MAKES ABOUT 32 COOKIES
10 ounces (about 2 full cups) blanched whole almonds
1¼ cups sugar
large egg whites
½ teaspoon pure almond extract
ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped, optional
Tip:As one batch of macaroons bakes, prepare more rounds on fresh sheets of parchment. When a cookie sheet becomes available, slide the paper with the unbaked macaroons onto the sheet and immediately place in the oven.
Attention almond lovers: This is your cookie! Chewy, rich, intensely almond, these macaroons couldn’t be easier to make, yet are so difficult to stop nibbling on. Go ahead and gild the lily, if you like, and dip the cookies halfway in chocolate for a truly memorable treat.
PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Line 1 or 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
COMBINE the almonds and ¼ cup of the sugar in a food processor and process until the almonds are finely ground. Add the egg whites and almond extract and process until blended. Add the remaining 1 cup of sugar and process until thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds or until the dough is a thick, sticky paste.
DROP the dough by level tablespoonfuls, arranging about 2 inches apart on the prepared sheet(s). Using a pastry brush lightly moistened with water, brush the tops and sides of the macaroons, gently pressing down on them to form smooth rounds about ½ inch thick and 1¾ inches in diameter.
BAKE for about 15 minutes or until the macaroons are pale golden. They should feel crisp on the outside but still soft inside. (If using 2 cookie sheets, rotate them from top to bottom and front to back about halfway through baking. Remove the sheet(s) from the oven and slide the parchment onto racks.) Cool for about 5 minutes, then use a thin metal spatula to remove the macaroons from the paper. Place on a rack to cool completely.
FOR CHOCOLATE-DIPPED MACAROONS: Melt the chocolate in a metal or glass bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring frequently, until fully melted. Alternatively, melt it in a microwavesafe bowl in the microwave, using 20- to 30-second bursts at medium power, stirring well after each interval (see page 17). Pour the chocolate into a glass measuring cup or coffee mug. (A container that is narrow and deep works better than one that is wide and shallow.) Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Dip the macaroons into the melted chocolate to coat half the cookie like a semicircle. Let the excess drip off or gently scrape it off the bottom of the cookie using the rim of the cup. (As the chocolate gets used up, tilt the cup to continue coating the cookies.) Place the macaroons on the wax paper and let stand until the chocolate is completely set. Gently peel the cookies off the paper.
STORE, layered between sheets of wax paper, in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Macaroons without chocolate coating can be frozen for up to 2 months.