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Moorish Almond Meringues (Soplillos Granadinos)

Popular in Granada, the last stronghold of the Moors, who ruled Spain for 800 years until expelled by the Inquisition in the late 15th century. During that time, they influenced Spanish kitchens to a huge extent, not least by introducing almonds to the repertoire of ingredients. Interestingly, Christian nuns took over the confectionery business when the Moors were expelled from Granada.
Serve with a bowl of whipped cream, nata montada, for dipping, and a cafe cortado - coffee with just a 'cut' of milk.

ingredients

makes about 36
3 egg whites
a pinch of sea salt
200 g caster sugar
finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla bean paste (see note) or the scraped-out seeds of 1 vanilla pod
50 g toasted almond flakes, chopped into small pieces
whipped cream, to serve
a piping bag, fitted with a 2 cm plain nozzle
mini muffin cases (optional)
2 non-stick baking sheets

method

1. Put the egg whites in a bowl with a pinch of salt and whisk just until firm peaks form. Add the sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, whisking after each addition. Fold in the lemon zest, vanilla and almonds carefully so as not to lose volume.

2. Fill the piping bag with the mixture. Pipe the meringue either into double mini muffin cases set on the baking sheets or straight onto the baking sheets. Bake in a preheated oven at 120°C (250°F) Gas 1/2 for 30 minutes.

3. Increase the heat to 140°C (275°F) Gas 1 for a further 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool on a wire rack and serve in their cases with a bowl of whipped cream. (Remove the outer muffin case before serving.)


Variation This mixture can be made into cookies or almendrados. Double the amount of almonds, and grind them to a fine powder in a spice grinder or coffee mill. Drop heaped teaspoons onto greased baking sheets and cook in a preheated oven at 140°C (275°F) Gas 1 for 15 minutes. They will be soft when they come out of the oven, but firm up when cold.

Note Vanilla paste is found in larger supermarkets, often in the gourmet food department. If you can't find it, use the seeds from 1 vanilla pod.

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