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As I wrote about last week, my friend Lou Cantolupo had tried to use me (and this precious piece of food-writing real estate known as the Young & Hungry column) for his own purposes, namely to win an office-party cookie contest. Of course, even after I contacted the esteemed Michel Richard to hunt down holiday cookie recipes, Lou rejected the celebrity chef’s offerings as too pedestrian. He also rejected my idea of turning Richard’s Ginger Graham Cookies into holiday s’mores, by taking a pair of those cookies and pressing them down on a gooey mess of melted dark chocolate and marshmallows dyed green and red.

Instead, Lou devised his own recipe, a sort of twist on the classic peanut-butter cookie topped with Hershey’s Kisses. It’s an ingenious recipe that, as you might expect, did indeed win Lou the office cookie contest. As the humble winner wrote via e-mail: “I now hope that you all too will enjoy the pleasures that these little delicacies of happiness brought to my own palate and ever expanding gut.”

The full recipe is after the jump.

Lou Cantolupo’s Almond Cookies with Chocolate Truffle Tops

4 oz. semi-sweet (60%) chocolate, broken up into pieces
4 oz. 70-75% dark chocolate, broken up into pieces
1/4 cup heavy cream
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 tablespoon chunks
Vanilla extract
14 oz. almond paste (not marzipan)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup confectioner’s sugar and additional for dusting
3 large egg whites
Concentrated almond extract
Red and green food coloring

(Make truffles 12-24 hours before needed.)

For the truffles:
Over a lightly simmering (not boiling) double boiler, add the heavy cream into the top pot and then add the butter three minutes later. Gently stir until melted, then add half the chocolate. Gently stir to melt, then add the remaining chocolate, repeating this process. Add 1/2 tablespoon of vanilla extract and gently stir. (You can sub any liquor into this; if so add 1.5 tablespoons of your favorite spirit.) Remove from double boiler and transfer to a small bowl. Cool to room temperature, cover, and store overnight in the fridge.

For the cookies:
Preheat oven to 325F one hour prior to baking. Break up the almond paste into the bowl of the food processor and add the sugar. Mix about 10-15 seconds until combined and slightly grainy. Add in the egg whites and powdered sugar and process until smooth. Add one drop of almond extract. (If not using concentrated extract, add 1/2 teaspoon.) Separate the batter into two bowls and add eight drops of red food coloring into one and five drops of green into the other. Mix each well and place the bowls in refrigerator for 30 minutes. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Set up a small bowl with about 1/4 cup of flour and lightly coat both palms with the flour as needed. Using a spoon, take 1/2 tablespoon of red batter and form a ball. Take 1/2 tablespoon of green batter and do the same. Roll the two balls together, quickly, until they’ve stuck together.  Place balls on the cookie sheet about two inches apart. Return batter to fridge when finished and bake the cookies for eight minutes. Rotate pan 180 degrees, and bake an additional 6-8 minutes. Cookies are done when small cracks appear on the top, and the bottom edges have started to brown. A convection oven is ideal here. If you have one, set temperature to 300F, and the cookies will likely be done closer to six minutes. Remove cookies from oven and let cool on sheet for one minute. Using the end of a spoon, poke a small hole in the middle of each one. Remove cookies (still on parchment paper) from the baking sheet and cool for 15 minutes on a cooling rack. Allow cookie sheet to completely cool before making the next batch. Remove cookies from parchment by sliding a knife under each one. Cookies will be very sticky inside. 

For the decorating:
Remove truffle from the refrigerator 20 minutes before needed. Using the small end of a melon baller, scoop out a truffle as you would a piece of melon. Do not scoop it like ice cream. Gently place the truffle onto the hole of the cookie, applying a little pressure to secure it. Dust cookies with confectioner’s sugar and store in air-tight container in the fridge if not eaten within one day. Remove cookies from fridge one hour before serving or freeze for longer-term storage.

Photo by Lou Cantolupo