Sometimes simple things can be a bit tricky.
My parents raved about my sister’s macheteniste’s nut cookies. “The best cookies I ever ate,” my dad insisted. “And Levana says the recipe is very simple: just sugar, nuts and egg whites stirred together.”
Naturally, I had to pin down the exact recipe. Turns out, Levana’s almond clusters are close cousins to Carine Goren’s almond thins, but with a few crucial twists: (1) the nuts are slivered instead of sliced; (2) the nuts are piled high into little haystacks instead of being spread into a super thin layer; and (3) the sugar is brown instead of white.
These few changes make the difference between a recipe my dad really liked (the almond thins) and one he was crazy about (Levana’s almond clusters). The brown sugar gives huge uptick in flavor, making the sweetness of the nut cookies more interesting, less flat. I think that adding vanilla and almond extract ramps up the flavor even more, but that is an optional addition.
The difficulty was that Levana is the sort of cook who makes everything by instinct instead of a precise recipe. The recipe I started with was “mix together 3 egg whites, a scant cup brown sugar and enough nuts so that the nuts are just coated.” About a pound of nuts? “Yes, about . . . at least!”
I had to experiment a bit to figure out the right ratio of nuts to sugar syrup. The first few batches of cookies had sugar syrup seeping out of them. The sugar syrup that seeped out on the baking sheet puffed up as the nut clusters baked, making strange looking, crunchy protrusions from the cookies.
Also, the baking time was originally “until brown.” That took figuring out, too. Some batches of cookies came out a bit chewy instead of crunchy. It took me a while to figure out that the solution was drying out the nut clusters in a turned off oven.
With these issues ironed out, these addictive cookies are indeed extremely simple to make.