Well, it’s about time that I got my Christmas baking boots on, now, isn’t it?
For weeks, my feed reader has been choc-a-bloc with blog postings stuffed with festive baked goods, and I can only hold out against that kind of onslaught for so long. So, having realised that resistance was futile, I closed my eyes and let my mind drift across the sea of baked possibilities. I ended up in Spain.
While I was still, unquestionably, in Ireland, I had found myself dreaming of that Spanish confection known as turrón. It’s made primarily from toasted almonds and honey, and varies in texture from break-your-teeth hard to soft and fudgy. When I was a kid, my brother, who lived in Spain, would bring a selection home at Christmas and I have been a sucker for turrón, particularly the soft variety, ever since. It’s just as well I can’t lay my hands on it too easily here – I inhale and it’s gone. And while the brother hasn’t lived in Spain for years, in my head Christmas is still flavoured with almond and honey. So I thought that I would try to capture that in festive shortbread form. I was very pleased that I did.
Almond, Honey and Orange Shortbreads
These little shortbread bites are crumbly and melty in the mouth and just the thing to have with coffee. They actually started out life as a recipe for pecan puffs, one of the many items covered in the Bake course with Rachel Allen, but the pecans made way for toasted almonds, vanilla was ditched in favour of orange zest and amaretto, the sugar lost out to its cousin honey and the crumbly shortbread texture was emphasised with the addition of a little rice flour. I also dipped them in chocolate, just because.
Use a nice floral honey if you can. I actually had some wonderful honey which was harvested by some friends in Spain and it seemed a very appropriate choice. The orange (which was one that I got in my regular organic veg deliveries from Absolutely Organic) was deeply orange and fragrant. I used the amaretto to underline the almond flavour but they’re also good without.
- 100g almonds
- 100g plain flour
- 25g rice flour or cornflour (cornstarch), or substitute additional plain flour
- good pinch of salt
- 100g unsalted butter, softened
- 2 tblsp honey
- zest of half an orange (about 1 tsp)
- 1 tsp amaretto (optional)
- 25g icing sugar, sifted, for coating (optional)
- approx. 50g good quality dark chocolate for dipping (optional) – I used Ó Conaill 70% dark chocolate
You’ll also need:
- A food processor or similarly bladed instrument for grinding the almonds, plus a large baking sheet for baking the biscuits – mine was around 24cm x 30cm – and a smaller sized baking tray for toasting the almonds.
- Preheat your oven to 150C.
- Spread the almonds out on a baking tray and toast in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the flesh of the nuts starts to brown (which you’ll see if you remove an almond and slice through it). Allow to cool a little and grind finely using a food processor.
- Whisk the plain flour, rice flour and salt together well in a medium-sized bowl. Add the ground toasted almonds and whisk again.
- In a separate bowl, beat the butter until light and fluffy (or use a food processor or stand mixer to do the job for you).
- Add the honey, orange zest and amaretto to the butter and beat well.
- Gradually incorporate the flour and almond mixture into the butter. When done, you should end up with a ball of dough which will be just slightly tacky to the touch.
- Scoop heaped teaspoonfuls of the dough into the palm of your hand, roll into balls, then place on the baking sheet and flatten slightly, either using the palm of your hand or the base of a glass. You should end up with little discs, around 3cm wide and 0.5-1cm high.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the biscuits are just starting to darken at the edges.
- Allow to cool slightly for about 2 minutes, then toss the biscuits in the icing sugar and leave to cool fully on a wire rack.
- If you fancy dipping the biscuits in chocolate, then chop the chocolate finely and either melt in the microwave (zapping it until barely melted) or in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of hot (not simmering) water. Once melted, dip roughly one half of each biscuit in the chocolate and leave to set on a wire tray.
- When cool, dust with some more icing sugar and enjoy with your Christmas tea or coffee.
- Replace the orange zest with some espresso powder and/or replace the almonds + amaretto with hazelnuts + frangelico
- Makes around 30 to 35 biscuits, though I eat around
3, no, 5, no10 at a time, so you’ll probably want to double the recipe.