These biscuits are a type of macaroon that were made with sweet and bitter almonds, now apricot kernels. They have the marzipan flavour also found in Amaretto, which is a ratafia liquor, hence the name ratafia biscuits. They were used in trifles, but also served as sweets at dinner parties and as an accompaniment to a syllabub. In Italy these biscuits are known as amaretti, also like the drink Amaretto.
Take a pound of sweet almonds, and half a pound of bitter almonds, and pound them in a mortar very fine, with the whites of eggs; put three pounds of powdered sugar, mix it well with the whites of eggs, to the proper thickness unto a bason; put two or three sheets of paper, on the plate you bake on; take your knife, and the spaddle made of wood, and drop them on the paper, let them be round, and about the size of a large nutmeg; put them in the oven, which must be quick, let them have a fine brown, and all a like, but be careful they are not burnt at bottom, else they will not come off the paper when baked: let them be cold before you take them off.
Frederick Nutt, The Complete Confectioner, 1789
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Blanch and skin the almonds and apricot kernels and pound them with the rosewater, using a mortar and pestle. You may use a food processor if you have one, as you need quite a large mortar and strong arms to finish the job properly.
Whisk the egg whites to a froth, gradually adding the sugar. Now fold it into the almond and apricot kernels. Don’t overwork it as the biscuits will become flat. (Don’t worry if it does, it happens to me all the time.)
Transfer the mixture to a piping (icing) bag and pipe small drops evenly onto the baking tray: make them the size of a nutmeg, as Nutt instructs.
Put the tray in the middle of the oven and bake until golden brown, which will take about 15 minutes. Cool on the tray.
When fresh, the biscuits are quite chewy, but when stored for a couple of days in a paper bag (not an airtight container) they become crisp and just the right texture to be used in trifle, semolina or cabinet pudding, or just as a nibble.
After they have become crisp, you can store them in an airtight container for a couple of weeks.
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