Bergamot lemons. Who knew about these? I certainly didn’t. I honestly thought there was probably only one kind of lemon, the usual kind that I squeeze on everything. To be honest I don’t spend much time thinking about lemons. Well. There are actually different types of lemon lurking out there, quite independently of me knowing about them. Bergamot is what is used to flavour Earl Grey and Lady Grey tea. I should know this, as Earl is my fave brew of all time. I am so happy to be surprised. When my friend R gave me a bergamot lemon to try out, I marvelled at how different it looked. Paler, more knobbly and with a whiff of exotic scent in the skin.
Bergamot grows mainly in Italy, Southern France, Turkey and the Ivory Coast. Its skin is used for perfume and essential oils, and in Turkey it’s a key flavouring in Turkish Delight. Apparently the Scandinavians enjoy it in their tobacco. It’s SO different from a regular lemon, more like a hybrid between lemon, grapefruit and orange. All the facts about bergamot here. You can get bergamot lemons from places like Abel & Cole, Riverford and other specialist greengrocers.
The bergamot lemon is the larger, paler one on the bottom left:
So, to the biscuits. These macaroons are not like the cutesy multi-coloured ones with an iced filling. These are the old-school chewy almond ones, based on the Italian amaretti biscuits, and they’re gluten free. The bergamot lemon gives them a really grown up aromatic taste – a mixture of tea, marmalade and citrus in one mouthful. Just one lemon perfumes a whole batch of biscuits. I’m so glad I held back on adding a drop or two of bergamot essential oil, as the aromatic oils from the fruit’s skin are wild and intoxicating enough on their own, and adding more would have overpowered everything. Make these biscuits when you have egg whites left over, it’s a great way to use them up. No need to waste them.
I have included two cooking times – the first is for those who like a chewier biscuit texture, and the second gives them a little more crunch with a chewy inside. The recipe makes about 50 little biscuits. Don’t be afraid. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you get through them.
You will need:
American measuring cups
Piping bag (easier to make uniform sized biscuits). If you don’t have one, just use a couple of teaspoons to form the biscuit shapes, they’ll be less uniformly round but will still taste amazing.
6 medium organic free range egg whites
5.5 cups ground almonds
1 1/3 cups golden Fairtrade caster sugar
1/2 tsp good quality sea salt
Zest of 1 bergamot lemon, plus the juice
Preheat the oven to 160C for a softer textured biscuits, or to 150C for a crunchier biscuit. Place greaseproof non-stick baking parchment onto flat oven trays. (You may have to do several batches of biscuits in the oven, unless you own a lot of trays). Zest the orange rinds and keep to one side. Mix the ground almonds and 1 cup of the sugar together. In a separate bowl, whisk your egg whites together at high speed (I use an electric hand whisk) with the salt until you have soft peaks. Then add the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar, and continue to whisk on a medium speed until you have stiff glossy peaks. Gently fold the eggs into the almond and sugar mixture using a spatula so that you don’t knock all the air out of the whites. Add the zest and juice and mix together.
Spoon your mixture into a piping bag. (No need to put a metal nozzle on the piping bag). Squeeze small rounds of mixture onto your baking tray, spacing each biscuit a couple of inches apart. For the softer biscuits, bake at 160C for 20 minutes until lightly golden. For the crunchier biscuits bake for about 30 – 40 minutes at 150C – check they don’t over-brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. These biscuits keep well in an airtight Tupperware box for 2 – 3 days, or can be frozen for several weeks (if you can resist eating them for that long).
You can totally vary the flavours of the macaroons – I also do a version with orange flower water and orange zest which is really delicious too.