I really thought this cookie was going to be easy. Rather, there was no indication I’d have to mess much with the recipe. I was just flipping through one of my Nigella cookbooks, saw something entitled “spanish macaroons” which sounded lovely to me, and so I thought I’d give them a go. No big deal, right? It’s just a cookie. And almond flour cookie, but I’ve made those before with minimal effort, so why would this be any different?
Well. It was different. It took me three batches to get this cookie right, and looking back, it was worth every single bit of almond-grinding, orange-zesting, and dough-rolling. Because these little darlings taste just like orange rolls – you know, the kind you can either get in the tube (and you know you love those, don’t get all food-snobby with me) or the sort you make from scratch on holidays and subsequently devour. Those orange rolls. Minus the trouble. Here we go.
So first, obviously, I started with fresh ingredients. I try to use top-quality stuff as often as I can, but there are some recipes that really rely on very few ingredients, so you want to take extra care to get it right. This is one of those recipes. No half-hearted oranges need apply; you have to pick a few good ones to get that sweet orange zest flavor. Same with the almonds; get good, natural almonds, and not the ones you’ve had in your pantry, either; almonds go rancid relatively fast, so you want to get new ones.
Ingredients in hand, I set to work. I ground my almonds in the food processor, I zested, mixed, stirred, and measured, and everything went together without incident. Then I went to scoop the batter, and noticed it was a bit on the runny side. Sticky also, but that’s common with almond cookies. Thinking it would be easiest to fill a squeezie bag with the batter and shoot them out onto my sheet rather than get gooey hands trying to roll them (and it was clear by now they wouldn’t “roll” anyway), I set out to squeeze some cookies. Here’s what they looked like.
Um….right. Still not deterred, I thought maybe they would just be a flatter cookie than what I had envisioned in my head. Still delicious, but just flatter. “That’s okay, little cookies,” I said: “you be indie and do what you want. If I’ve learned anything from my daughter’s cartoons recently, it’s that no one is perfect.” It seems like they emphasize that in cartoons, which I think is nice.
Mmmm-hmmm…well: I take that back. “You’re ugly, cookies; just not cute at all. I’ll eat you, but I have a blog to think about; who’s going to want to make you? My last name isn’t Hemmingway, so how am I going to convince anyone to try you? Because here’s the thing; You taste spectacularly good. Just like a ooey, gooey orange roll. No one could resist you. But no one will even think about making you, because you look like the surface of Venus or a dried-out jellyfish. Gross.”
My second attempt at these cookies was equally bad; this time they looked better, but they tasted horrid. I was frustrated. So I went back to the original recipe, changed up a few things, and then decided maybe they’d look cute if I rolled them in sugar. Certainly other cookies do really well rolled in sugar, so why not give these little guys a sparkly coating?
There now; they look happier already. And, might I add, much easier to hand-roll, because it all but eliminates the stick factor. Make sure you read the directions on how to roll these in the most effective way, because I tried several different methods and finally settled on a dough grabbing/rolling technique which works really well and should save you a lot of time.
So there’s a cookie, waiting to be baked. As you can see, it spreads out just a bit once set onto the baking sheet, but still mostly retains a round outside; by the time I was done rolling a sheet full of balls, the ones I began with looked more like donuts without the hole cut out. I felt good about this, because at least they were smooth and happy-looking. Then went into the oven, and I waited, fully expecting them to just somehow look exactly like that first sad little batch.
Wait; how did this happen? They were like a completely different, way more appealing cookie? They’re…beautiful. Crackly and glimmering like little orange-scented christmas ornaments. Still perfectly round, flattened a little more but still smooth at the top and tucked in on the bottom, and just barely golden brown around the edges. Surely these taste like death.
But they didn’t taste like death, which is why this post exists; they tasted just like the first batch, and what’s more, I had evidently unearthed some sort of mystical baking science secret and discovered that by rolling these in sugar, it changed some sort of chemical composition/molecular structure/ proton-neutron-electrony component of the cookie! Or it just dried it up enough to make the cookie stay together as it should.
