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brutti ma buoni
Brutti Ma Buoni ("Ugly but Good" Italian flourless almond cookies, with egg whites)
Originated from: Piedmont, Italy
Occasion: Special times
Contributed by: Mary Melfi

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"Brutti ma Buoni" Almond-based cookies from the Piedmont region ***

4 egg whites, beaten stiff
2 cups blanched almonds, cut into tiny pieces, 1/4 inch X 1/4 inch*
1 cup "superfine" or "Castor" sugar**
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

* Store-bought blanched almonds which have been mechanically cut can be used, but if these come in slices of 1/2 inches, they should be cut in half

**Regular sugar can easily be substituted if one does not have "superfine" sugar on hand; however, "superfine" or "Castor" sugar blends in more easily with the beaten egg whites

*** In some parts of Northern Italy these cookies are made with hazelnuts [See Brutti Ma Buoni, Version II)


Preheat oven to 325 F degree.

Cut blanched almonds into tiny pieces [1/4 inch by 1/4 inch].

Separate the egg whites.

Add salt and vanilla extract to the egg whites.

In an electric mixer, using the "whisk" attachment, beat the egg whites (to which the salt and vanilla extract have been added) till they are stiff.

In an electric mixer, using the "whisk" attachment, slowly add the sugar to the beaten egg white mixture.

Fold in the chopped almonds [Do NOT use an electric mixer, do this part the old-fashioned way -- "by hand"]

Grease a [aluminum] cookie sheet (or place a silicon baking mat over it).*

Drop about about tablespoon of batter for each cookie on the cookie sheet, placing each mound about an inch and half apart as the cookies will expand a little while cooking.

Bake in upper half of the oven for about 30 to 35 minutes (the length of time depends on one's particular oven range and the size of one's cookies).

Cool before removing from cookie sheet (Wait at least half an hour).


For years I assumed my Zia Teresa's "Bianca Nieve Macaroons" were specific to the Molise region. How wrong I was! Food historians seem to believe (though I am not convinced!) that macaroons originated in Northern Italy, in particular Piedmont. Apparently macaroons first made their appearance in the late 18th century. Possibly, Italian monks might have come up with the original recipe. Later, French-speaking Carmelite nuns who had come to Italy to escape the horrors of the French revolution perfected it. In any case this style of almond cookies can now be found throughout Italy. Generally speaking, those recipes from the old South use fewer egg whites and don't add vanilla extract. "Brutti Ma Buoni" (translated as "ugly but good") are possibly the most popular almond cookies in Italy today. Why they are called ugly beats me, because I like how they look. Generally speaking, they're rather easy to do. All one needs is the right equipment. My late aunt, Zia Teresa, beat her egg whites by hand, but few modern-day cooks have the patience to do this (I don't!). Using an electric mixer that comes with a "whisk attachment" really facilitates the process. For years I thought it was me -- I couldn't get the egg whites to stiffen properly, and now I discover, that it wasn't me but my old-style egg beater. Luckily, that twenty-year old relic died on me, so I was forced to buy new equipment. I got "Bravetti Professional hand mixer" and it works like a charm for small amounts of egg whites. The fancy Kitchen Aid mixers don't work that well for 1 or 2 egg whites, but this "Bravetti" hand mixer turns an egg white stiff in less than 60 seconds. Miraculous, I dare say. In fact, one can add the vanilla, salt, whatever right into the egg whites and it still manages to make them stiff in less than 60 seconds. Canadian Tire sells them -- I'm not trying to make a plug for the machine, I'm just glad there is something out there that works. Also, my cousin, Pauline Fresco, a fabulous cook, recently informed me [Can't take the credit for it] that using cheap aluminum cookware that one finds at the Dollar Shops dramatically improves the chances of making really good cookies -- at least, cookies that don't have burnt bottoms. In fact, I experimented with both types of cookware (Expensive cookie baking sheets and cheap aluminum cookware) using the same batter, and low and behold the aluminum cookware won hands down. Also, my cousin, Pauline, forever the master chef, introduced me to Demarle's Silpat silicon baking mats which are much better than to those silicon baking mats sold at Canadian Tire and other large retailers. In fact, Demarle's "Silpat" silicon-based baking mats are possibly the best on the market, mainly because they somehow incorporate glass into them. Have no idea how the company does this, all I do know is that this is the type of silicon baking mat that is used in fancy restaurants. However, Demarle's "Silpat" silcon baking mats [made in France] are hard to find and they are expensive -- only specialty shops sell them. So it just goes to show you -- sometimes money helps, and sometimes it's of no use at all. What really counts is experience -- yours or somebody else's.... Now this is getting long-winded, time to stop. Still, I have to say one more thing -- if you don't like baking cookies and want to try out only one recipe this year, almond-based cookies (biscotti, macaroons etc.) are the ones to try. There are hundreds of recipes on the world-wide web you can study and pick from. Home-made almond biscotti are far superior to anything you can buy in a supermarket (Who knows what's in them!). High-end Italian pastry shops do make excellent almond-based cookies and are better than anything you can bake at home (Or at least anything that I can bake at home!), but unless you are a millionaire, you might resent forking out ten dollars for a couple of bite-sized cookies ... Photo: Mary Melfi.

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