Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Brown Butter Almond Cookies

I read a little story in a magazine many years ago about a woman who made a special brown butter cookie every year for Christmas. It was a painstaking project that took her a very long time, and it always occurred from start to finish after work late into one single evening. She was up all night getting everything exactly right - browning the butter to perfection, preparing the dough, chilling it, shaping cookies in the bowl of a spoon, baking, cooling, assembling little spoon-shaped sandwiches with the precise amount of strawberry jam. As fate might have it, perhaps one or seven would disappear in the process.
Then to decide who deserved these gems and who would really appreciate them (and at this point, it seemed her pool of friends diminished... maybe they suddenly became mere acquaintances or office mates). Even then, anyone who was deemed deserving was only allotted somewhere between three and five.

I think of that story every now and then, although I have no idea why.  Maybe it's because I can't imagine making myself do something like that, going to that extent all in one go and showing up at work the next morning as a zombie.

And all for cookies!
I suppose we can say it's dedication.
I never tried to duplicate the cookies and I don't know if the recipe was even included with the story.

I was trying to make a special occasion cookie, and the above story was running through my mind along with a recent David Lebovitz post on baci di dama.
Luckily after a couple attempts it paid off and the cookies worked out beautifully.
They turn out a bit like buttery, crumbly sables, but even more so because of the ground almonds included in the dough. 

Almonds do certainly have some flavor, but they work well with so many other ingredients since they are delicately understated.  They're there and recognizable, but they don't completely overwhelm.  And browned butter? Additional nutty goodness, bronzed liquid gold.

I will admit that the dough is quite crumbly, and reminiscent of not-quite-damp-enough sand that may or may not hold up in a sand castle. The castle may or may not come crashing down as soon as it's completed.
It's a bit of a challenging dough texture-wise, but that's what gives the cookies some of their charm: they're delicate, melt-in-your-mouth and only *just* holding together.

Beautiful with coffee or tea.

Brown Butter and Almond Cookies
makes about 28 filled cookies

1 c (125 g) blanched almonds, slivered if possible
4 oz (114 g) butter
1 c (140 g) rice flour
1/2 c (106 g) sugar
A pinch of salt

Raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F/160 degrees C. Place the almonds on a sheet pan with sides and toast about 10 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until the almonds are a light golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven and set aside to cool completely.

While the almonds toast, place the butter in a small saucepan and melt over medium low heat, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the butter is browned and smells nutty (you can certainly brown it to your preference or comfort level, just be careful not to burn it).  Pour the butter into a bowl to cool, making sure to scrape all the toasty and flavorful milk solids from the pan along with the butter. Set aside.

Once the almonds have cooled, process to a coarse meal in a food processor (be careful not to go so far as to make it almond butter).
Pour the ground almonds into a bowl and add the rice flour, sugar, salt.  Mix with a spoon or spatula until combined. Add the melted and cooled butter and continue mixing until everything is incorporated. When the dough becomes difficult to mix, put the soon down and use your hands to mix and knead the dough until it all comes together. The texture of the dough will almost be like that of wet sand. Do the best you can forcing it to come together in a single mass and wrap tightly in plastic or place in a large plastic sealed bag, removing all the air.
Refrigerate 1-2 hours.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F/ 160 degrees C. Pack small amounts of dough into the bowl of a deep teaspoon measure to shape. Alternatively, use your hands to roughly and tightly form small flattened balls, using about 7 g of dough per cookie. Place the cookies on a parchment paper lined sheet about 1 inch apart (they shouldn't spread), and bake 10-15 minutes, rotating the pan after about 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and let the cookies cool completely on the pan before removing. 

Handle the cookies carefully and place a small dollop of raspberry jam on the flat side of half of the cookies. Top each with another cookie and let the jam set a bit before serving. 


  1. This is a beautiful, albeit unique addition to a tray of homemade Christmas cookies. Gorgeous to look at----they are melt-in-your-mouth elegant and yummy! ANd that is the best part.

  2. TIME consuming and fragile, these are delicious little morsels. When I had these for tea, I felt like I was the queen, (maybe I am the queen).