Croccanti: an original family recipe for a special sweet treat
- 2 extra-large egg whites at room temperature
- 1/2 cup / 100 g super-fine or granulated white sugar
- 8.5 ounces / 240 g / 2 1/2 cups shelled walnuts
- 2 tablespoons / 30 ml all-purpose white flour, sifted
- 1/2 teaspoon / 2.5 ml vanilla extract
Shelled walnuts should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, as they are prone to become rancid, due to their high fat content (including nutritionally-valuable alpha-linolenic acid, ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid).
In her “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone”, Deborah Madison gives instructions on how to treat walnuts to improve their flavor when they aren't freshly cracked, and make them less irritating for people who are sensitive to their skins. Bring a pan of water to a boil, add the walnuts and let them stand for one minute, then drain them and absorb the excess moisture with a towel. Finally, spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and place them in the oven preheated to 300 F until they have dried out, 15-20 minutes. Remove them from the oven as soon as they are dry.
After you take the walnuts out of the oven, let them cool, then spread them on a cutting board and chop them finely using a knife. At the end you should have about two cups of fragments.
Place two egg whites in a mixing bowl and let them rest until they reach room temperature. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 F.
Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Slowly add the sugar to the egg whites and continue beating until it is well incorporated. Sift flour over the egg whites and fold it in with a spatula, using light, slow movements. Add the chopped walnuts in a few batches and fold them into the batter with the spatula, again using light movements. Add vanilla extract and gently stir in.
Line one large baking sheet or two small ones with parchment paper (in this case, a silicone baking mat is not recommended). Drop the batter on the sheet by spoonfuls (i.e., use a soup spoon to scoop up the batter and let the spatula help you in the dropping phase), leaving 3/4-1 inch between mounds. You should have 24 of them, of 1.5-2 inch diameter.
Bake for about 20 minutes, carefully overseeing the process. Check the cookies after 18 minutes. They are ready when you can pick one up delicately with two fingers without a disappointing structural failure. The bottom should be a light tan color and upon applying a little pressure, the surface should feel delicately crisp. If otherwise, bake for an additional two minutes, then check again. Be careful because it is easy to burn the cookies. Do not touch the cookies when they come out of the oven, but let them cool on the baking sheet. To accomplish this, you may consider closing the kitchen door to prevent the sweet smell to waft out and become an irresistible magnet on other inhabitants of the house.