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Mandarin-Scented Almond Cookies
On Chios island the traditional cookies are enriched with peel and juice from the incredibly fragrant, heirloom local fruit.
Pear-shaped almond cookies, scented with orange flower or rose water, are prepared on most islands. On Chios, the cookies are enriched with the taste of the incredibly fragrant mandarins which are a product of Protected Designation of Origin.
Almond trees grow all over the Greek islands. They are the most common fruit trees because they can endure the dry conditions —unlike the irrigated California varieties— as well as the strong sea breezes that prevent other fruit trees from thriving. Beautiful only when in bloom—usually in February or early March— almond trees look thin and frail when their green leaves appear.
The almonds they produce are delicious, but small. They are difficult to find in the market, even on the islands, because the cost of gathering and shelling them, which must be done by hand, is prohibitive. Imported California almonds are sold in the supermarkets, and often on the island hills you can see trees full of almonds that nobody cares to harvest. People gather only what they need for their own use. We gather a few almonds from our trees, and as we need more, we get from other Keans, usually paying double the market value; but they are truly worth it!
For about 50 cookies
4 tangerines (see NOTE)
1 pound blanched almonds
2 cups sugar
Granulated sugar for dredging the cookies
Blanched almonds to top the cookies (optional)
Peel the tangerines and place the peels in a small saucepan; reserve the tangerines. Add cold water to cover and bring to a boil. Drain the peels, add fresh cold water to cover and bring to a boil again. Drain, rinse under plenty of cold running water and drain again. Dry completely with paper towels.
Combine the almonds and tangerine peels in a blende ror food processor and process until finely ground.
Strain the juices of the reserved tangerines through a sieve set over a bowl, pressing against the fruit to release all the juices.
In a large saucepan, combine the almond mixture, sugar and 2/3 cup of the tangerine juice and simmer, stirring constantly, until the sugar has dissolved, about 7 minutes. Let cool.
Shape tablespoon-sized portions of the mixture into walnut-size balls or about 1 1/2-inch-high pear-shaped cookies, wetting your fingers with the tangerine or orange juice.
Dredge each cookie in granulated sugar to coat, and if you like, top each cookie with an almond.
Let them to dry somewhat for a few hours, then if you like, wrap individually in cellophane or place in a box with a lid.
Let stand for at least 3 days before serving, as the flavors need to concentrate.
I made this version now, late October, and having not yet the best mandarins/tangerines, I used some orange zest plus 1/2 cup of the excellent tangerine peel preserves from Perivoli, Chios, instead of sugar.