Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Regional Cookie Highlight: Almond Macaroons

Photographs by Nicole Holt

Traveling to a new place exposes you to many things that are familiar, yet slightly different and therefore exotic. I've written about my love of exploring grocery stores for this reason, but today I'd like to take a more focused look at the exotic familiar.

Cookies are something with which most of us become familiar during childhood. Usually a sweet after meal snack or a between meal snack, the cookie, at least for me, instantly brings nostalgic comfort.

When I started to travel extensively, I noticed that the varieties of cookies that were familiar to me in my childhood aren't always available. Variations of the chocolate chip cookie are widespread, but snickerdoodles are often rare or even unheard of. What I did find was a wide variety of cookies that I'd never seen or even heard of before. Wonderful cookies with names like pfefferneusse, Jaffa Cakes, black and whites and Tim Tams.

Shortly after moving to the Boston area, my wife and I stopped in at Darwin's, a coffee shop in Cambridge, MA, to get some coffee and the dessert case caught our eyes. In particular, there was flat cookie half covered in chocolate labeled as an almond macaroon. Up to this point we had both only known macaroons as a rounded coconut based cookie that generally wasn't flat.

Purchasing this single cookie on a whim exposed us to the world of almond macaroons, which has kept us on the lookout for new examples to tempt our taste buds ever since.

On a recent Saturday morning, we rode our bikes through Somerville and Cambridge, MA, to collect a few examples. We only made it to two bakeries before the heat persuaded us to pursue cooler activities, but many bakeries in the Boston area make this specialty.

Our first stop was Lyndell's, an old bakery with reasonable prices and a wonderful habit of using copious amounts of their not-too-sweet butter cream. Stepping into Lyndell's is like visiting a bakery that your grandparents frequented while growing up. There's a good reason for this feeling as Lyndell's has been here since 1887.

Lyndell's is the home of the almond disk ($1.25 each or $14 for a dozen), a soft cake based cookie with a crunchy base that has a very distinct almond flavor. On top of this cookie, a generous portion of lightly vanilla flavored butter cream is held together by a thin layer of dark chocolate.

The almond disks are roughly shaped as they are made by hand, and they are clearly not one of the mass produced cookies that have become all too familiar. As corny as it may sound, they look as if they are made with love.

The sweetness of the cookie is balanced nicely by the large amount of butter cream atop it. Eating one is a decadent experience, yet the cookie is not dense. The Lyndell's almond disk must be kept refrigerated, which makes it a bit difficult to transport long distances or in hot weather, but its well worth the effort to track down when you are in the area.

The original Lyndell's that we visited in Somerville is at 720 Broadway but they also have a location in the tourist friendly North End of Boston at 227 Hanover Street.

Hi-Rise Bread Company bakes a very different type of almond macaroon ($1.00) that is just as delicious, just in a different way.

This is a chocolate-less cookie with a crunchy exterior, moist interior and a slight dusting of powdered sugar on top. With an assertive almond flavor, Hi-Rise's almond macaroon is simply a pleasure. The single almond atop each cookie is a nice touch, never allowing you to forget what kind of cookie you have before you.

The macaroon's dry texture makes it a natural accompaniment to an iced coffee in the summer or a hot coffee in the colder months. Both of these drink options are available onsite, though we haven't yet tried their coffee. A sign out front did boast of their cold brewed iced coffee, and I take this as a good omen.

We visited the Hi-Rise near tourist friendly Brattle Square and Harvard Square in Cambridge at 56 Brattle Street, but there is also another Cambridge location at 208 Concord Avenue.

Our quest for the best almond macaroon is far from over, but with Lyndell's and Hi-Rise, the bar has been set quite high. If you know of any bakeries in the Boston area that are producing excellent almond macaroons, please let me know. The next time you are in the Boston area, be sure to try an almond disk or almond macaroon.

I'll continue to keep an eye out for interesting cookies wherever I go. If your area has a local specialty cookie please let me know in the comments section below as I never know where my travels will take me next.

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  1. Yum! I now must hunt for almond macaroons (Lyndell's version).

    Whenever friends visit from Australia, we make sure that they bring some Tim Tams, another favorite.

  2. Tom: Mmm, Tim Tams. Those are the best. I've been lucky enough to find a source for them locally. You can occasionally find some varieties of Tim Tams at Cost Plus World Market under the name Arnott's Originals. Last time I checked they only had the carmel type, but you never know.