Saturday, October 20, 2012
World Market, $3.99/box
Amaretti morbidi: what a great expression! Alas, instead of being death-obsessed little goth biscuits, these are soft-textured versions of the classic Italian cookie.
Although almonds are often substituted, the primary ingredient in old-fashioned amaretti is apricot kernels; "amaretti" refers to a slight bitterness that comes from the kernels' natural cyanide content.
Legend has it that when the Cardinal of Milan made an unexpected stop in the town of Saronno in the early 18th century, one devout young couple whipped up these cookies with the only ingredients they happened to have on hand: apricot kernels, sugar, and egg whites (one wonders what they were planning to have for dinner...?). Presented in colorful paper twists, the cookies were a hit and the couple's descendants have been making them ever since; their company, Chiostro di Saronno, is still based in the cloisters of a former monastery in central Saronno.
Other competitors have been producing amaretti for nearly as long, with Lazzaroni being perhaps the best known internationally. Lazzaroni has been a pioneer in both manufacturing and marketing, industrializing the production of its cookies in the 1800s and shipping its products in eye-catching packages since 1888.
Most amaretti are hard enough to shatter when bitten, unless dunked first into tea or coffee. The amaretti morbidi is a relatively new innovation. Although its surprisingly chewy texture calls to mind the chemical laced "Soft Batch" cookies of the 1980s, there are no surprises on the ingredients list: 48% apricot kernels and 2% almonds plus sugar and egg whites. Perhaps the heavy airtight plastic wrapper inside the paper twist is the real secret ingredient.