Sifnos & her almond sweets

Of all the islands we visited while we were living in the southwestern Cycladic archipelago, Sifnos was probably the one that surprised us the most.  We had heard good things, but having been in and out of the unimpressive port town many times on the way to and from ‘our’ island, we weren’t really sold on it.  We gave it a great chance to impress us by visiting at the height of spring flowers.  It stole our hearts, so much that we gave it the very high accolade of “we’d be willing to live here.”   Today’s recipe is a wonderful traditional sweet from the island, but before we get to that, we have to get in the proper mood first!

The beach of Vathy (“deep”).  When we were there, it was a glorious day – too cold to swim, but not too cold to enjoy the beach.

A small country house with olive trees near Vathy.  Unlike some of the other islands nearby, Sifnos is able to support an impressive amount of olive cultivation.

Above:  a dovecote in the midground, below the town, alongside some beehives, among the olives, and between several ancient stone terraces.  <- A sentence with a lot of prepositions.

Sheep in a field in the town of Exambela.

Another dovecote – the island is pretty well stocked with them.  I thought that these were a specialty of the island of Tinos (where I’ve never been) but was pleased to see that Sifnos is full of them as well.

The monastery of Panagia Chryssopigi between Apokofto and Saoures beaches.

Sifnos is ideal for walking… there are dozens of beautiful walking trails like the one from which I took this photo.

This ‘pond’ formed from rain water or melted snow at the top of a mountain where we were walking.

So… are you hungry yet?

Sifnos is famous for sweets made with almond paste, called amydalota.  The word means ‘almond’ as an adjective, as in ‘almond-shaped’ or ‘made of almonds.’  There are many Greek sweets made of almonds that carry this same name, and this particular version can be found on other islands besides Sifnos, but that’s where we had them and I think Sifnos is most famous for them.

When we tried these in Sifnos, we absolutely loved them:  they are not particularly sweet, except for the sugar coating, and they have a rib-sticking gummy mealy graininess to them that sounds awful but is just perfect.  I have been looking for a recipe pretty much since we left.  The recipe I ended up with after a little adjusting is not at all time-consuming, and the results are very close to what I remember eating in Sifnos.  S agreed with me that these were just as good as the ones we got at the traditional Siphnian pastry shop!

These are traditionally given out at weddings, and the website where I found the recipe (which I adjusted somewhat) says that they preceded the now-customary ‘boubouniera’ or tulle-wrapped Jordan almonds; and are still handed out at Siphnian weddings today.  You definitely don’t need a wedding to have an excuse to make these – but I made them for our wedding anniversary.  Not only are they wedding-related, but we spent our first wedding anniversary in Sifnos.  So these were a particularly ‘sweet’ treat for us!

Although many recipes say to coat them in confectioner’s sugar, this is not how they’re made in Sifnos.  Instead, they are coated in superfine sugar.  If you have superfine sugar, use it; otherwise, process regular sugar in your food processor.  If you do this first, you never have to wash your food processor bowl.  Set the sugar aside.

If you don’t have almond flour, process almonds in the food processor until they are the same grind as the almond flour.  If your almonds still have the papery peel on them, don’t remove it – they are even better this way.  You don’t want to use roasted almonds, though.

Either way, put the almond flour in the food processor.  Add the semolina and part of the sugar.  Process.  (Because my food processor is so small, I did this in two batches.)

Add the egg whites and vanilla, process again.  (I saved some of the processed dry ingredients, and put them over the top of the egg white and vanilla, so it was layered; I think this makes it easier to incorporate.  My food processor isn’t that great, though.)

Add in 1 tbsp of orange-flower water, and process.  Add another 1 tbsp orange-flower water, and process again.  At this point, it should be a thick, moist, and workable dough.

Remove it to a bowl.  If you do this in two batches, remember to put 1 egg white, half the vanilla, and 1 tbsp orange-flower water in each batch, and then combine in a bowl.

Spray or wet your hands with orange-flower water.  Form the dough into cones, about 1.5″ long, with a small depression at the thick end.

The usual word to describe this shape in Greek means ‘little pears,’ but as I was making them, I thought they looked like noses 😛  S came in while I was making them and said they were pyramids.  They can be whatever you like 😉

Place them on a wax paper-lined baking sheet.  Bake.

I baked mine 12 minutes, but really 8 minutes is enough.  Mine got a little brown on the tip and the bottom, which is not really ideal.  I guess I should have paid more attention….

If you live in this part of the world, you can probably get orange-flower water in either a regular bottle or a spray bottle – I have both and I think that if you use orange-flower water often (as I do), it’s nice to have both on hand.  If you can’t get it in a spray bottle, you’ll need a clean spray bottle to put your orange-flower water in so you can do the next step!

When they’re baked and cooled, spray them well with orange-flower water.   Roll each cone in the sugar to coat it well.   (I have a few of them sitting upside down in the bowl because I ran out of space – but within a few minutes, I didn’t have that problem anymore, if you know what I mean….)

