At the Table

Ricciarelli di Siena

Ricciarelli 1Growing up, my Dutch great grandmother and my grandma made these lovely marzipan filled pastries called Dutch Letters, and I think because of her many almond flavored cookies have a special place in my heart.  There’s something about the soft, sweet combination of ground almonds and sugar that makes me sentimental, and these cookies have only made matters worse, because now not only do almonds remind me of my Oma and my grandma, these sweets bring back fond memories of the month of my study abroad spent in Siena, Italy.

As is the case with many Italian foods, Ricciarelli are attributed to a specific city – the small walled town of Siena, nestled in the hills of Tuscany.  I enjoyed these traditional flourless almond goodies during my time there, and was disappointed to leave, knowing that it would be hard to find such good versions of them elsewhere.  Since coming home, I’ve scoured websites looking for a recipe that produces cookies as good as the ones I sampled at the bakery next door to my school in Siena, and I think this may be the one.  These are a snap to make: almond meal and powdered sugar are given time to rest and mingle with the flavors of almond and vanilla, and then baked slowly, producing a tender, gooey middle and lightly crisp shell.    This recipe makes about 20 cookies.

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/8 t. lemon juice
  • 1 2/3 c. powdered sugar
  • generous 2 cups almond flour/meal
  • 2 T. almond extract (yes, this is correct.  2 tablespoons)
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • Extra powdered sugar, for coating the cookies (about a cup)

Beat the egg whites and lemon juice until stiff peaks form.  Gently fold in the sugar and almond meal, then add the extracts.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours.

Once you’re ready to make the cookies, preheat the oven to 325*.  Dust a parchment or silicone lined cookie sheet with powdered sugar.  Generously coat a work surface with powdered sugar and roll the dough into a thick (~2″) rope.  Slice into half-inch pieces.  Roll each piece in powdered sugar until well covered, then slightly flatten and shape into the traditional diamond shape.  Bake on prepared sheet for 18 minutes, until the edges are just slightly firm.  Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet (they will firm up as they rest).

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