The Ultimate Holiday Cookie

Just four ingredients combine to make these unforgettable cookies.

How good are they?

Ever since “Classic Home Desserts” (Houghton Mifflin Court) by the late-great Richard Sax was reissued in 2000, I have baked these super chewy, almond-intense macaroons for Christmas.

Yes, every Christmas. Friends, family, and co-workers clamor for them, and can’t wait for their appearance in cellophane-bagged stocking stuffers or on party dessert trays. Basically, they won’t let me make anything else.

But that’s OK, because I can’t get enough of them, either.

At the annual potluck at the San Jose Mercury News, my contribution was always a batch of these festive cookies. Colleagues would grab a cookie prior to lining up for the entrees, just to be sure they got one before they all disappeared. In fact, they talked me into baking TWO batches in subsequent years. And one year, a former copy editor who had moved to San Diego was visiting the area at this time, and showed up to the potluck only because she wantedΓ‚ to snag one of my macaroons.

If you’re not a fan of coconut, no worries. There is no coconut in these macaroons. Just egg whites, sugar, and almond paste. That’s it. The original recipe, Mary’s Pignoli, calls for rolling 1-inch balls of the mixture in pine nuts. But with their high oil content, the pine nuts made the cookies almost too rich, if you can believe that. The recipe states sliced or slivered almonds are other alternatives. I like using slivered almonds because they give these pale-golden cookies an almost snowflake-like look.

Make a batch and see for yourself just what perfect holiday cookies they are.

And for more cookie fun, be sure to tune in to “Dining Around with Gene Burns” (KGO Radio, AM810), 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Saturday, Dec. 13, for the 13th annual Holiday Cookie Exchange at the InterContinental San Francisco.

Twenty-five finalists will present their best cookies for judging by yours truly, the Food Gal; Dominique Crenn, executive chef of Luce in the InterContinental San Francisco; Cindy Mushet, author of Sur La Table’s “The Art & Soul of Baking” cookbook; and Emily Lucchetti, cookbook author and pastry chef of Farallon, WaterBar, and Epic Roadhouse, all in San Francisco.

Top winners will receive get-away weekends to San Francisco, Monterey, and Yosemite, as well as restaurant gift certificates.

Italian Macaroons

(makes about 5 dozen)

1 pound almond paste

1 1/4 cups sugar

4 large egg whites

About 1 pound slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 or 3 baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly butter sheets.

Be sure to measure the almond paste accurately, as too little almond paste will create a super sticky dough that will be harder to work with. Break almond paste into pieces. Place in bowl of a food processor with the sugar. Pulse into almond paste is crumbled finely, and evenly combined with sugar.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites to soft peaks. Stir a little of the egg whites into the almond mixture; it will be fairly dry. Fold in remaining whites.

Place almonds in a shallow bowl. Roll almond paste mixture into 1-inch balls, keeping them as round as possible. If mixture is too sticky, alternately drop heaping teaspoonfuls into the bowl of almonds; use your fingers to roll the dough ball around until coated evenly with slivered almonds. Place on prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart.

Bake cookies until evenly pale gold, 15 to 17 minutes.

Cool cookies in pans on a wire rack for about 5 minutes. With a spatula, very carefully transfer cookies to the rack to cool completely. These macaroons keep well; store in an airtight container. You also can freeze the cookies in sealable plastic bags.

Adapted from “Classic Home Desserts”

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  • Yum! They look good and after an intro like that, how can I not make it? I will be heading out to the store to get some almond paste to make these (I already have a list of cookies I’m baking this Christmas, guess I’m adding another one). Check out our blog in the days to come….I’m going to be doing my special pineapple tarts (they’re more like cookies but in Malaysia they’ve always been called pineapple tarts–go figure!)

  • Oooh, pineapple tarts?? Those sound divine!

  • where do they sell almond paste at? I never noticed them.

  • You can find almond paste in well-stocked supermarkets in the baking aisle. It comes either in a can or in a tube packed in a slender cardboard box. Any market that has an especially good selection of Italian products is a good bet to stock it, too.

  • Can you make your own almond paste out of raw almonds? I wonder if you could do this with pistachios as well.

  • Yes, you can make your own almond paste. See

    I’m thinking you could do the same with pistchios, too.