Siphnian amydalota
makes 15-20 pieces
traditional recipe, adjusted from here

400g almond flour (or almond kernels, with or without peel, processed fully in food processor – not roasted)
100g fine semolina
200g white granulated sugar, divided
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 small egg whites (or 1 large egg white)
1/4 cup orange-flower water

1.  Preheat oven to 180 C / 350 F.  In a food processor, process 120g of the sugar to create superfine sugar (heavier than confectioner’s sugar).  Remove and set aside.  In a large food processor, combine almond flour, semolina, and 80g sugar.  Process.  Add egg whites and vanilla.  Process.  (If using a small food processor, put half the dry ingredients in, process, transfer to a bowl; process the other half of the dry ingredients, transfer to the same bowl; mix together well.  Put half the dry ingredients back in the processor with half the vanilla and one egg white; process with 1 tbsp orange flower water.  Transfer to a clean bowl.  Repeat with the other half.  Transfer to the same bowl.)

2.   With your hands sprayed / wetted with orange-flower water, form the dough into 1.5″ long cones with a depression at the wide end.  Set them upright on a wax-paper lined baking sheet.  If the dough starts to break apart, re-wet your hands with orange-flower water.

3.  Bake for 8 minutes.  Allow to cool so that they can be handled.

4.  Spray the cones with orange-flower water and roll in the previously processed sugar.

5.  Store in an airtight plastic container.  They will keep several weeks.  Serve at room temperature.

Nutritional Information
per piece, assuming the recipe makes 16 pieces

217 calories
13g fat (1g saturated, 12g unsaturated)
22g carbohydrate
6g protein
3g dietary fiber
0mg cholesterol
4mg sodium (0% DV)
197mg potassium (6% DV)
Contains a significant amount (+10% DV) of the following:
phosphorus, selenium, magnesium, vitamin E, riboflavin, manganese, and copper.

You might also like:
Anise-almond biscotti with orange glaze
Almond flake cereal
Dark chocolate mousse

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dark chocolate mousse

I could start this post talking about how good dark chocolate mousse is, but I’m pretty sure you’re up to speed on that. This is a simple recipe that you can make in a few minutes in the morning, pop in the fridge, and have after dinner; or you could easily make it the day before you want to serve it.  It does need about 8 hours in the fridge, so don’t leave it til the last minute.

I use a bain marie but if you have a double boiler, go for it; if you are confident using a microwave for this sort of thing, I won’t stop you, but I haven’t had a microwave in years and years, so you’re on your own.

Chop some dark  chocolate.  (You know how they always say “good quality dark chocolate”?  I made this with the cheapest, most generic, most unimpressively packaged dark chocolate I’ve ever seen, and it was still completely divine.  I’m just putting that out there, feel free to turn up your nose at my ultra-frugality!)  You can also use milk chocolate or white chocolate if you prefer.  If you’re feeling ambitious, why not make a dark chocolate and a white chocolate version and serve them side by side?

Cut up some butter (mine was frozen, it makes no difference) and melt in the bain marie.

While it’s melting, separate four eggs.

Whisk the yolks with the cream and vanilla extract.  You can use light cream or heavy cream; if you use heavy cream, you can use a little less butter.

When the butter is melted, slowly whisk the yolk-cream-vanilla into the butter, still in the bain marie.  Whisk this for a good five minutes or so.  Keep the heat on medium; if the bain marie is spitting out a ton of steam, some of it will end up in the butter and that’s not good.

When your arm is good and tired, take the bowl off the pot and whisk in the chopped chocolate.

It should melt pretty rapidly on its own.  If it isn’t melting and you’re just stirring chunks of chocolate around, you can put it back on the bain marie, while you stir the chocolate until it melts.

Resist the urge to eat it with a spoon, but you may lick the whisk if you like, you have my blessing!  Put the bowl of melted chocolatey buttery heaven aside for now, and put the egg whites and the powdered sugar into a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer).  Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and sugar until they form stiff peaks.  I use the high setting on my mixer for this.

Fold a cup of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate gently.  You don’t want to deflate the egg whites.  Fold in the rest of the egg whites.  As soon as it’s all the same color, stop manipulating the mousse.  We’re trying to preserve as much airiness as possible.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator all day or overnight.  That’s it!

I didn’t get a very good photo of the finished mousse but I promise it tasted really good…

Dark Chocolate Mousse
Serves 6

275g dark chocolate
130g butter, cut into cubes
4 medium eggs, separated
60mL (1/4 cup) light cream
15 mL (1 tbsp) vanilla extract
65g powdered sugar

1.  Chop chocolate.

2.  Melt butter in bain marie.  In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks, cream, and vanilla.  When butter is melted, whisk yolks into butter slowly.  Whisk continuously for five minutes.

3.  Remove from bain marie.  Whisk in chocolate until fully melted.

4.  In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites with powdered sugar on high until stiff peaks form.

5.  Fold 1 cup of egg whites into chocolate; then fold in the rest.  Stop manipulating mousse when the color is even.

6.  Cover and refrigerate overnight or at least 8 hours before serving.

Note:  the egg whites in this recipe are never cooked.  If you are concerned about consuming raw eggs, or belong to a high-risk category, this recipe is not for you.