What are amaretti?

Some people call them cookies, these days it’s hip to refer to them as “macarons”, but really they’re little almond meringues that are flavored with almond. Macaroons is probably more like it. I first tasted them as a kid when the neighbors who lived behind our house would take me into Chicago’s inner suburbs to visit their Italian grandma. In classic Old World Grandma style she’d feed us no matter what the hour, and amply. We dined crowded around the table in her cramped little apartment kitchen, since the dining room table was covered with doilies and only used for special occasions.

She was fond of serving us amaretti as soon as we walked in the door as a sort of tide-me-over until the real food hit the table: an antipasto starter, then pasta which I’d usually gorge myself on, forgetting that a meat course was coming next. By the end of the meal I’d be so engorged I practically had to be craned out the window.

But where was I? Ah yes, amaretti. The thing about amaretti is that while they can be enjoyed on their own they make a great component for other types of simple desserts. Crush them and they make a fantastic crumble that you can use to top fruit cups, ice cream or sorbets. They’re also frequently used to add textural interest to custards, frangipane, mousses and creams. Very versatile things indeed.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the most famous amaretti are Amaretti di Saronno from Lombardy in Italy. They’re the standard by which all others are compared and the go-to amaretti in most Italian restaurant pastry departments. If you frequent speciality food shops you’ve no doubt seen the trademark red containers. For store-bought goods, they’re excellent. But since I’m a do-it-yourself type of guy, I’m not going to let their legendary status intimidate me. Much.

7 thoughts on “What are amaretti?”

    1. It’s the Aussie accent that sells it: that’s not a macaron…THIS is a macaron!

      And yeah, that guy…I met him once. What a jerk!

      – J

  1. Heehee..the doilies on the dining room table. So true, so true. Although my Nana and great aunts always had other treats to tide us over, like “S” cookies (I’d say the Italian snickerdoodle equivalent), pizzelle (mmm, waffle cone), guiguileni (those sesame seed covered ones), biscotti, and the seasonal cuccidati. Ah…the memories. And somehow my Nana always managed to have peach sauce (frozen of course) to serve with vanilla ice cream and amaretti. Thanks for the trip down (food) memory lane!

    1. I remember the S cookies and guiguileni very well. She’d get those pre-made at the Italian bakeries that used to be everywhere on north Harlem Avenue. Just about everything on her cookie plates was crunchy…she’d store them in old tins she had over the fridge. What a great lady. The closest I ever had to an Italian nana…I think of her quite a bit!


      – Joe

      1. Yeah, the crunchy nature of the cookies and that they were often a little “drier” made them different than other cookies. My wife told me she didn’t like Italian cookies for that reason. Her loss.
        I’ve actually struggled to get some of them to the right crunchy level – one cousin told me that they used a basic pasta dough recipe as a base for their cookies. I also think that they used a lot of shortening, double-baking, and sitting things in tins. My great aunt claims that there are some types that need to mature before they are eaten.

    2. The “S” were OK in my book but I’d make myself sick if I could have as many pizzelle as I wanted. The ones flavored with anise. It wasn’t until I was older that I ‘discovered’ I could use my krumkake iron to make my own, before that it was a rare treat. And then there is my pathetic addiction to sesame seeds, I’d mainline guiguileni. Shameful. I probably never let them sit long enough to get crunchy all the way through. SIGH

      1. What is it about sesame seeds that they’re so addictive for so many of us? Has anything ever been written on that, because I’m in the same situation.

        Thanks Frankly!

        – Joe

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