Yes, you got it right it is the almond.
Its mellow, round, heady aroma refreshes us during summers and titillates our palates with little delicacies at coffee time year round. It was introduced in Europe most probably by the Phoenicians through the south of the Mediterranean countries and it has been for centuries a status symbol. Combining them with the precious
sugar, they were the show-off of the richest medieval courts; the blancmange (a flan like preparation thickened by almonds and often eaten as a savory) was considered as a delicacy by many cultures.
The addition of sugar and a little egg white to ground almonds make it a perfect medium to model edible sculptures. The same Leonardo often complained that the marzipan sculptures he produced for the Sforza’s court banquets got almost devoured till the last morsel by the guests instead of being admired:
"I observe with pain that [they] gobble up all the sculptures I give them right to the last morsel."
Following the tradition, in Sicily during the Norman period, the nuns of the Martorana convent in Palermo decorated the trees on their garden using realistic mock fruits modeled out of fine marzipan to make it ready for the visit of a high prelate or even the king. Since then “Frutta Martorana” has become a specialty of Sicilian pastry.
Another specialty of Sicilian tradition is fresh ice-cold almond milk or even granita; one of the dearest memories of my childhood summers. A hot buttery fluffy brioche bun, an icy-cold glass of fresh almond granita to dunk it in, a sit in the sun and old men talking the day away; you could still feel the nuts particles in that almond milk, a thick richness and refreshing sweetness. These were my summer days.
Roast the nut and you get a deep, earthier aroma that characterizes and punctuates many desserts around the world. Enrobe them in fresh caramel and you get one of the nicest Christmas desert ever: Almond nougat.
Ground them to flour and you can use it in dry desserts like cookies or in breads. And how to forget those light French confections that are conquering the whole gourmet world: the macarons
Very versatile, very nutritious, still quite expensive, almonds are still the queens of nuts.
As a true Lucrezia Borgia this queen had the possibility to poison you. The wild almonds, the bitter ones, in fact contain the lethal hydrogen cyanide; how often have we heard Jessica Fletcher pointing out the aroma of bitter almonds emanating from the victim at hand? Naturally we need to eat quite a few of them to feel any effect and heat renders this lethal compound, also called prussic acid, inoffensive. It’s a pity that bitter almonds are actually the more flavorful; benzaldehyde, the compound giving the almond aroma, is in fact a byproduct from the deterioration of hydrogen cyanide. If you ever made almonds milk yourself you would have noticed how the milk from common almonds is actually quite mild flavored. Peaches or apricots kernels have similar toxic properties (and flavor) and are often substituted for bitter almonds. Did you know that here in Germany it was use to prepare a marzipan just out of peaches kernels, the persipan?
The last week, for the Velveteers monthly challenge, we made tofu from scratch and it came quite natural to me to start thinking at any kind of nuts tofu. In effect you just need a product with protein that you can extract in a liquid form to make curds out of its juices; that is tofu. Yesterday, Alex from Ideas in Food has tweeted about a new exciting ingredient in their pantry: pine nuts milk, the suggestion of making tofu out of it was quite natural. Almonds tofu, hazelnut tofu, walnut or even pistachios tofu; the possibilities are wide and varied.
Let’s start with almonds; I called this preparation White Jade as homage to the queen of nuts and also for the sexy, smooth texture, rich mouthfeel and intense aroma when it is prepared this way. Try it, you won’t regret it!
White Jade (Almonds tofu)
Ingredients (makes ca 150g of tofu):
- 200g whole almonds;
- 2tsps sugar (optional and to taste);
- 1/4tsps almond extract or few bitter almonds;
- 2tsps lemon juice;
- Water as needed.
If the almonds are not peeled, soak them in boiling water for 10-15 minutes before peeling them by hand. Place the white almonds in the glass of a blender and add enough warm water to cover the nuts. Start blending adding extra water if needed. Using fine cheesecloth or a cotton handkerchief; strain the almond milk in a saucepan. Add the almond extract and sugar to taste, warm up the milk till almost boiling. At this point you can curdle the milk, add then the 2 tsps of lemon juice stirring slightly. Leave it undisturbed to curdle for 20 minutes. Line a sieve with some cheesecloth, place it over a bowl and pour the curdled almond milk into the strainer. Let some of the almond whey to drain before folding the cheesecloth over the draining tofu. Place now a plate with some weights onto it; since the tofu is quite creamy, I would progressively increase the weights on it as you see that the whey has stopped to drip into the bowl. Let drain it this way overnight in the fridge.
Store in a bowl covered with clingfilm in the fridge.
This amount of lemon juice will produce a custard like delicious almond tofu, if you wish it to have a harder consistency raise its amount.