The first time that I had these ridiculously delicious cookies was while I was working at a bakery in Poughkeepsie, NY. Made from almond paste (finely ground almonds and sugar), sugar, egg whites, almond extract, and almonds, these horseshoe-shaped crescents (the "horn" name eludes me) have a moist and chewy interior that yields under a crunchy almond coating. They are insanely almond-y because there's not a bit of flour in them (yes folks, gluten free!). The best part of the cookies are the tips, which are dunked in decadent bittersweet chocolate.
While I worked the bakery counter, the heady scent of chocolate and almonds would drift around the store, driving me absolutely crazy. I spent a good part of my meager paycheck on these cookies—slamming down one or two on my drive home, almond crumb projectiles flying all over my seat. Since then I'd satisfy my craving whenever I visited NYC, where Jewish bakeries hawk giant versions of my cookie infatuation.
Because these cookies are such a cinch to whip up, I figured I'd just bake a batch myself (a big plus for my greedy belly which can easily eat a dozen of 'em). Then, a reality check (and no it's not my waist): almond paste, the main ingredient, is mysteriously elusive here in Singapore, even in baking supply stores. I could find heaps of marzipan, but almond horns are never made with marzipan. Though similar, marzipan is sweeter, more refined, and less almond-y than almond paste. Marzipan is best not in baking, but rather for covering cakes or rolling into bite-sized Anne Geddes babies.
After 5 or 6 trips to different markets, I finally succumbed and bought a package of marzipan, fooling myself into thinking, "It can't be that much different." So I forged ahead with my old recipe for almond horns— decreasing the sugar a little to compensate for the sweet marzipan. The dough looked and tasted right, so I shaped the logs and baked. When the timer went off and I opened the oven door, I was greeted with a pan of cookies that had melted into one big, flat pancake. Ugh. There must have been too much sugar in the dough for the cookies to hold their shape.
I made them again, this time omitting the sugar entirely. Flat again and decidedly less sweet. Nuts! I compared the percentage of almonds in almond paste versus marzipan and found that it differed by at least 12%. The extra almonds in the almond paste, along with its grainier texture, add enough body to the dough to help the logs keep their shape.
After a third trip to the store to buy supplies (I was seriously not a happy camper at this point), I churned out yet another batch of dough, this time adding a smidgen of sugar and a few ounces of finely ground almonds. My hope was that the extra almonds would bulk up the dough in a way similar to that of almond paste. Determined not to get burned on an entire pan of cookies for yet a third time, I baked just one lone cookie as a tester. Presto! My tweaks worked The cookie was pleasingly sweet, the texture was even lighter than the original almond paste version, and it had a wonderful nuttiness through and through. Now who says you can't use marzipan?
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About the Author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Easy Artisan Bread. You can also watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. She presently lives in Singapore and is currently at work constructing her new blog, "ShopHouseCook".