Made from very finely ground almond kernels, it is used in cake batters, pastries, biscuits and most notably in the classic French tart and cake filling called frangipane. It’s also used in some cuisines to thicken sauces or even as the star of the sauce itself- Turkish tarator and some versions of the Greek garlic sauce, skordalia, for example. Generally, almond meal is made by finely grinding blanched (peeled) almond kernels but can also be made using skin-on almonds, in which case it will have a darker colour. While it can be made at home, most domestic food processors heat the nuts and make an oily mess of them.
The best way to make your own is to process the weight equivalent of slivered almonds with a little flour or sugar from a recipe until a fine meal forms; the flour and sugar stop the nuts heating and becoming oily. This works well for cake/pastry/biscuit recipes. Otherwise, buy almond meal from a source that has good turnover as the oils in ground nuts can quickly oxidise and turn rancid - for this reason, almond meal is best stored in an airtight bag in the refrigerator. It should keep there for up to a year.
1. Almond tarator
Combine 1 cup each almond meal and fresh breadcrumbs in a food processor with 3 cloves chopped garlic, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, ½ cup extra virgin olive oil and ½ cup water. Process until very smooth then season well. Add more water to form a creamy consistency if necessary. Serve with grilled fish or lamb.
2. Quick almond milk
Combine 2 cups almond meal and 4 cups water in a blender. Blend for 3-4 minutes or until very creamy. Add vanilla, a little sugar or a pinch of salt for flavouring if desired. Strain through a sieve lined with a kitchen towel, squeezing the towel hard to remove all the liquid. Use the dry solids in baking (cakes, biscuits muffins) or in homemade muesli.
This Catalan dish is often served as a tapas, but can easily morph into the main course with the addition of some steamed potatoes and a green salad. “Albondigas” comes from the Arab word for ball and versions of this meatball dish are wildly popular all over Spain. Spanish food expert Penelope Casas in her fantastic book Delicioso says some cookbooks in Spain devote entire chapters to their preparation. Make these with beef, veal or even chicken mince if you prefer.
4. Almond crusted fish
Combine ½ cup each grated Parmesan, fresh breadcrumbs and almond meal in a bowl. Season well then add 1 tablespoon of chopped tarragon. Dust flounder fillets lightly in plain flour then dip in beaten egg, draining the excess off. Coat each well with the almond mix, using your hands to pat it on firmly. Fry the fish over medium-low in plenty of butter for 5 minutes on each side, or until golden and cooked through.
These easily-made cakes (you just stir everything together) are typical of sweets found in the cuisines of the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean, where ground nuts (pistachios, almonds, walnuts) and semolina are widely used. Their slightly gritty texture works beautifully with the infused sugar syrup, another common feature of cakes from that part of the world. Be sure to use coarse semolina not semolina - or durum wheat - flour, which is used for making pasta.
6. Ajo Blanco
Soak 175 g crustless day-old bread in water then squeeze dry with your hands. Combine in a food processor with 400 g almond meal, 3 cloves chopped garlic, ½ cup extra virgin olive oil and ⅓ cup sherry vinegar. Process until very smooth. Add 4 cups of chilled water and process. Season well, chill then serve in bowls scattered with halved green grapes.
7. Almond meringue cookies
Whisk 3 egg whites until soft peaks form. Whisking constantly, gradually add 1 cup caster sugar, whisking until the mixture is very firm and glossy. Gently fold in 300 g ground almonds and 1 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and finely grated lemon zest. Drop tablespoonfuls into baking paper-lined trays. Bake at 165ºC for about 25 minutes or until golden. Cool on wire racks.
This dish was most likely invented in English kitchens by chefs from the subcontinent - either Pakistan, India or Bangladesh - though no-one seems entirely sure. Spicing varies from recipe to recipe, but the use of tomato, cream and nuts, working to thicken and enrich the sauce, is consistent. Strictly speaking, the chicken pieces should be cooked in a tandoor oven, but grilling works just as well. The same ingredients and method can be applied to lamb and fish as well.
9. Apricot and almond crumble
Place 1 kg chopped fresh apricots in a baking dish. Combine ⅔ cup self-raising flour, ½ cup almond meal, 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom in a bowl. Lightly rub in 100 g chopped butter then stir in ½ cup each caster sugar and slivered almonds. Scatter over apricots then bake for 35 minutes at 180ºC or until golden.
Frangipane is a classic French almond-based filling used in tarts, cakes and pastries. It’s history dates to the 16th century when an Italian nobleman (the Marquis Muzio Frangipani) introduced almond-scented gloves to France - pastry chefs attempted to emulate the seductive scent in their desserts. The result was a rich almond-infused cream filling that somehow over time, morphed into the frangipane we know today.
Recipes by Leanne Kitchen. Photography, styling and food preparation by china squirrel.
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