Part of the fun of being a pastry chef and changing jobs is learning a slew of new recipes at your latest restaurant or bakery. Although you don't always like every single one, you usually discover a few winners in the bunch. When I took the job as pastry chef at Mistral in Boston, the chef wanted me to change and improve the dessert menu, but he also had some favorites that he didn't want me to mess with. These sandwich cookies — sweet, chewy, almond treats with a shmear of chocolate holding them together — were one of the untouchables. When I left Mistral to open Flour, I thought often of these addictive little cookies. The original recipe called for almond paste, an ingredient I try to avoid because it feels somewhat like cheating to me. Why buy pre-made almond paste when you can easily make your own with a food processor? It is fresher and cheaper, and it tastes better. So I replaced the commercial almond paste with a homemade recipe, and reduced the amount of sugar to make the cookies less achingly sweet. The recipe makes a big batch, but I doubt that you'll complain about that once you taste them.
Makes about 20 cookie sandwiches
3 1/4 cups (520 grams) blanched whole almonds
2 2/3 cups (540 grams) sugar
6 egg whites
2 teaspoons almond extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache:
8 ounces (228 grams) bittersweet chocolate (62 to 70 percent cacao), chopped
1 cup (240 grams) heavy cream
Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a food processor, pulse the almonds until ground to a fine powder. (Stop grinding once they are powdery; if you continue, they will become a paste.) Remove about 1 cup of the ground almonds from the food processor and set aside. Add the sugar to the almonds left in the food processor and process for 10 to 15 seconds, or until the sugar is completely incorporated. Add the egg whites and continue processing for about 30 seconds, or until well combined.
Transfer the almond paste to a medium bowl, and fold in the reserved ground almonds. Fold in the almond extract and salt.
Use your hands (dampen them with cold water to keep the batter from sticking to them) or a small spoon to make walnut-size rounds of batter on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart. You should have about 40.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cookies are light golden brown around the edges. Let cool completely on the baking sheet on a wire rack.
To make the ganache: While the cookies are cooling, place the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan, scald the cream over medium-high heat (bubbles start to form around the edge of the pan, but the cream is not boiling). Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let sit for 30 seconds, then slowly whisk together the chocolate and cream until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Let cool to room temperature (or cooler in the refrigerator), at least 1 hour until the ganache is thick and spreadable. You should have about 1 1/2 cups. (The ganache can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.)
Remove the cookies from the parchment. Spread about 1 tablespoon of the ganache on the flat side of 1 cookie. Top with a second cookie, flat side down. Repeat until all of the cookies are sandwiched with ganache. You may have a little ganache left over.
Excerpted from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe by Joanne Chang. Copyright 2010 by Joanne Chang. Excerpted by permission of Chronicle Books.