I love almonds. I love their versatility, adding aroma and texture to my baking, and nutty crunchiness to stuffings, vegetables and curries. Their long shelf life allows me to constantly keep ground, flaked and toasted almonds in my larder and I do tend to be fairly promiscuous with them – especially at Christmas. I rarely bake a batch of mince pies without tucking a ball of velvety marzipan under the mincemeat and will often toss a handful in a skittle with a dash of olive oil and sea salt for nibbles with drinks – the flavour moves from milky to caramel and pairs with olives perfectly.
In baking however, I always add extract. I am often surprised that many recipes don’t suggest this, as I have never achieved that desired pungent almond hit without it. The extract is derived from the bitter almond kernels (but must have its cyanide content removed before it can be consumed!). Sometimes you may notice an almond flavour in other foods such as cherry drinks, mushrooms or coffee, and that’s the naturally occurring benzaldehyde, the main compound responsible for the flavour.
It’s hard to choose a favourite pairing, but although I love the effect it has on asparagus, ginger, salmon or lamb, I think it’s fruit, and specifically citrus fruits where it finds its soul mate. I love them in a damp lemon polenta cake, sitting above a creamy curd in a Maid of Honour or nudging up against grated orange zest in a fragrant couscous. However, I don’t often pair them with raspberries, and as I feel that this blog should be predominantly about me exploring new flavour pairings or trying new recipes, I decided to try making something which has been on my wish list for a while – home-made Jammie Dodgers, (yes, I have kids!) but adapted to feature an almond shortbread biscuit. I have added flaked almonds to give texture, and also included 2 tsp of almond extract. I find that almond extract’s flavour can fade during baking, so if you taste the dough (and who can resist?) and think it’s too overpowering, don’t worry – all will be well!
Ingredients – makes 15
250g unsalted butter
110g caster sugar
100g flaked almonds
2 tsp almond extract
340g plain flour, sifted
450ml jar seedless raspberry jam (I recommend Tiptree as cheaper brands can taste quite artificial)
– Pre-heat the oven at 180 degrees centrigrade.
– Pulse the almonds in a food processor or grinder to break up to about 1/3 size. You could also put the bag under a tea towel and bash with a rolling pin!
– Cream together butter & sugar in a largish bowl until fluffy
– Add flour almonds and almond extract into the bowl and work together with a spatula (feel free to get your hands dirty!)
– Roll out between two pieces of baking parchment (about 5mm thick) – it’s a fairly sticky dough at this stage, and it’s way easier to roll like this.
– Place in the fridge for half an hour. This allows the dough to firm up slightly, allowing for easier cutting and better shape retention in the oven. If you leave for longer, let the dough warm up again slightly before you start cutting, or the dough will crack.
– Using an 8cm cutter, and a smaller shape cutter for the middle (mine are family heirlooms!), cut out equal number of bases and tops. I find if you flour a fish slice, it’s much easier to pick up the pieces without mis-shaping them.
– With the tops, cut the shape at the same time, pick up with the slice and transfer to your other hand, letting the middle fall out through your fingers.
– Transfer to a greased baking tray and bake in the middle of the oven for 8 – 10 mins (they should be just turning brown at the edges), turning the tray half way through to ensure an even bake.
– After a few minutes, move the biscuits to a wire rack to completely cool.
– When cool, gently warm your jam in either a pan over a low heat, or in a microwave. This will ensure a very smooth (rather than lumpy) surface peaking though your biscuits.
– Drop the jam on the base of each biscuit, spreading out to within 5mm of the base. Be quite generous!
– Sprinkle the top with icing sugar and then place on top of the jam and gently press until the jam is visible at the edges. Try out this whole process first with any that are less than perfect (and then scoff!)
– Arrange artfully and bask in the inevitable adoration coming your way.
I was pleased with how these turned out – the biscuit was very tender, and melted in the mouth, while still offering a little crunch from the almonds. If you were baking for a special occasion, or just for the hell of it, you could add a layer of lemony butter icing under the jam….