almond apricot squares

Basically an almond & apricot sandwich cookie (and a distant and less sweet relative of the German chocolate covered Dominostein), only baked as such right from the start with the apricot jam & almond paste filling acting as the glue which welds the layers together. Still hot from the oven the whole slab is coated with a boozy glaze that once dried adds a frosty shine and cut into neat squares when cool.

Almond and apricots go so well together that I changed the original recipe, which used toasted and finely chopped pine nuts: first for practical reasons (too much work and I had the almonds in my hand) and also flavour considerations. Apricots and peaches always have a hint of almond about them and especially the inner piece of the stone exudes an almond-like fragrance, nearly looks like one, too. Since there is such a similarity of flavour and taste cheaper almond paste or Persipan is made from the soft inside of peach stones rather than the more expensive almonds.

These squares have a nice almondy taste, not so in your face as Marzipan if you are not a lover of this almond, sugar & rosewater confection brought over to Europe in the Middle Ages from Persia via Venice; astonishingly Marzipan was one of the few allowed foods to be eaten during fasting time. This might explain its connection with Christmas when the Advent period was a time of fasting before the feast. Its origin is widely agreed upon though the etymology of the name lists several possible sources: basically each culture area where Marzipan was consumed & produced has a claim. Anyway, always a great luxury (originally produced by apothecaries or in monasteries) it was often depicted in Delikatessenstilleben (e.g. Osias Beert, 1610) and  provided a fantastic modelling base for almost real looking fruit etc. and elaborate baroque showpieces. Every European country has one or more Marzipan specialities and cities connected with those: Calissons d’Aix-en-Provence, Lübecker and Königsberger Marzipan, Mazapán de Toledo…

 

Almond-apricot squares
about 60 pieces, adapted from a 2009 Brigitte cutting
125g (4.4 oz or 1 stick + 2 teaspoons) soft unsalted butter
50g (½ cup) icing sugar or confectioners’ sugar
2 pinches salt
1 egg
60g (½ cup) ground blanched almonds
250g (2 cups) plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
50g or 3 heaped tablespoons good apricot jam
150g (about 6 oz) cold almond paste (german: Marzipan Rohmasse), use more to taste (or if you need to use up a 200g (7 oz) slab, use all, I reduced the original weight)
50g (½ cup) icing or confectioners’ sugar
2-3 tablespoons apricot liqueur (I use Austrian Marillenbrand Bailoni) or apricot brandy / schnapps

Cream the butter with sugar & salt, add the egg and subsequently the almonds. Stir the baking powder into the flour to get it evenly distributed and knead it briskly into the dough. I do all of this with the Kitchen Aid, only trying to knead dough other than yeast versions as shortly as I can and not over do it. Wrap the dough into cling film and rest in the fridge for about one hour.

Quickly knead the dough and roll out a rectangular shape (30 x 40cm or 12 x 16 inches) between two layers of baking parchment. Cut into two long halves, pierce both sheets a couple of times with a fork and cool again in the fridge for 40 minutes. Both blocks can be stacked with a piece of baking parchment keeping them separate.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350° F), fan oven 160°C.

Paint one dough layer with the apricot jam and cover this with the coarsely grated almond paste (I kept it quite cold and dry, to be easily grated with a box grater). Put the second sheet on top and press lightly together with your hands. Place the whole block onto a cookie sheet / baking sheet covered with baking parchment and bake for 25 minutes until lightly tanned. Mix the icing sugar with the liqueur for a thin glaze and brush the cake with it the moment it comes out of the oven. Leave to cool and cut into small squares of 2cm (1.5 inches), about the same as the height of the thing. They keep for at least 3 weeks but frankly I have had them round for longer, too.

 

 

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