Saturday, January 22, 2011

Impress. Your Guests.

Everyone here in Atlanta is still talking about our recent ice storm, but the truth is, most of our stories are similar.  Suffice it to say, I can only imagine how many closets, drawers and basements were cleaned out last week.  In my case, it was the pantry.  What the heck else are you supposed to do when you can't leave the house for days on end?

Imagine my surprise when I unearthed a big box of amaretti cookies from deep within the bowels of my pantry shelves.  Well, well, well.  I started casting around for recipes which incorporated them.  But wait, it didn't really matter because what I was really after were THE PAPERS THEY ARE WRAPPED IN.

No, I'm not kidding.  No, I am not suggesting that you eat these papers or use them to roll up with something illegal.  I am, however, going to share an amazing trick you can do with them; one that will make you the hit of any party and cause you to kick yourself everytime you think of all the times you have thrown these things in the trash before you knew "the secret."

Here's the back story:

The year was 1959 or so.  Henry (about 8 years old) was having dinner with his family and their friends, Larry and Hilda Peirez at Andre's, which was apparently a fancy restaurant in Great Neck, NY.  As dinner came to a close, the check arrived, along with amaretti wrapped in "those papers."  Larry Peirez ate his cookies, then rolled the wrapper up like a cigarette and stood it on end.  He pulled out his lighter and much to the horror of everyone seated around the table, calmly lit the paper then watched impassively as it started to burn fiercely in the middle of the table. 

Just as the tablecloth was about to catch fire (and panic about to set in), the burning cylinder gracefully ascended and floated high above the table, almost to the ceiling.  Then, totally burned out, the charred remains drifted ethereally back to the table and its wide-eyed occupants.  Henry was mesmerized.  One can only imagine what the waitstaff must have been thinking!

So, now you know.  My suggestion is to get out there and buy a package of Amaretti Lazzaroni ASAP.  The next time you have to attend a stilted dinner party, tuck a few in your pocket and light 'em up at the table.  Yours hosts may be horrified, but you will save everyone from boredom and you will be a rockstar for the evening!

Yes, we have lift off!

Up, up and away!

 If you can't find Amaretti Lazzaroni locally, here is a link:

Now that you have used all of the papers, what are you going to do with those poor, homeless cookies?  Here's my recommendation:

CHOCOLATE AMARETTI CAKE (adapted from Giada De Laurentis)

¾ cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup slivered almonds
2 oz. amaretti cookies (10 small cookies)
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
Zest of 1 orange
4 eggs (I used medium-large)

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray and place in refrigerator to chill.

Melt chocolate in a small pan until smooth. Set aside to cool while you proceed with the other steps.

Combine almonds and cookies in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely ground, then transfer to a medium bowl. Place the butter, sugar and salt in the processor and blend until creamy and smooth. Add the orange peel and pulse briefly to combine. Add eggs, one at a time and blend until incorporated. Scrape sides down and blend again. Add the reserved nut mixture and melted chocolate. Pulse until blended, scrape downs sides again, and blend until combined.

Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the center puffs, about 30 – 35 minutes. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then remove sides of springform. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 8 servings

As usual, here are my "post-recipe" comments.

*  I was pretty wary about using a food processor for a cake.  Normally it doesn't work, but since this recipe has no flour, it's perfectly okay.  You don't want to  incorporate air in this mixture, anyway.

*  The cake will rise in the oven, then fall when you take it out to cool.  No worries.  It will also look somewhat lopsided.  No worries about that either.  It contributes to the rustic look and it has no effect whatsoever on the taste or texture.

*  Do yourself a huge favor and slip a cookie sheet or pan under the springform as it bakes.  I don't care how secure you think your pan might be, it will leak.  Spare yourself from having to clean the oven after you bake this.

*  If you want to gild the lily, you can serve this with softly whipped cream, or even ice cream.  I have to say though, I think it is pretty stunning in its simplicity, so I serve it "naked" and unadorned.

I wish you could have been here last night as I was trying to light these things and photograph them at the same time.  Challenging, at best.  At least I didn't burn the house down!  Haha, and if you try this and burn your house down, I absolve myself of all liability!

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