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A Tale of High Tea + A Simple Amaretti

October 12, 2016

Let's rewind a few weeks. I’m settling into a rattan armchair, doing my best to act poised. Across the little bistro table from me is my dear mother, who has finally made her way up from Kentucky to visit me in the Pacific Northwest. The setting is a tea shop in Victoria, British Columbia, and the occasion is High Tea.

It’s a pretty ideal mother-daughter date – elegant ambiance, fancy teacups, cute food – and in Victoria, where old-school British colonial nostalgia settles on visitors like pixie dust. My mom comments on the decor, particularly a vintage bicycle with a wicker basket attached to the handlebars. I’m very keen on how she’s absorbing the experience – she did come all this way to see me, and I’m dragging her around the PNW all like “please love it here!!” – so it’s very important for this to impress. +1, kitschy bike. 

A three-tiered platter arrives at our table, set amidst the teapot and teacups. Our server talks us through the savory sandwiches (the words "cucumber & mint tzaziki" and "wild mushroom” stand out), the scones with Devon cream and jam (here I delicately refrain from drooling), and finally the sweets (Victoria sponge, carrot cake, and a rich "Vancouver Island” cheesecake). She then offers to take our picture. I hand her my phone, and Mom and I lean in for the photo. Just remember that, behind those smiles, are very empty stomachs and a keen desire to get started on those sandwiches.

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Everything tastes excellent, and we munch our way through the tiers, alternating bites of savory and sweet with sips of tea and bits of conversation. At some point I explain to her the proper way to hold a teacup. She responds with much more useful life advice, the sort only mothers can give. Time passes slowly, and after all the cups and platters are finally cleared, we sit back with contented sighs and begin to plot our next adventure.

After coming home, I’ve been thinking about that tea quite a bit. Not so much the tiered tray with its wide assortment of treats (although that was delicious and I’d do it again in a heartbeat), but the overall concept of slowing down, having a cup of tea on a saucer with a simple cookie. Apparently this is normal elsewhere in the civilized world, but not so much here in the States (slow down? HOW??). So I made these tea cookies – not the more traditional British shortbread, but a soft version of Italian amaretti.

amaretti ingredients

These little almond flour cookies look delicate, but they taste much bigger than they look – crisp exterior, soft and chewy middles bursting with almond essence, and just the right amount of sweetness. As you eat them, you kind of get the suggestion that these are meant to be savored. Chew slooowly. Sip your tea. Don’t be a barbarian.

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I made these before Mom left town, and I sent her home with a half dozen. The next day, I got a message from my dad thanking me for returning her, and for the tasty cookies. If I couldn’t keep Mom in Seattle with me, at least I’ll know what I’m making next time I visit.


Soft Amaretti (Amaretti Morbidi)

you’ll need:

1.5 cups fine almond flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2.5 tbsp powdered sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp kosher salt
1 egg white
1/2 tsp almond extract

Mix flour, sugars, baking powder, and salt in a medium-sized bowl.

Add egg white and almond extract, working it in just enough to form a cohesive dough.

Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate, about 30 mins. Preheat the oven to 325ºF.

Scoop out 1 tbsp balls of dough. Roll in extra powdered sugar, then flatten slightly.

Place dough balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 20-22 minutes (for crispier, crunchier cookies, bake 2-3 minutes longer).

Let cool (at least a little) and enjoy, slowly, with tea or coffee.