Best-Ever Almond & Lemon Holiday Cookies (Gluten & Dairy Free)

This recipe for almond and lemon holiday cookies is a new one in my cookie repertoire but I’ve made it several times and every time they have vanished in a matter of hours. I must confess I hadn’t even seen or heard about these incredibly delicious cookies until a few months ago when I first tasted them at a friend’s house.

The cookies were lacy, crisp and crunchy on the outside and soft and gooey on the inside. What makes the recipe for these lemon-scented almond cookies even more special is that they are made with only four ingredients and are both gluten-free and dairy-free. This makes them perfect for holiday entertainment when people with food intolerances are more likely to be around.

My friend Sima Morshed who gave me the recipe is from Kerman, one of the Iranian cities famous for it’s very fine sweets. She had written the recipe in her neat and beautiful Persian handwriting on the yellowed pages of an old, well-used recipe book. It came from one of her Kermani relatives who is a wonderful baker, she said.

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The recipe for these almond and lemon cookies has only four ingredients.

Sima’s little notebook held a treasure of family recipes handed down for generations.  I was a very lucky girl to get one of the recipes in her notebook, probably one of its most unique. I searched in my cookbooks and on the net but couldn’t find none similar to her recipe.

Kerman (Carmania of ancient historians) is a city on the edge of a huge desert with fabulous architecture and a very long tradition in making sweets. Karnameh, a Persian cookbook written in late sixteenth century, has a very curious baklava recipe called Kerman baklava that uses lentils in the place of nuts.

The city has a beautiful covered bazaar where exotic spices and spice blends, gorgeous Persian carpets, handmade copper pots and pans and delicious sweets are sold in tiny shops. If you have a Persian carpet under your feet there’s a big chance it came from one of the dimly lit small shops in that bazaar where piles of carpets are as high as the ceiling.

Beautifully shaped spiced date-filled kolompeh made by Zozo Baking.

Beside baklava Kerman is also famous for a very tasty, subtly spiced date-filled hand pie called kolompeh. My blogger friend Fariba from zozobaking.com is a master kolompeh maker. Her gorgeous cookies, shaped by hand and stamped with hand-carved traditional wooden stamps made in Kerman, look almost too good to eat.

Sima’s almond and lemon cookies take only minutes to prepare. I was surprised to hear that she puts the ingredients in a bowl and mixes them with a spoon. No beating or kneading at all! One needs to be careful with the oven temperature though. These cookies need to bake at higher temperature for a few minutes to set and then at lower temperature to allow the egg whites to dry.

These cookies will be very soft when they get out of the oven. You must allow them to cool perfectly before peeling them off the non-stick baking sheet. Don’t panic if they spread. While they are still warm you can gently pull them to shape with the help of two dinner knives. The outside will be golden brown and crispy but the centre will remain chewy and gooey which makes the cookies even more moreish.

gluten-free- cookies-recipes
Walnut and egg yolk cookies (shirni gerdoui) traditionally served at the Persian New Year (Nowrouz) are gluten-free and dairy-free.

There are always many ways to use the extra yolks. I used the yolks to make my own heirloom walnut cookies (shirni gerdoui) which are gluten-free and dairy-free like Sima’s cookies except that they are made with yolks rather than whites of eggs. The recipe for the walnut cookies has come down in my family for generations too. Hopefully I will share it with you soon.

Sima’s recipe called for flaked almonds only. The last time I made these I didn’t have enough flaked almonds so I used a few tablespoons of almond flour (ground almonds). This helped the cookies to keep their shape much better and they didn’t spread on the sheet at all. The flavour remained the same but the cookies weren’t as lacy as the ones made without almond flour. I like it both ways. Add a little almond flour (a couple of tablespoons) to your mix if you want them to stay rounded.

Depending on how big or small you make your cookies this recipe will yield about four dozen cookies.

Ingredients

  • 2 small egg whites
  • 160g icing sugar, sifted
  • zest of one lemon
  • 180g flaked almonds
  • 3 tbsp almond flour (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170C/340F. Line two baking sheets with non-stick/silicon liner. Grease the liners with a very small amount of cooking oil and wipe off with paper towels.
  2. Put the icing sugar, lemon zest and egg whites in a medium-sized bowl. Mix with a spoon. Add the flaked almonds (and the almond flour if using) and mix gently to coat the almond flakes.
  3. Using two teaspoons drop the batter about 4 cm (1 1/2 inch) apart on one of the lined baking sheets. It would be best to drain as much of the runny whites mixture as you can to avoid too much spreading of the cookies. The whites should just coat the flakes thinly. Put the first baking sheet in the oven right away and bake for 8 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 150C/300F and bake for 8-10 minutes longer or until the cookies are golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool while you are preparing the second batch. At this stage you can use knives or teaspoons to neaten the shape of the baked cookies.
  4. Increase the oven heat to 170C/340F again and bake the second batch as explained above. Once all the cookies are cooled peel them off the non-stick liner and store between layers of wax paper in an airtight cookie tin or container.

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