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.

This recipe is from the city of Siena, in Tuscany, Italy. It’s quite similar to amaretti, the little almond macaroons that are Venetian in origin.

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
Heart-Healthy Cookies

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  1. Hi Bee and Jai, I adore anything with fennel in it. Combine it with orange, and I’m right over the top! :laugh:

    Thank you for this beautiful entry to Eat Christmas Cookies. -Susan

  2. Suganya says:

    I love almond cookies. Most of ‘em call for 1/4 cup of butter. I gotta try this recipe. I cannot imagine what fennel seeds does to them. The changes you have done are pleasing to the eyes.

  3. sagari says:

    cookies look so flaky and cruncyy and beautiful pics asusual

  4. Brilliant photography.

  5. richa says:

    sooooooo my kinda’ cookie with all that almonds :D
    will walnuts work on similar lines?

    you can try half walnuts and half almonds/cashews. i think the walnut flavour will be too strong. no harm in trying, though. :) – b.

  6. kribha says:

    I’m always lost for words whenever I see your posts. I get stunned by your photography skills and beautiful creations you do with your nice recipes. Thanks for another great one.

  7. Cynthia says:

    It’s easy to see why you find these irresistible. As I read your post and comments on yours and Jai’s feelings about cookies I couldn’t help but marvel at the things we have in common. :)

  8. Anita says:

    Those are good looking cookies. Can one skin almonds without blanching?

    The saunf confusion is there because we have the same name for the two spices: Lucknavi saunf, used mainly as a mouth freshner because of its intense licorice flavour is anise or aniseed, while moti saunf used primarily as a spice, is fennel.

    thank you. i was wondering what the difference was between aniseed and fennel seeds. re: skinning almonds, soaking them overnight should be enough. – b.

  9. RedChillies says:

    Whoa! Look at that! The cookies look amazing. Is it my imagination or just that I do not see “fat” in the ingredients list?
    Also loved the new layout of your blog. Looks great!

    no added fat. – b.

  10. Meera says:

    My kind of cookies! No butter, no yolk, just 1 tbsp all purpose flour? Now that’s what I need. Do you think Almond flour will work well? I am making these sometime real soon.

    sure. in italy they use almond flour. – b.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Bee you have added one more must try in my list. The photos were really adorable.

  12. Nirmala says:

    The above Anonymous is me ;)

  13. Nags says:

    Lovely stack of cookies. Each time I see a pic in ur blog I think to myself “now why didnt I think of photographing my cookies that way”. Its really neat :)

  14. Deeba/Passionate baker says:

    Love the new look…though still have to find my way around. ITS LOOKING GREAT!! The cookies look scrumptious & the nuts look awesome! ;;)

  15. Linda says:

    My mom used to make chocolate cookies that *looked* just like these. Hardly the same taste of course. The new front page is lovely. :)

  16. Purnima says:

    Wow..cookies wt saunf in it!!!Must try it out!

  17. Anita says:

    Forgot to mention – I love the new banner with the subtle lettering!

  18. sandeepa says:

    fennel would add a wonderful flavor

  19. Priya says:

    The cookies look so divine…love their pale yellow color! And the blue of the coffee cups is gorgeous.

  20. Happy Cook says:

    With fennel it must be having a special taste.
    Wish i was like you guys not loving cookies, but i love cookies and that is really not good for the calories like u said.
    I always want to have a cookie with my coffee or tea

  21. swaroopa says:

    looks gr8!! very healthy treat too…

  22. shivapriya says:

    I love the liquorish taste in the fennel.I’m sure those cookies tasted really good and love the new interface.

  23. Laavanya says:

    Gorgeous looking cookies. I may want to up the sugar when I try it though.

  24. Manasi says:

    Beatuiful cookies!Sahre them?????
    LOVE the new look too!! :yes: :horn: :dance: :love:

  25. Manasi says:

    I mean Share…. :tongue:

  26. Mona says:

    Awesome new look to the theme, love every bit of it guys !! :yes:

  27. vineela says:

    Hi Bee,
    Alomonds in biscuit taste great.Yummy.

