White days are those that are full of joy, good and prosperity. Typically a wedding day, a birth of a baby, and a graduation from college are white. There seems to be an abundance of white in Libya these days. It’s raining after years of drought, as this country cleanses itself of the terrible filth of the past, washing the sacrificial red blood of martyrs and all the black days away. I wish you all a white New Year.
White foods symbolize purity and chastity. Flour was traditionally mounded in the corners of the home and dusted on doors to entice a white New Year. Water is sprinkled onto the path of a loved one to open up a white and safe passage on their journey. The white bonds of milk are as strong as blood, as those who have suckled from the same breast are siblings for life regardless of lineage. This milk is the bride’s dowry that the groom will repay in her mother’s honor. She will suck on and feed sugar to her in-laws, symbolizing a sweet and happy union. On entering her new home she will smash an egg on the threshold for virility and fertility.
White is the color of sugar, blanched almonds and egg whites. White is abambar, almond macaroons. We celebrate 60 years of Libyan Independence for the first time in 42 years. We celebrate freedom we never thought we would bask in, hoping our children would have better luck. We celebrate in true Tripolitanian fashion, with abambar, the symbolic food of white days.
Abambar Soft Almond Macaroons (Amaretti Morbidi)
Makes 2 dozen
Preparation 10-40 mins
Cooking 15-20 mins
1 cup finely ground blanched almonds (see note)
½ cup sifted icing (confectioner’s) sugar, and extra for dusting
2 large egg whites
a pinch of salt
½ tsp bitter almond essence
whole or halved blanched almonds
In a deep non-reactive bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy. Add the sifted icing sugar in small batches and continue whisking at high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in the ground almonds, salt and essence, being careful not to over work it. The mixture should be light but firm enough to hold its shape.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Fill a piping bag fitted with a 5mm round tip with the meringue mixture. Pipe into equally sized rounds, leaving at least 2cm spacing between them as they will expand when baking. Using wet fingertips tap down any points. Dust with icing sugar. Place an almond in the center of each, halfway down the thickness of the almond. Let it stand uncovered for at least two hours. This will form a skin that will give the crackled surface to the baked cookie, a trademark of well-crafted abambar.
Preheat oven to 160o C (low). Place the baking sheet on the center rack. Bake until just lightly golden. Cool completely in the tray before serving. You can store abambar in an airtight container up to a couple of weeks, as they are prone to absorbing moisture, though I doubt they will last that long! Abambar are traditionally served with almond milk but are just as lovely with a strong espresso.
note: If ground blanched almonds (almond meal) isn’t readily available, you can blanch whole almonds ahead of time by standing in hot, just boiled water for 2 minutes which will loosen the skins. Drain water and peel by placing an almond between your thumb and forefinger, and slipping against each other in a snapping motion. Place on a tea-towel in a tray and allow to dry completely. You can speed up the drying process by putting the tray in an oven at the lowest setting for 10-15 minutes to crisp up the almonds making them easier to grind. Be careful not to allow them to color.
Cool completely before grinding in a spice grinder or food processor as hot almonds easily release their oils and turn into a paste rather than grains when processed. Grind the almonds and sugar together. The sugar also helps in absorbing any excess oils keeping the meal light and dry. Pass through a sieve to ensure all the grains are ground to a very fine consistency.