Biscuits de Noël aux amandes

Butter-almond crescents

This recipe makes about 25-30 cookies. The classic shape is the crescent, but I like to vary the look by making some of the cookies round and adding candied cherries or citrus rind (orange, lemon or lime) for both flavor and decoration.

For best results, have some parchment paper on hand for lining your cookie sheet — this will help prevent the cookies from burning on the bottom. Also make sure that the butter is at room temperature before you begin. And give yourself plenty of time, as the dough needs to chill for a while before being baked.

These cookies are fragile when they come out of the oven, yet they need to be dipped while still warm into confectioner’s sugar (aka icing sugar or sucre glace). This is a delicate process. I find it’s best to have the sifted powdered sugar waiting in a deep-ish bowl.

1 cup (220 g) butter at room temperature (= 8 ounces or 2 sticks)
2 cups (240 g) flour

1/4 cup (4 tbsp) white sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla or 1 packet vanilla sugar
pinch of salt if using unsalted butter
1 cup (120 g) finely ground almonds (amandes poudre)
8 ounces (220 g) confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar / sucre glace)
candied fruit for decoration (optional)

Place the softened butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the flour. Blend well. The butter and flour will slowly come together. (I do this by hand. You could try using a mixer, but you may end up with flour on the ceiling).

When the dough is like rough sand, add the white sugar and vanilla or vanilla sugar. If you’ve used unsalted butter, add the salt. Add the powdered almonds. Continue mixing until the dough holds together well. Form into a ball. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

When ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 180 C (350 F, gas mark 6). Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.

To form each cookie, pinch off a lump of dough the size of a large walnut, roll it into a ball, then into a log and bend the ends down to make a crescent shape. Place on the parchment paper. Repeat until you have a full baking sheet of cookies, making sure to leave space between them as they will expand a bit while baking.

Bake the cookies for about 10 minutes. Do not let them color. When they come out of the oven, let them rest for a couple of minutes to firm up.

Sift the confectioner’s sugar into a bowl. Using a spatula, gently transfer the cookies one by one to the bowl. Immerse fully to cover all sides. Transfer to a plate to cool. At this point the cookies will be overloaded with sugar. Not to worry, you will correct this later.

For the next batch of cookies, vary the shapes if you like.

For round cookies, pinch off a lump of dough the size of a medium walnut, roll it into a ball, press down on it to form a disk and press your thumb into the middle of the disk to form an indentation. Press a candied cherry or small piece of candied citrus rind into the indentation. Bake as above.

When the cookies with candied fruit come out of the oven and have cooled for a couple of minutes, immerse partially in the confectioner’s sugar to coat the bottom, being careful to keep the candied fruit free of sugar (as much as possible).

Keep going until you’ve used up all the dough. This takes 2-3 batches.

When all of the cookies have cooled to room temperature, tap them gently to knock off any excess sugar. Store in an airtight container, placing paper towels or parchment paper between the layers to protect the cookies. Keep in the fridge until ready to serve.

Note: As these cookies are very fragile, there is bound to be some breakage. But this is a good thing. It means that anyone who happens to be clamoring for a cookie well before Christmas can have a taste…

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