Everyone seems to be baking as we look to bring comfort and joy to our loved ones during this time. Try making these irresistible almond shortbread biscuits Polverones that the Jews from medieval Spain adopted for centuries.
These buttery biscuits made with toasted almonds are crumbly in texture- like polvo in Spanish meaning dust or powder. Fragrant with orange blossom water, they are scrumptious with a slivered pistachio, or almond embedded in each biscuit and generously drenched in icing sugar.
When the Sephardim in exile settled in Rhodes Island they continued to make these melt-in-the mouth treats, very similar to Greek Kourabiethes.
I have added an earthy dimension to my original recipe with tahini paste and for that extra crunch toasted sesame seeds. I hope you enjoy this super-easy addictive treat.
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3⁄4 cup icing (confectioner’s) sugar sifted, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp vanilla extract
1⁄2 cup sunflower oil
2 tbsp tahini paste
1 tbsp brandy or ouzo
1 cup blanched almonds, *lightly toasted and finely ground
3 cups plain (all-purpose) flour
1⁄4 cup corn flour (cornstarch)
1⁄4 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
1 tsp orange blossom water diluted in 1 cup water
For the topping:
20 blanched slivered almonds or pistachios
Preheat the oven to 160°C (325°F). Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Beat the butter on medium speed in the bowl of an electric mixer for about 8 minutes, until pale and creamy. Gradually add the icing sugar and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes. Beat in the oil and tahini paste and brandy (or ouzo).
Stir in the ground almonds, the sifted combined flours, baking powder and sesame seeds, gradually working in lightly with your hands until a very soft dough forms. Be careful not to overwork it.
Pinch off about 20 pieces of dough. Moisten your hands with diluted orange blossom water and shape into balls. Squeezing with both forefingers and thumbs shape into triangles about 3.5cm (11⁄2in) wide and 1.25cm (1⁄2in) in height. Arrange on the prepared baking trays leaving some space between them as they spread while baking. Press in slivered almond or pistachio in the centre of each biscuit.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until they are just beginning to colour. They should be pale, slightly cracked on the top and barely golden around the edges. Do not overcook. Let cool on the baking trays for 5 minutes before removing with a metal spatula and set on wire racks. To serve, dust generously with icing sugar and stack on a platter.
*Grind the toasted almonds finely but not to a powder – they should be like sand with coarser bits giving the biscuit more crunch.
They will keep for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container in a cool dry place.
To freeze the baked biscuits: Interleave the biscuits between layers of baking paper in an
airtight container and freeze for up to 1 month. Allow to thaw and dust with icing sugar.