in the home baking forum that King Arthur Flour hosts. It sounded so easy to make – and it is.

Almond paste goes together in no time, and makes the softest, most delicious almondy goodness that you could ever imagine. Okay, that might be a little dramatic, but it is really good.

The basic (and only) ingredients are almonds, sugar, egg whites and almond extract. I use blanched whole almonds. They make a pretty white almond paste, and I can easily pick them up at a global foods market that is fairly close to home. I have searched online and there are companies that sell almond paste made from regular almonds that still have their skins. I need to try it and see how it works. It will be darker, of course. I’m not sure how much the almonds skins would add to the flavor. I do make almond shortbread cookies with natural almonds and they are fabulous, if that is any indication. I’ll make some with natural almonds soon and let you know how it works.

If you have a food processor or blender you can whip up the almond paste in less than five minutes. I usually make about a pound at a time, but you can certainly double the recipe if you have a big enough food processor. Mine has an 11-cup capacity and it might just handle a double recipe. Most recipes call for 7-8 ounces of almond paste. I divide my batch into two halves and store it in the freezer. It takes only minutes to thaw into luscious, soft, fragrant almond paste – ready to use instead of butter and cinnamon sugar in your favorite cinnamon rolls, to layer in brownies or to mix up in a batch of blueberry almond muffins.

Do you like almond paste? Have you ever baked with it? Or are you an almond newbie?

Download or print the recipe here.

Almond Paste
From The Cook’s Life
Makes about 1 pound

Don’t use artificial almond extract. If you can’t find pure almond extract, just leave it out.

1½ cups whole blanched almonds
1½ cups powdered sugar
1 egg white
½ teaspoon pure almond extract, optional

Pulse the almonds and the sugar in a large food processor until the almonds are finely ground. This should only take 1-2 minutes. Make sure the nuts are finely ground, though don’t grind them into almond butter.

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Add the egg white and the almond extract and process again until the almond paste forms large clumps.

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Empty the food processor onto a plate or the counter and use your hands to press the clumps together into a ball or disk. I like to divide the paste in half, into 8-ounce portions, since most recipes call for that amount.

You can use the almond paste immediately, or store it in the fridge or freezer. I like to wrap each portion in plastic wrap and then slip it into a zip lock bag before freezing. Give the paste a few minutes on the counter to thaw before using, or a few hours in the fridge, if you plan ahead. The paste will keep in the freezer for 4-6 months and in the fridge for a few weeks.

Brown Sugar Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches

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Saturday is dessert-baking day at our house. We try not to eat too many desserts during the week, so the weekend is our time to indulge. We started our weekend with a freezer full of ice cream – mint chocolate chip, brown sugar cinnamon and a dab of chocolate amaretto. We also had homemade caramel and hot fudge sauces in the fridge. I wanted more than just ice cream sundaes for dessert, but I wanted something that would go with all the ice creams and toppings.

Somehow our Saturday lunch conversation wandered to what to bake for dessert. I decided mentioned that we should make something that would go with our bounty of ice creams and toppings. We thought about cookies, cupcakes and then somehow came up with ice cream sandwiches. We wanted something soft and chewy, and maybe vanilla flavored.

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I used our adaptation of the Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie recipe as a starting point. I made half a recipe, switched out the white sugar in favor of all brown sugar and substituted some white whole wheat flour for all-purpose flour to make them chewier. We figured out pretty quickly that the chocolate chips would interfere with getting the cookies thin enough, so they had to go.

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I knew that the full recipe spread into a half sheet pan made cookies about as thick as a brownie. We needed them to be half as thick (twice as thin?), so I spread the adapted half recipe into a half sheet pan. I figured the job would be harder if I started with the whole batch of dough in the middle of the pan, so I dolloped it out with a spoon all over the pan before I started spreading.

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Right away I realized the dough was going to stick like crazy to my spatula. First I tried spraying the spatula with cooking spray, but the dough still stuck after a few swipes. I had to wipe it and re-grease it way too often, losing a little dough each time.  I then tried dipping it in water, which was the ticket. I didn’t bother to wipe it off when a little batter stuck, but just dipped quickly and kept spreading.

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It worked beautifully and I was able to get the whole thing spread out to less than an eighth inch layer over the whole pan. I then went around the edge and made sure there was slightly more batter at the edges than in the middle so the edges wouldn’t burn.

