Last holiday season, I went on a biscotti-making binge that ended up lasting all year — that’s how much I love making and eating biscotti! [Check out Lemon Pistachio Biscotti and Cranberry-Almond Biscotti.]
This holiday season I “cheated” on the biscotti and made another Italian cookie called ricciarelli. When I first saw the recipe in my Pinterest feed, I was drawn right away to its simplicity. There’s no flour, no butter, no fancy ingredients at all.
Aside from the fact this cookie batter can be whipped up in about 15 minutes — ricciarelli have a wonderfully tasty orange-almond flavor and dense, chewy-on-the-inside texture. Yum!
These cookies are definitely worth adding to your holiday baking — either served on a cookie tray or to give as gifts. But there’s no need to wait until the holidays to enjoy riciarelli; I’m all in favor of baking up an “anytime” batch and freezing them to enjoy later with coffee or tea.
Note: As mentioned, the hands-on time for this recipe is about 15 minutes; but there’s refrigeration and resting time, too, so be sure to check out the timeline below before getting started.
Looking for more cookie recipes?
Salty Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
Lemon Pistachio Biscotti
American-Style Cranberry Almond Biscotti
My inspiration for the recipe
I drew my inspiration for these cookies from two food blogs: InsidetheRusticKitchen and pinchmeimeating. Even though I’d never eaten ricciarelli before — I got bold (over-confident maybe?) and I combined the best elements from each recipe, IMO. They disappeared pretty fast here, so I’m calling my version a success.
As a side note, ricciarelli originated in Siena, Italy and are a classic holiday cookie around the world. The cracked-powdered-sugar look and oval shape are what sets them apart.
In fact, shaping the cookies into ovals is the only “fiddly” part of the recipe — though you could skip it and just bake them as round cookies. Who’s going to complain?
Key ingredients for Italian almond cookies
- Ground Almonds or Almond Flour: You can use either ground whole almonds or almond flour in equal measure for this recipe. It wasn’t until after I’d bought the whole almonds to grind up on my own that I realized most ricciarelli are made with almond flour.
The difference between the two is that ground almonds (with the peels on) will be a little more dense and less light than the flour which is made from blanched almonds. To make your own ground almonds, simply put whole almonds in a blender and grind them to a fine powder. It’s that simple! Doesn’t matter which option you choose, these cookies are gluten-free since almond flour isn’t a true flour.
- Powdered Sugar: I chose this option over granulated sugar to add some lightness. Again, you can use either one, but be aware it’s not a one-to-one swap, so you’ll need to do a little research if you want to use the granulated type.
- Almond Extract: I went heavy on this with a full tablespoon, since I love the flavor. Feel free to dial it back to two teaspoons if you want to let the orange zest shine a bit more.
- Vanilla Extract: Some recipes call for orange extract, but I went with vanilla instead since I find the orange to be artificial-tasting.
- Orange Zest: I zested a whole orange and might even use more next time since there’s only a hint of orange in the cookies. Oops — maybe that has something to do with all that almond extract I used?
The timeline for making ricciarelli
These cookies do take time, but almost all of it is hands-off. Follow these simple steps and you’ll be good to go:
- Make the dough and shape it into a ball; wrap and place in the refrigerator for four hours or ideally overnight.
- Remove dough from fridge and shape into a long log; slice into 1/2 inch pieces and roll them into a ball. Place on cookie sheet and flatten them gently; then shape the cookies into ovals by pinching opposite sides with your fingers.
- Once the cookies are shaped and placed on the baking sheet, generously dust them with confectioner’s sugar; then leave them at room temperature for about an hour so the tops can dry out a bit. It may take longer in humid temperatures. I got impatient and baked them after 40 minutes. This step helps to give them that pretty cracked sugar look.
Note: The picture below is a stock photo. My cookies weren’t quite so thick on the sugar topping.
Italian Almond Cookies (Ricciarelli)Course: Dessert
Classic Italian Almond cookies are simple to make and so tasty. They’re a great addition to a cookie tray or to give as gifts. Ricciarelli freezes well, too.
2 cups ground almonds (or substitute almond flour)
2 large egg whites
1 1/3 cups powdered sugar (plus additional for dusting)
1 pinch salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
2-3 teaspoons almond extract (I used the larger amount.)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
zest of one orange
- Whip the egg whites in a bowl with the almond and vanilla extracts using a hand or stand mixer until stiff peaks form.
- In a separate large bowl, combine the ground almonds (or almond flour), powdered sugar, baking powder and orange zest.
- Fold the almond mixture into the egg whites, in small batches — mixing gently but thoroughly. Your dough will turn sticky. Use your hands to shape the dough into a ball.
- Wrap the ball of cookie dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least four hours or overnight, if possible.
- When ready to bake: pre-heat the oven to 320 degrees F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Remove the dough from the fridge and shape it into a large log; Cut the log into 1/2-inch slices and roll into balls.
- Flatten the cookies gently and shape into ovals by tapering the ends with your fingers. Place on the baking sheet and dust generously with powdered sugar.
- Bake for about 20 minutes and then cool on a rack. The cookies may seem too soft when first removed from the oven, but will reach the right consistency while cooling. Store in an airtight container.
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Now it’s your turn. Let me know if you give this ricciarelli recipe a try and how you liked it. I’d love to hear from you!