  • So, as we speak, I am in the middle of a dough-making kitchen extravaganza — whipping up the “do-ahead” portion of any cookies I can so as to get all the messy prep work out of the way before actual baking day on Thursday. Faced with an excess of apricots, I came in to google “apricot fillings” (for the soon-to-be cream cheese tassies) but, easily-diverted googler that I am, decided to check your blog in passing. Oh my! These will be the perfect addition to my “egg whites/egg yolks” recipe collection. Now to thumb through and pick a 4 egg yolk concoction to go with them. Thanks for sharing this, Carolyn — they look entirely scrumptious!

  • And also, what a sweet gig (pun only partially intended) for you to get to judge a cookie contest.! I’ll have to keep my eyes on that one for next year. Those prizes sound mighty enticing πŸ™‚

  • wow this looks like another keeper!

  • And what a score on the contest! I LOVE the Mushet book. Have been baking from it and savoring it. The fougasse is our new special occasion bread and the pullman loaf I make about once a week adding sourdough starter.


  • Mmmmmm…….these look amazing! Come check out my holiday cookie list and enter my giveaway!

  • Ok, serves me right for not checking the recipe before going out shopping. I just came home with one tube of almond paste and it says 7 oz! Argh….I have to buy two more tubes to get it to the pound needed and then what am I going to do with the leftovers? I would halve the recipe except I already have the 4 egg whites ready because I made some lemon curd yesterday. Gosh darn it!

  • Annie, no worries. The leftover almond paste keeps for months in the refrigerator, if you just store it in a plastic ziplock bag. The almond paste may get a little harder in the refrigerator. But if you use a food processor to break it up as the recipe instructs, it’s no problem.

  • Yeah, I know I’m stressing unnecessarily. Thanks for the reassurance…no hyperventilating needed…just wondering where the cheapest place is to find more almond paste. That tube was $8!

  • True! These are not inexpensive cookies to make. What with the cost of the almond paste, PLUS all the almonds. Maybe that’s another reason I only make them during the holidays, when we tend to go more all out in everything we do. πŸ˜‰

  • Hehehe…yeah, now I know. I’m committed to making them now so I will press on! Those pineapple tarts are another extravagant cookie–the filling calls for about 4-5 pineapples cooked down. Well…I will report back once I get the rest of the paste and make this.

  • Just finished baking it. It was much more gooey than I expected and I only got 4 dozen. Very fragrant. A little too sweet for me but I’m sure all my friends are going to enjoy it.
    I do have a question. I saw baking marzipan at Cost Plus World Market (it said it was 60% almonds). Could I have used that instead of almond paste? The almond paste I got was from Savemart and it was the Odense brand one with 45% almonds. Just wondering if the percentage of almonds makes a difference to how sweet it would be.
    Thanks again for the recipe.

  • Annie, in answer to your question, my understanding is that marzipan is sweeter than almond paste and a bit smoother in texture. In fact, I believe it’s essentially almond paste, but with MORE sugar in it. So probably best not to substitute one for the other in this recipe.

  • The aroma alone of this famous cookie conjures up all sorts of holiday memories — including sitting still in the dark with platefuls of sweet gingerbread creations, breathlessly waiting for Santa Claus to come. That’s what makes this

  • I have two cookie exchanges coming up this week, so I was glad to find your Italian Macaroons recipe.
    If I want to make my own almond paste, do you know where to purchase whole blanched almonds, preferably in bulk? In the past I got them at Trader Joes, but they stopped carrying them. I found them in bulk at Berkeley Bowl the past few years, but it’s a bit of a trip, since I live in San Jose. I’ve tried blanching them myself, but it’s a time-consuming task. Any ideas?
    If I don’t make my own almond paste, is there a brand that you prefer?
    Thanks for the recipe!

  • Hi Suzanne:
    You might try Whole Foods for the bulk whole blanched almonds; or the Milk Pail in Mountain View (; or maybe Casa de Fruta in Hollister (, though that might be a little more of a hike than you want to make. And I’d definitely call whatever store beforehand just to see if blanched almonds are carried there, before you make a special trip out there for them. FoodGal readers, do you have any other possible places to recommend?

    As for almond paste brands, I usually use Odense. It’s also probably the most common brand found at grocery stores.

    I hope you enjoy the macaroons. My husband just brought some into the office for his colleagues last week. One co-worker said he’d pay me to bake some more. Hah! See, people LOVE these.

  • Thanks for the suggestions. I’ve tried Whole Foods and the Milk Pail. No luck so far, but I’ll keep trying.

    In the meantime, I found the Odense almond paste on sale at Safeway for $5.99 (reg. $9.49). The sale runs until Jan. 11.

    I was just reading through the directions for the macaroons and discovered it calls for a food processor, which I don’t have. Can they be made without one?

