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Abambar (Libyan Almond Cookies)

<em>Abambar</em> (Libyan Almond Cookies) Related:   Africa, desserts & sweets, gluten-free, Israel & Middle East, kid-friendly, pareve, Passover, vegetarian

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Yield: 40 large cookies

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Abambar are Tripolitanian almond cookies I found in the Netanya market, where they are sold year-round, but especially for Passover. The abambar resemble macaroons, but are less delicate in look and texture. They are cracked and tanned, taste like marzipan and have the unique aroma of bitter almonds. After much trial and error, I came to the conclusion that simple is best: store-bought ground almonds (also known as almond meal), regular meringue and a little cornstarch (use potato starch if your family doesn’t eat kitniyot). So (drum roll, please…), here are my homemade abambar!

Ingredients

  • 18 ounces peeled ground almonds
  • 3⅓ cups powdered/confectioner’s sugar
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon almond essence (or 10 bitter almonds, finely ground)
  • 40 peeled almonds

Preparation

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a few baking sheets with parchment paper. In a bowl, mix together the ground almonds and powdered sugar. In a mixer, using a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites at medium speed to get a stiff, glossy meringue. Replace the beating attachment with the paddle. Add the almond mixture, cornstarch and almond essence to the meringue. Beat at medium speed for 1 minute to get a soft, marzipan-like dough (you can keep it in the refrigerator overnight before shaping and baking).
  • With wet hands, shape into balls (ping pong-ball size), and spaciously lay on the prepared baking sheets. Gently press an almond into the center of each ball for garnish. Bake for 15 minutes, until the balls flatten down, crack a bit and turn golden (don’t overbake!). The cookies should still be soft when taken out of the oven; they set when cooled. Cool completely before attempting to lift the cookies off the paper, which should be peeled off ever so gently because the cookies tend to stick to it. Store in a closed container at room temperature.
  • Note: The almond essence is what gives these cookies their signature fragrance—it is made with a specific kind of small, shriveled and extremely bitter almond. If you want, you may substitute the almond essence with 10 bitter almonds, very (very) finely ground (bitter almonds can be found in spice shops).
  • Reprinted with permission from Traditional Jewish Baking: Retro Recipes Your Grandma Would Make...If She Had a Mixer by Carine Goren (Page Street Publishing, 2016). 

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