This year, I didn't make any big baking plans for Christmas. My favorite kind of baking is the kind I get to do with little sister A. Sadly for me, she is home in Wyoming with the rest of the family and I am doing the very adult thing of staying behind in too-warm Arizona to celebrate with my in-laws.
But, even though I made no plans and am missing my favorite sous chef, I knew it wouldn't feel like the holidays unless I baked something. Yesterday I offered, then, to bring dessert over to a friend's house. Now, normally this would not stress me out but said friend is notoriously uninterested in dessert. After hours searching the web, I decided to go with the light, sophisticated Italian amaretto cookies to serve with an after-dinner hot toddy.
The result was delightful. I very slightly adapted a Better Homes and Gardens recipe, found here and after reading several hot toddy recipes online settled on the path below.
For the Cookies
1 1/4 cup almond meal*
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup white sugar
These have a beautiful flavor and are a nice light ending to any large holiday dinner. They would also be delicious with an afternoon cappuccino or a hot cup of black tea.
Preheat your oven to 325 F. Mix the almond meal and the powdered sugar and set aside. Using an electric mixer, whip your egg whites with the almond extract and the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. (At this stage egg whites should be white, glossy, and fairly stiff but still falling over a bit rather than standing straight up.) Add in the 1/2 cup of white sugar 1 tablespoon at a time and beat until stiff peaks form. If egg whites lose their glossiness you have beaten them too much and should start over.
Fold in the almond meal and powdered sugar mixture. Scoop cookies onto an oiled cookie sheet, parchment paper, or a silpat (I prefer the silpat). They should not spread much but make sure to give them a little space. The BHG recipe said to scoop them out with a 1-inch diameter, but I found they held up well up to a 2-inch diameter and we preferred the large ones. Bake for 15-17 minutes, let cool, and enjoy.
*I used Trader Joe's almond meal but you can make your own using a food processor. Try grinding with a bit of gluten-free flour to avoid turning the meal into a paste.
For the Hot Toddies
According to my five minutes of googling, hot toddies can be made with hot tea or with just hot water, with cloves and star anise or with just lemon, with honey or sugar or both, and with whiskey or brandy or bourbon or even gin. We went with black tea, lemon, brown sugar and honey, and bourbon and didn't regret that for a second.
I made these one at a time so the recipe below will serve just one person. Alton Brown has a crockpot recipe to serve a crowd if you need to do that.
Heat 8oz of hot water until boiling; add black tea and let steep. Coat the bottom of another mug with honey and add 1 teaspoon brown sugar and 1oz of bourbon. Pour the tea over the honey/bourbon/sugar mixture and stir. Squeeze in the juice from 1 wedge of lemon and enjoy.
Considerations for Food Allergies and Ethics
The Italian amaretti cookies are gluten-free and vegetarian but not vegan and not safe for those with nut allergies.
I consider the hot toddies gluten free. My research indicates it is safe for people with celiac disease to drink alcohol distilled from grains with gluten because the gluten protein is removed during distillation. Others disagree. I get very sick from small amounts of gluten and have never had a problem with bourbon, whiskey, or vodka distilled from gluten-containing grains, but you should make your own decision in consultation with your doctor. If you want an alternative, consider the more adventurous hot gin toddy.