Around Christmas time, as in the past, one of our lovely neighbours will bring us a tray of beautifully decorated home-made cookies. We will accept them with a smile, thank her, and dutifully pass them on to someone who’ll enjoy them.
The cookie craze is something we just do not “get”. Neither of us is that excited at the prospect of white flour, butter and sugar. If we’re going to pack in that many calories, we prefer something savoury.
On the rare occasion that we do eat cookies, we prefer them crisp rather than “chewy”, nut-based rather than flour-based, low in fat and not too sweet. We do bake cookies once in a blue moon, but they’re not something we’d miss if we never made them again.
Until last week.
The nutcracker and the nutcase
We found a neat recipe for Ricciarelli (Tuscan Almond Cookies) in Gusto Italiano, featuring vegetarian Italian cooking by Ursula Ferrigno. Nut-based, hardly any flour, no added fat. A ricciarello, we are told, is supposed to be hard on the outside, and melt-in-your mouth powdery on the inside. None of that ‘soft and chewy’ nonsense.
We were intrigued enough to try the recipe. We followed the instructions to the letter, and ended up with a giant, hard, cloyingly sweet pancake that looked like THIS. The amount of sugar and stickiness of the dough led it to spread like a deluge the minute it hit the heat.
We liked it enough to attempt it again. This time, we used only a third of the recommended amount of sugar, reduced the amount of egg whites, and added orange and aniseeds. The result was fabulous. Finally, we’ve found a cookie we love and can’t have enough of. Plus it’s a snap to put together.
Ricciarelli are more festive looking, and very popular during the Christmas season. They are made in oblong or diamond shapes and decorated with a shower of confectioner’s sugar. A beautiful step-by-step demo HERE.
We simply rolled them into balls and pressed them down with a fork on the baking sheet.
** a note about aniseeds: In the Indian grocery store, we find them under “saunf” in two varieties – the yellow, thicker, more pungent variety used in south India (fennel), and the green delicate variety called ‘Lucknowi saunf’ (aniseeds). We prefer the green delicate variety.
** if you like a sweeter cookie and use more sugar (the original recipe calls for 1 cup to be added to the almonds), increase the amount of flour, ‘cos the dough may spread out when the sugar melts. Confectioner’s sugar, which this recipe calls for, is simply plain powdered sugar mixed with cornstarch.
RICCIARELLI (Tuscan Almond Cookies) with Orange and Fennel
Makes a dozen medium cookies.
6 ounces almonds, skinned (we didn’t bother to toast them) (about 1.5 cups)
raw cane sugar, plus 1 tsp cornstarch to total 1/3 cup (or more. see note above)
** or 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar. We usually use 1/4 cup.
1 tablespoon all purpose flour/oat flour/any gluten-free flour
1 tsp orange zest
1/2 tsp aniseeds
1/4 tsp salt
2 egg whites (1/4 cup)
3 drops almond extract
1/3 tsp baking powder
3 tbsps raw cane sugar (powdered) or confectioners’ sugar for coating cookie dough
1. Preheat the oven to 400 F
2. Grind the almonds, aniseeds and the sugar to a fine powder in a food processor.
3. Add salt, baking powder and flour.
4. Beat the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks.
Tip: add a couple drops of lemon juice and a teaspoon of powdered sugar while beating. It helps hold the peaks better.
5. Remove half of the beaten egg whites and keep aside.
6. Fold in the dry ingredients into the remaining egg whites with the orange zest and almond extract. Knead into a smooth dough. It may be sticky, but shouldn’t be overly so. If it is, add flour, a teaspoon at a time. Add the egg whites set aside only if you need it.
7. Line a cookie sheet with silicone or parchment. Traditionally, these are shaped as ovals or diamonds after dredging them in more confectioners’ sugar. Demo HERE. We shaped them into regular cookies. Make them atleast an inch thick since they spread a lot, and place them well apart. This is a very sticky dough, and dredging it in the sugar helps.
8. Bake the cookies for 10 minutes. Cover with parchment paper and bake for another 2-3 minutes. They should not turn brown. Cool for a couple of minutes and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Serve with a cup of espresso.
(If you have 9 oz almonds, increase the other ingredients proportionately, and you will probably end up using about 3/4 of the egg whites.)
Also see our