I first saw almond trees in in the spring in Portugal; frothy clouds against a dry landscape, the blossom seemed more beautiful than that of any cherry tree.
The almond’s delicacy – it is delicate in both shape and flavour - and its paleness have meant that it is regarded as pure, even regal.
Brits and Americans don’t give it the hallowed respect it enjoys in other cultures. Spain and Italy have an endless array of almond confections - innumerable brittle biscotti; the almond nougat called turron; soft fior di mandorle and the ubiquitous amaretti.
Moroccans eat soft pastries made with ground almonds and orange flower water. Go into any patisserie in Provence and the smell of almonds, vanilla and warm sugar is what immediately assails you.
Line a baking sheet with silicone or greaseproof paper. Put the flour, caster sugar, fennel seeds, nuts and salt into a mixing bowl and mix together thoroughly with a fork.
In another bowl, put the eggs, yolks, and vanilla, and whisk briefly, then beat this mixture into the flour. Work until you have a firm dough. If it's too sticky, shake on a little flour and if it's too dry, sprinkle on a little water.
Put onto a lightly floured surface and divide into two. Shape each piece into a brick about 10 cm long, 5cm wide and 2.5cm deep. Bake in preheated oven at 180C for 20 minutes. They should be golden brown.
Remove and transfer to wire racks and leave to stand for about 10 minutes. Reduce the oven to 160C. With a large, sharp knife, cut the bricks on the bias into 1cm slices and put these back on the baking sheets. Return to the oven for 20 minutes, Put the biscuits onto wire racks to cool.
These will keep in a tin for two weeks or longer. If they soften because of humidity, just return them to a low oven for 10 minutes and they will crisp up again.
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