Let’s Hear It For The Almond

Jack Hughes 5 November 2020
Image Credit: Jack Hughes

The now humble almond has throughout history taken on symbolic significance. In the Bible, it was Aaron’s rod that blossomed and produced almonds, thereby bestowing upon the nut renown for divine approval. A little later, the Romans would shower newlywed couples with almonds as a fertility charm. Nowadays, the almond is a symbol of good luck in Scandinavia – in Sweden and Denmark, the key to good fortune is finding the whole almond hidden in the middle of the Christmas rice pudding. It is clear the almond is one emblematic nut.

It is clear the almond is one emblematic nut.

Originally, the almond was native to Iran and its surrounding countries, however with the migration of people, it found great popularity on the shores of the Mediterranean. Along with Northern Africa, Southern Europe, particularly Italy and Spain, took to the almond, a fact that explains their reverence today for the nut. Indeed, it was Spanish Franciscan monks who took the almond to other parts of the world, most notably California, which is the biggest global producer of almonds.

Below are three delicious sweet treats that place the almond front and centre.

3-INGREDIENT COCONUT LIME MACAROONS

Dessicated coconut has not always been my culinary friend. Several things have unnerved me about it: its texture is to me is mouth-drying, its redolence of naff 1970s entertaining is ghastly, and its appearance reminds me of some by-product a pedicurist would have to deal with.

I say all this because I am shocked by how I love these coconut macaroons. The coconut in these is soft, moist and terrifically tropical. I am a convert.

INGREDIENTS (MAKES 18-20)

1 397g can condensed milk
200g desiccated coconut
1 lime, zested

METHOD

Preheat your oven to 180C and line a large baking sheet with greaseproof paper.
In a bowl, combine the condensed milk, coconut and lime zest until you have a sticky mixture.
Place tablespoons of the mixture onto the baking sheet – you’re aiming for roughly circular mounds.
Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden and slightly crispy on the outside. Remove from the oven and let cool before tucking in.

MUHALLEBI

Muhallebi is a Middle Eastern milk pudding with legendary origins. According to lore, a Persian cook served it to an Arab general by the name of Al-Muhallab ibn Abi Sufra; he liked it so much, he named it after himself. Thereafter, muhallebi became a popular sweet treat across the Arab world. Early versions of the dish dating from the 13th century add shredded chicken to the dish, a practice still found in Turkey today, however, the sweet, fragrant hit of rosewater is the most common version found across the Middle East.

INGREDIENTS (SERVES 2)

½ litre almond milk
3 ½ tbsp cornflour
3 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp rosewater
1 cardamom pod

METHOD

In a small bowl, mix together the cornflour with a little almond milk so you have a smooth, thick paste.
In a saucepan, heat together the remaining milk, sugar, vanilla, rosewater and cardamom pod. Do this over a medium heat until the mixture is hot.
Once the fragrant milk is hot, fish out the cardamom pod and dump in the cornflour paste. Whisk the paste in vigorously and cook this over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes until the mixture is thick and resembles custard. Make sure you stir this regularly – you don’t want it to stick to the bottom of the pan.
Decant the muhallebi into individual bowls and scatter with ground pistachios or almonds. Allow to cool and then chill before serving.

ALMOND AND VANILLA BISCOTTI

Biscotti will always have a special place in my heart. I remember sitting in a chic Italian restaurant in London, the first solo dinner of my life, sipping on a fridge-cold glass of Vin Santo and dipping these sweet, crunchy biscuits in the amber liquid until they became delectably softened.

They are a perennial choice for the biscuit lover – yes, you can dip them in sweet wine, but they are also excellent to dunk into a moussey dessert or even a good ol’ cuppa.

INGREDIENTS

200g self-raising flour
75g caster sugar
150g whole almonds, roughly chopped
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas Mark 3. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment and sprinkle a little flour on it as well.
In a bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, chopped almonds, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, and salt.
Whisk together the eggs and add them along with the vanilla to the dry ingredients. Mix the ingredients together until they form a cohesive dough that is not too sticky.
Flour a work surface and roll the dough into a 30cm log. Transfer the log to your baking sheet and press the log down so it’s a bit flatter.
Bake the log in the oven on the top shelf for half an hour until a skewer inserted into the dough comes out clean.
Leave the log until it is cool enough to handle, then slice it on the diagonal into 1cm thick biscotti.
Arrange the biscuits face-up and put them back in the oven for 40 minutes until they are crisp and aromatic.
Let the biscotti cool on a wire rack.