OTV Cuisine: Ricciarelli – Italian Almond Biscuits

Ricciarelli are probably one of my favourite things to make at Christmas. I don’t really deviate much from the recipe below, although I do usually make a chocolate version as well. Chocolate, although very different, is just as delicious and I recommend giving both a try.

I first tried these biscuits at a friend’s house many years ago and instantly fell in love with them. Despite me begging my friend for the recipe, she unfortunately couldn’t help me – she didn’t know how to make them, and had been given the biscuits by an Italian friend of hers. I tried finding the recipe myself but was unsuccessful and so had to give up, until one day, on a trip to Italy, I saw them in a shop. As you can imagine I immediately bought them, and once I was finished with devouring my long lost biscuits, I scoured the bookshops until I found a book that contained a recipe for them. Luckily for me, I was in the right region, and managed to find a baking book which had the recipe. Even though the book was in Italian, I had to buy it and just translated the recipe on my return (thank you Google translate!) I have never looked back. I now make them every single year without fail.

These biscuits originate from Italy, Siena to be exact and date back from around the 14th century. Apparently, they were introduced by a local Count on his return from the Crusades – although I can’t vouch for how true that legend is.

They are typically served at Christmas time and can be served with a dessert wine, some liqueur or a cup of coffee – or even on their own!

The biscuits are a cross between a biscuit and a macaroon – they are crumbly and chewy at the same time. They are also perfect for those on a gluten free diet, as they don’t contain any flour and are instead made with ground almonds. The ground nuts provide a slight but delicious bitter taste. I add lemon zest for extra flavour, but you could also use orange zest instead. If you want to make a chocolate version, just add some cocoa powder to the mix when adding the ground almonds – the chocolate versions are extremely tasty and definitely worth a try.

Although these are really easy to make, you must ensure that you have left enough time – you need to start these the night before you cook them as the mixture needs to dry out overnight before baking. I always forget this and so my plans to bring some to work to share with my colleagues on our last day at work this year were quickly dashed when I realized this would involve me having to get up at least an hour earlier to cook these in the morning!

These keep well in an airtight container – although how long they stay depends on how quickly you eat them!

OTV Cuisine: Ricciarelli – Italian Almond Biscuits

Makes around 30 biscuits dependent on size

Ingredients:

  • 2 large egg whites
  • pinch of salt
  • 225g caster sugar
  • zest of one lemon
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon almond essence or extract
  • 300g ground almonds
  • icing sugar for dusting

Method:

  • Whisk the egg whites and salt until stiff and dry, then whisk in the sugar a little at a time until you reach a marshmallowy consistency

  • Add the lemon zest, vanilla extract, almond essence and ground almonds and mix to a hard paste

  • If you are going to make chocolate biscuits, add 1 – 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder together with the ground almonds
  • Shape the mixture into small diamonds – dust your hands and the surface with icing sugar to stop the mixture from sticking
  • Lay on lined baking sheets and leave to dry out overnight

  • When ready to cook, heat the oven to 140°C and cook the biscuits for 25-30 minutes – they should be pale and slightly cracked
  • Make sure you do not overcook the biscuits, as they will become hard and very chewy when overcooked (having made this mistake a few times myself!)
  • When cool, dust with icing sugar and serve 

Photos: Amaka

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