    Any suggestions for the leftover egg yolks (besides lemon curd)? What do you do with yours?

  • Oooh, thanks for the tip on the sale at Safeway, Suzanne.
    In answer to your question, you don’t have to use a food processor. Do you have a stand mixer? If so, you can use that. Or you might also be able to use a pastry cutter and a little muscle. You want something that will break down the almond paste so that it gets fairly fine in texture. That way, it can combine easily with the sugar.

    This time around, I think my hubby, Meat Boy, just cooked the egg yolks the next day for breakfast in an omelet. But actually the last week in December, I will have a posting on making Bradley Ogden’s butterscotch pudding, which uses five egg yolks. But of course, that may be a little too late for ya if you’re making the macaroons this week. But you could use the egg yolks to make other puddings or even creme brulee, if you wanted.

  • Carolyn, these macaroons!!! I had no idea. I didn’t recognize them from your picture. I didn’t recognize them from the recipe. I didn’t recognize them in the mixing bowl, or when they went into the oven, or even when they came *out* of the oven. But, when that first bite entered my mouth…I recognized them immediately! My mother used to make these — every single Christmas. I have almost the exact same recipe, in her handwriting, in her recipe card file, and I never even knew it. How in the world, you ask? Well, because her recipe was labeled “Marie’s Coconut Macaroons”. (I have no idea who “Marie” was) Like you, not being a huge fan of coconut in cookies, I completely glossed over the rest of the recipe — including the parenthetical “optional” after coconut in her ingredients list, and in fact I hadn’t even remembered eathing anything like them until yesterday. But, oh my! When I tasted that first bite of what is firmly on top of the pile of *my* holiday recipe cards now as “Carolyn’s Almond Macaroons”, (I can just about hear my someday daughter-in-law wondering who my friend Carolyn might have been πŸ™‚ it took me straight back to the decades-ago December family kitchen of my childhood. She never enrobed them in the slivered almonds that give your version such a wonderful toasty-crispy counterpart to the chewy gooey inside — and she never included that coconut. Sooooo good!

    Thanks to you, I made these in a spare hour which unexpectedly presented itself to me on Christmas morning. I had all the ingredients, but lacked the motivation leading in to the holiday feast season which comes so soon after the already fully-planned pre-holiday baking extravaganza. Yesterday, however, fearing we might not have *quite* enough calories already on hand, I decided to toss a batch of these in the oven. You’ll enjoy the following random quotes:

    “Wow, these are *really* good! Jenny, have you tried one?”

    (Jenny, swallowing quickly)

    “Mmph, yeah — I’ve had about six already!”

    “Mom, how come you’ve never made these before? These are the best cookies I’ve ever tasted!”

    (Husband wanders in)

    “Good lord! You’ve made *more* cookies? How come they’re not chocolate? Well, I suppose I have to try one.” (pause) “OMG, these are delicious!!! Do you already have more in the oven??”

    Carolyn, I cannot thank you enough for restoring this positive piece of my past. Although sadly they have skipped a generation of memories in my own family, I will be absolutely sure it doesn’t happen again! Thanks to you, every grandchild with whom I may ever be blessed will remember eating these at Christmas time in my kitchen.

    Long comment — full of appreciation!


  • Carroll: This has got to be one of the best comments I’ve ever read. That is so incredible that these are the same cookies that your Mom used to make. How funny about the misnomer, too: Marie’s Coconut Macaroons. I’m glad the cookies brought back so many fond memories, and even more glad that they have revived a wonderful tradition in your family. These cookies are sweet indeed, but even sweeter when they symbolize love and togetherness like they obviously do in your household. Happy holidays!

  • Pingback: Ultimate Italian Almond Macaroons « Asian Food

  • Hi there! I see this is an old post, but I wonder…
    Could these be made without coating in almond slivers and instead piping the dough onto a baking sheet in a pretty pattern? Or would they spread too much?

    Thanks for your help!

  • Susan: I’ve never tried to pipe the dough. I’m not positive it would work because the “dough” is very sticky and loose. It’s not a compact dough like a spritz cookie dough. Also, I think I would worry that pushing the dough through a press might completely deflate the egg whites that are folded into the sugar-almond paste mixture to lighten it.

  • Came across these Macaroons from another site that referenced/credited yours. They look so good…am definitely trying this. First time to your site…beautiful blog!

  • Have yet to do a lot of holiday baking…just cheesecakes for orders. Bringing a cranberry one to Mom’s on Christmas Eve. These cookies sound divine.
    Happy Holidays.

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