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I set the timer for five minutes and pulled up a stool to watch the show (which Rich thought was pretty funny). I didn’t want to risk burning the cookie and I knew it would bake quickly since it was so thin. After just a minute it started to look melted all over. After another two minutes it was starting to set on top. Then big bubbles welled up in places, heaving slightly as the bottom cooked. Just as the timer rang, the whole top looked set except for one corner. I turned the oven off and set the timer for one minute. Perfection – set, but soft, just starting to turn golden on the edges. I cut them while they were still hot; to make sure I got clean edges, then let them cool in the pan on a rack.

We made deconstructed ice cream sandwiches the first night since we were too impatient to let the ice cream soften and then refreeze the sandwiches. And we could also use more sauce that way. Rich and I had brown sugar cinnamon ice cream with caramel sauce. Calvin had chocolate chip mint with hot fudge sauce. That didn’t sound like the best pairing with the brown sugar wafers, but he enjoyed it. The sandwiches were perfect. The cookies were soft and pliable, and stayed that way even when topped with cold ice cream. The brown sugar came through loud and clear, with undertones of vanilla and a slight nuttiness from the whole wheat.

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We made a few sandwiches to freeze for another day. We had more cookies than we had ice cream to top them. Now we need to make more ice cream. But then we will have more ice cream than cookies. Guess we’ll have to make more cookies. Then we’ll have more cookies than ice cream. We’ll have to make more ice cream. Oh, what lovely problems to have!

Download or print the recipe here.

Brown Sugar Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches
From The Cook’s Life
Makes about 24 large, thin cookies
12 ice cream sandwiches

Cookies:
½ cup butter, room temperature
¾ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
½ cup white whole wheat flour*
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

*You can substitute all-purpose flour if you don’t have white whole wheat flour.

For serving:
Softened ice cream
Ice cream sauces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 12 by 17 inch baking sheet, or two 9 by 13 inch pans. Set aside.

Beat the butter, brown sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Add flours, baking soda and salt and mix well.

Dollop cookie dough on baking sheet in small mounds. No need to be neat, you will be spreading the dough out, but the many dollops make it easier than starting with one large mound in the middle of the pan.

Use an offset spatula or table knife to spread the dough into a thin layer, all the way to the edge of the pan. Make sure the edges are a tiny bit thicker than the middle so they don’t burn. Keep a glass of water next to your workspace (but far enough away that you don’t knock it over if you turn the pan – ask me how I know). When the dough sticks to the spatula, and it will, dip it into the water. Keep the spatula wet and the job will go much faster. Be patient and you will get it all spread out to a thin layer, about an eighth of an inch thick.

Bake the cookie layer for 5 minutes. Stay in the kitchen. Check the cookie after the 5 minutes – if there are any wet-looking places, turn off the oven and set the timer for another minute. When it is done, the cookie will just be starting to brown on the edges and will feel set, but soft, if you press on it.

If you watch it bake, the cookie will start to look melted after a minute or two of baking. Then it will start to set around the edges and bubbles will appear under the middle. It may even heave and buckle. Then it will start to set all over and look dry on top.

Let the cookie cool about 2 minutes and then carefully cut it into 24 rectangles with a sharp knife. Let rectangles cool in the pan on a wire rack until room temperature.

To serve, top a cookie with a small amount of softened ice cream. Add a thin layer of ice cream sauce and then top with another cookie, mashing the ice cream so it fills the sandwich to the edge. Eat immediately, or wrap individually in plastic wrap or store in an airtight container. Freeze until ready to eat. Cookies will stay chewy, even after freezing.

Pizza Night

Homemade pizza is part of our regular menu, appearing at least every couple of weeks. I know most people don’t think of making homemade pizza, but it is easier than you think. And you can make it exactly how you like it, and be positive that you know exactly what is going into it.

Pizza when I was growing up was usually homemade. Our recipe came from the pizza my dad’s family made when he was growing up, inviting friends over and making a big party of it. Sounds like the idyllic 50’s, but you can do it, too.

I don’t claim to have any Italian background, or have any sort of ties to “authentic” pizza. Dad’s family is Irish American, via Mississippi, Arkansas and southeastern Missouri. And I have changed the recipe to be almost 100% whole wheat (though you can make it with white flour) and about as easy as possible to make. My pizza doesn’t taste like my mom’s, which doesn’t taste like what my dad’s family made when he was growing up. And yours won’t taste like mine. It will be yours. And that’s the way it should be.

