I first tried making these for myself last year, but as they are traditional here, I grew up eating them at this time of year, and they are a mark of the season. This year, I made them almost by accident. I was planning on making other cookies, but stumbled on these, and figured "Why not?" I followed a very similar recipe to last year but decided to play around with it a little and tweak it in places. Here is the updated version.
2 c ground almonds
3/4 c sugar
1 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
150 g dark chocolate
1 1/2 tbsp dark rum
1 tbsp cream
1 tsp dried orange peel, crushed
1) Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl then stir in the egg whites.
2) Melt the chocolate in a Bain Marie and stir in the rum. Heat it and mix until they form a smooth mass. Add the cream and remove it from the heat.
3) Stir the chocolate into the almond mixture, then roll out on a sugared surface to 1 cm thickness. Cut into different shapes using a cookie cutter.
4) (Optional - allow to dry out for 5 hours or overnight).
5) Bake for 4 minutes at 240°C. Cool on a wire rack.
This year's tweaks worked very nicely, adding a bit of a twist to old favourites. I would have used orange zest, but our last orange went into my Rabbit Stew the other day, and so was not available. I only had tangerines on hand for fresh citrus and didn't think the zest particularly worth it from that quarter, so used some of my dried orange peel instead. The dried peel didn't give as much flavour as the fresh zest would have done, so I would like to try this again with fresh zest instead. The rum worked well instead of kirsch but I didn't have much doubt about that.
I tested the method of leaving the cookies to dry for several hours before baking. The batch which was cooked fresh and moist, as it were, had a fuller, more vibrant and complex flavour, but they were too soft. The ones left to dry had a more satisfying texture, but the flavours weren't as pronounced or as nuanced. Which is better, therefore, remains a bit of a toss-up. Maybe I need to make a new batch and leave them less long so they are in between?
Also, beware that they are baking at a very high temperature for a very short time, so keep an eye on the time and don't let them go too long or they will be over-crisped!
Last year, the initial assessment was that they were better hot and straight out of the oven than an hour later once they had cooled. Having one a day later though. I had to reconsider. They were even better a day old. The flavours had had a chance to meld, as it were. This held true this year too.
Book Pairing: While baking these, I started listening to Pride and Prejudice. Reading or listening to it again is a pleasure I have given myself every year or two for the last decade or so. I initially didn't want to read it as my parents had listened to an audio version of Sense and Sensibility on a car trip when I was too young to appreciate it but old enough to use the experience to write off an author's entire collection. My sister finally convinced me to give P&P a chance when I was about 15 and read it aloud to me, and I have loved Austen since! This time was no different. The only difficulty with audio versions is finding a reader to do it justice! If only a certain someone would make up their mind to record a reading of it for me...