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Almond cookies. (Photo: Whitney, via Wikimedia Commons)
Almonds are a nutritionally dense food, full of nutrients, including B vitamins, niacin, Vitamin E, and minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc. They also have cholesterol-lowering properties due to their rich dietary fiber content, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and phytosterols. The main almond-growing region of Greece is Magnesia in Thessaly, around the town of Almyros. Amygdalota are a favorite Greek almond cookie, often made for weddings and other festive occasions. There are several different versions of these flourless treats, but the one thing all the recipes have in common is a simplicity that allows the flavor of the almonds to shine. Made with a few, key ingredients, they are a delightful sweet to enjoy any time of the year. They can be made with or without egg whites to bind all the ingredients together. The vegan version, without eggs, can be enjoyed during fasting periods, and by vegans and vegetarians. In Cyprus, ergolavi are another almond cookie made with blanched almonds, sugar, egg whites, almond extract, and grated orange zest and then rolled in coarsely chopped, blanched almonds. Here are two recipes for amygdalota to try at home.
3 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon Greek sea salt
1 pound finely ground blanched almonds
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons water
About 30 blanched whole almonds
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites, a 1/2 cup of the sugar, and a pinch of salt. Beat until soft peaks form, set aside. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the ground almonds, the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, the 1/8 teaspoon of salt, and the almond extract. Fold the beaten egg white mixture into the almond mixture until well combined. Dampening your hands with the water, take a spoonful of the dough and roll into a ball. Make a dimple in the center, place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, flatten slightly, and place a blanched almond in the dimple. Bake the cookies in a preheated 325 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly golden and set, rotating the baking sheets about halfway through baking. Cool completely on wire racks before enjoying or storing in an airtight container.
3 cups finely ground blanched almonds
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Whole cloves for decoration (optional)
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the ground almonds with 1 cup of the powdered sugar. The amount of sugar added may be adjusted to taste. Add the rosewater slowly, a few drops at a time and mix until the mixture can hold its shape when molded into a small pear shape. Be careful not to add too much rosewater since the mixture will then be too wet to mold into shape. If desired, the amygdalota may be baked for 5 minutes in a preheated 350 degree F oven. Allow them to cool completely on wire racks if baking. Place on a plate and dust with additional powdered sugar. If preferred, decorate with a whole clove at the top and bottom to appear like the stem and bottom of a real pear. Serve with coffee or tea. Store any leftover cookies tightly covered in an airtight container.
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