Who knows, really. What I do know is that they look completely different; I saved a few of the first batch to compare and contrast, and this new batch of successful cookies had all the flavor and softness of the first batch, but it was encased in a slightly crunch exterior which enhanced both taste and texture. Very satisfying, because I like to think I know what I’m doing, but really, I know the basics and then I wing it. This time, the winging (and a little bit of common sense) worked.
So here they are; my graceful little orange roll-flavored cookies. And after all my effort, these should be easy for you to make. I think of these as a seasonless cookie, because oranges are readily available almost all year, and they are as good now in the heat of summer and early fall as they will be when I include them in my annual offering of christmas cookies. Because, yes; they’re that cookie; the one you want to make for other people.
Bonus: these are gluten-free! Now, I have several readers who are gluten-free, and I confess; I don’t know that much about gluten-free baking except for the basics. It’s one of the goals I’ve set this year for the blog; I probably won’t master gluten-free baking for a long time, but I’d like to learn a bit more about what goes into substituting ingredients, et cetera. If nothing else, it’s an interesting form of baking I’d like to explore. So hopefully, you’ll see a few gluten-free recipes here and there as we go along. For now, everyone – gluten-free or not – gets to make these cookies and feel happy they did.
Adapted from a spanish macaroons recipe from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson (one of my all-time favorite people).
Orange Roll Cookies
- 18 ounces (2 3/4 cups) blanched almonds, ground in a food processor
- 1 2/3 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
- zest of two large oranges
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 large egg
- 2 egg whites
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup granulated sugar, for rolling
Preheat your oven to 350˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, mix together your ground almonds, sugar, and orange zest. In a smaller bowl, beat your whole egg and egg whites together, then add your almond extract and cinnamon and whisk to incorporate.
Pour your liquid mix into your almond mixture, and use a large fork or spoon to incorporate everything together. Your mixture will look wet and be very sticky, like the photos above. This is normal; almond-based things tend to be like this.
To roll these out:
Fill a bowl or your sink with some cool water; you’re going to need this for periodically de-gunking your hands while rolling. Alternatively (if you don’t mind messing with the faucet), do your work near the sink and be ready to intermittently turn on the water to rinse hands of cookie goo. All ready? Great.
Set a salad-size plate (with a lip, preferably) out and pour about 1/3 to 1/2 cup granulated sugar into the middle, spreading it out to form a sugar beach, of sorts.
Using the tips of your fingers, pinch off 1-inch pieces of the almond dough (similar to a heaping tablespoon) and use those same fingertips to work it gently into a rough ball. Drop the ball into your sugar beach, rolling about to coat all sides. Pick it up carefully and, using your palms this time, roll gently into a nice, evenly round ball. Drop onto your prepared sheet pan, being careful to drop it exactly where you want it; the less touching, the better your cookies will turn out. Repeat until your sheet pan is full, placing them about 2 inches apart. Remember to rinse your hands periodically as needed during this process.
Why am i so picky with the rollout directions? Because i tried this several ways, and this way involved the least amount of work and the least amount of stopping the whole process to rinse my hands off. By using your fingertips to form the rough ball versus your palms, your palms stay relatively gunk-free for the post-sugar beach-rollout. Also, you’re not working against yourself by getting dough on the outer side of the sugar, which means you’ll have a clean, even coat of sugar over you entire cookie.
Once you have a pan complete, place in the middle rack of your oven and bake for approximately 15 minutes, checking at the 13-minute mark. I say approximately 15 minutes here because almond cookies are a little temperamental, so you’ll want to watch yours; overdone will happen fast and it will result in a dry cookie.
Instead, go primarily by looks, using my time as an estimate. You’ll want to see a version of what’s in the photos above: a cookie with the slightest bit of color to it, and just starting to get a deeper ring of color around the bottom. Underdone is better than overdone here, so don’t let these go for longer than they need to.
Makes approximately 30 cookies, depending on your exact ball size. If you do choose to make them smaller or larger, adjust your time by 2-3 minutes either way. I did try a few smaller ones, and using the 15-minute time, were too done for my liking.
These will store for up to 4 days in an airtight container at room temperature, although I recommend eating them the day they are made, or the day after. You can freeze them, tightly wrapped, for up to 2 weeks.