On the highway to health, the cookie has been regarded as a pothole. There are some excellent reasons for this which we talk about in our essay about the food pyramid. But there is a compelling argument to be made thata little sugar or butter causes little harm but excess consumption of these ingrediants to the exclusion of healthy foods is the ultimate cause of dietary related maladies. The French, for instance, are quite fond of pastries; but they are rarely overweight. They eat small portions of tasty food. And pastry comes at the end of a good meal that features plenty of vegetables and some meat.
We will note that eating cookies as snacks is probably a bad idea, it will often make one hungrier. But, if one eats a tiny serving of sweets at the end of a meal, this will often have a powerful satiating effect. Eat a bit of sweet just as you are beginning to feel satisfied, and you might find that it saves you from eating quite a bit of something else.
It is worth observing that cookies are 'an excuse to eat butter and sugar' and that almost any cookie can be improved by adding more of either ingredient. It might also be worth noting that cookies are a unique American invention, relying on cheap butter and sugar - ingredients that until the twentieth century were dear in every country.
Unfortunately, two negative things happen as one strays too far from the perfect mix of flour, butter, and sugar that defines most cookies; The texture of the cookie becomes more difficult to work with, and/ or the nutritional balance, if there was any to begin with, gets further out of whack.
It is also worth observing that the gluten of bread flour and possibly even that of all purpose flour can make cookies tough. I bake cookies with barley or rice flour because those are the kinds of flour I have on hand. Their low protien and lack of gluten give cookies made with barley and rice flours soft and sometimes crumbly textures.
Many almond cookie recipes I've seen use more butter and less almond, but almond is chock full of calcium and other minerals, making these cookies just a little more healthy than the average cookie.
This recipe will produce about 2 dozen crispy cookies in the space of about 20 minutes. They are just about an inch and a half in diameter and just about a quarter inch thick. Two cookies will give you a tablespoon of sugar, a tablespoon of flour, a teaspoon of butter, and a tablespoon of almonds. In eating dessert, one could do worse.
If you don't have a food processor, you can use almond butter instead of almonds and a hand or stand mixer. One can also use almond paste (marzipan) and cut back the added sugar by 1/4 cup. See recipes links below
Cooking cookies without a silicone pastry mat (i.e. Silpat) is like having your hair cut with a hedge trimmer. It is theoretically possible, but unnecessarily risky. I cannot tell you how many cookie batches I've had to throw out because the bottoms were burned. Do that just a few times and the mats pay for themselves. Cook with them and not only are the cookies spared of burning before they are done, but there is simply no question of them sticking.
The cookie above was baked for 12 minutes in a 425F oven, half on and half off a Silpat Mat. The half that was off the mat is dark brown, just at the edge of being burnt to a crisp. Another half a minute or so and it would be toast. The part protected by the mat is nicely golden brown, still very far from overheating. The scientific explanation has to do with the way heat has difficulty moving across gaps between dry solids such as the mat and the cookie sheet. The proof is in the eating.
The big advantage of using a food processor is that one can start with almonds and get to dough inside of three minutes, and the whole recipe can be made in a single bowl.
Tradional recipes usually start with almond paste. There's nothing wrong with this, it's just that in my own larder it is easier to stock almonds than almond paste because the almonds get used for a wide variety of purposes. Traditional recipes will also use a stand mixer instead of a food processor. Again, if you are used to making cookies this way, you might be happier using the stand mixer.
Rice flour and barley flour can be found at the local supermarket or health food store. Almonds I buy in bulk from Sunnyland Farms. I've tried one or two other suppliers, but have not always received nuts that smell fresh. The quality of the nuts from this supplier is consistently high, in my own experience
Almond extract is also available at any supermarket, or from Penzeys.
Copyright S.R. Brubaker 2002 - 2006.