I have been tinkering with this recipe for at least 15 years. I have now come up with a no-knead crust that you can make anywhere from an hour to 18-24 hours before you make dinner. You can mix up the dough the night before, or in the morning before work, store it in the fridge and be ready to make pizza in about the same time you can bake a frozen pizza or place an order for delivery. Or, if you are going to be home, you can stir it up after lunch, and let it rise on the counter until it’s time to make dinner. You will probably need to stir it down at least once, unless you have a huge bowl, if you are leaving it on the counter. The longer you let it rise, the more time it has to develop a more complex flavor, but a couple of hours is certainly sufficient.

Don’t be turned off by the length of the recipe. I tried to include lots of directions and pictures so you will feel comfortable trying this, even if you have never made yeast dough before. Be sure to post in the comments and let me know how it worked for you.

Homemade Pizza

If you don’t have round pizza pans, you can certainly use rectangular baking sheets. Growing up, my mom didn’t get round pizza pans until I was in my teens. To me, homemade pizza always came in square slices. She also used Kraft parmesan cheese, in the green can. Now I usually use freshly grated Parmesan, but every so often a sprinkle of the canned powdered cheese brings back a taste of childhood. I like to make my own sauce so I can control the salt and spices, but jarred sauce works just fine.

Dough:
Makes enough dough for 2 14-inch pizzas with medium thick crusts

3 cups white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
½ cup all-purpose flour (unbleached preferred)
1 package yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1-1 ½ cups water, approximately

Beginning to mix dough

Put all ingredients except water in your largest bowl. Add 1 cup water and stir to combine. If there is still dry flour, add water, a couple of tablespoons at a time, until a very wet dough forms. You aren’t looking for batter here, but a dough. It will be too soft to knead and look quite wet. Once everything is well combined, beat and mix the dough with your spoon or spatula for a minute or so. Cover dough with

Mixed and ready to rest – see how it still looks pretty wet.

plastic wrap and put in the fridge or leave on the counter. If it is rising on the counter, you might need to stir the dough down every couple of hours if it is filling the bowl. Stir it a few times and re-cover. If it is in the fridge, just leave it to do its thing.

After 2 hours rising at room temperature

If your dough is in the refrigerator, remove it from the fridge and let it sit on the counter 30-60 minutes before you want to use it.

Pizza:
Sauce:
1-2 cups crushed tomatoes, low-sodium or no salt added, if possible
1-4 cloves garlic, diced
1-2 teaspoons brown sugar, packed
1-2 teaspoons dried basil
½-1 teaspoon dried oregano
paprika, few dashes
cayenne, few dashes
salt
pepper

Toppings:
½-3/4 pound part skim mozzarella, grated
Pepperoni, green or red bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, black olives, etc.
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated or in a can

You can see how I worked the flour down along the sides of the bowl to make the dough easier to work with.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease your pans fairly heavily. Sprinkle the surface of your dough heavily with flour, work a rubber spatula around the edges of the dough and try to work some flour down the sides of the bowl. Divide the dough in half with a spatula and scrape half on to each pan. Sprinkle each dough portion with flour and begin to press it out with your fingertips to cover the pan. Add more flour if it sticks to

I didn't get all the way to the edge – it will be fine.

your hands. If one piece bounces back, move to the other pan and come back the first after the dough has a minute to relax. Try to get the dough to the outside edges of the pan, but you don’t have to be perfect.

Mix together the sauce ingredients or use already prepared, jarred sauce. Spoon sauce on pressed out dough, using ½-1 cup per pizza. I don’t usually measure it, but just dollop it on and then spread it gently with the back of the spoon.

Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese all over the pizzas. Add your toppings of choice. Sprinkle pizzas with the Parmesan cheese.

Pepperoni pizza ready for the oven

Place pans in oven, staggering them so they aren’t right on top of each other, if they won’t fit on one shelf. Bake for 12-15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and continue cooking another 10-12 minutes, until cheese is browned and bottom of crusts are lightly browned (carefully lift up the edge of one with a spatula to see). If you are baking on two shelves, switch pizzas from top to bottom when you turn the temperature down.

Remove pizzas from oven and let rest for about 5 minutes so they can firm up. Cut and serve while hot.

Download the recipe here.