  28. mallugirl says:

    oooh, ur new layout is so eye catching!!! great work u2. and thanks for this non calorie laden cookie..the nuts are welcome any day. i didn’t think u both baked cookies too. :) :bow:

  29. Meeta says:

    These are among my fave cookies. We bought a huge load of tem when in Florence and ever since then I have been dying to make them myself. Now is the chance!

  30. Anh says:

    The cookies look excellent! Lovely!

  31. Pravs says:

    Oh yeah…you guys too baked almond cookies ! I should try these for the fennel and orange zest taste. Pretty pics. :)

  32. Miri says:

    Great new header design and the main interface too!

    I didn’t “get” cookies either when I tasted them for the first time…I like mine crisp and hard, no chewiness at all….these look amazing – especially piled on the blue cups – are the cups that small or the cookies that big!

    those are little espresso cups. – bee

  33. Padmaja says:

    Lovely cookies Bee
    Oh gosh, its just 2 weeks for christmas, still haven’t started any preps yet!!

  34. shilpa says:

    Cookies with just 1 tbl spn flour? thats great :) .

  35. dhanggit says:

    bravo!!! all these amazing photos :tongue: i’m totally smitten

  36. Anjali says:

    Hey B & J it was nice to read your blog with the new look. I loved the landing page.

    About these cookies at first I thought they were nankhatai. Then I read 1.5 cups almonds and immediately I thought of a trick. I’m thinking of using MTR’s Badam feast for this recipe. It will save me the grinding and it has saffron so I’ll skip the orange. Fennel will go into half the dough I want to try with and without it. Will update here with my results. It is amazing to know cookies could be made nut based. Really shows how committed you are to good health.

  37. chemcookit says:

    Thanks a lot for posting this recipe. Shamefully enough I’m Italian and didn’t know about these cookies! So I had to try them. I baked them for Christmas and made everyone happy! No one believes there’s no flour or butter in them. I posted some pictures on my blog about them. Thanks again for all your inspirations!!

  38. Ayesha says:

    hi. i’d love to try your recipe esp since its got saunf in it….which i love…..but i just wanted to clarify something before getting started. what do u mean by using the remaining egg whites ‘if required’ how do i know wether to add them or not?…..regads…a novice cook trying very hard to cook good food…:)

    it would be required if the consistency is too dry. if it is, then add the “extra” egg whites little by little until you get the right consistency – doesn’t stick and is not too dry that you can’t shape. hope that helps -j

  39. [...] a taste of Tuscany, try Bee and Jai’s orange-laced, crispy Ricciarelli (Tuscan Almond Cookies with Orange and Fennel). And surprise limoncello lovers on your Christmas list with Lynne’s light, sweet, and tangy [...]

  40. Hey Bee and Jai! Just wanted you to know I included your delicious cookie in my latest article at Foodie View. Happy Holidays!

  41. [...] we’re not huge cookie fans, there’s one that we simply adore – Ricciarelli – the Tuscan cookies made with almonds and egg [...]

  42. [...] Ricciarelli (Tuscan Almond Cookies) [...]

  43. [...] are a variation of our favourite Tuscan Almond Cookies. Whenever we dig out nuts from the freezer and want to use up a batch quickly, this recipe comes in [...]

  44. Kay says:

    The blue of the cup goes beautifully with the color of those cookies!! I will give them a try soon.

  45. [...] and Pistachio Marzipan with Tuscan Almond Cookies. “Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. [...]

  46. Priyanka says:

    I just tried these cookies this afternoon and the family loved it. I tried the 1/3 cup sugar and I thought it was just perfect! Thanks for such a lovely recipe.

  47. Denise says:

    Here in Vancouver we can buy finely ground almonds in 100g packages. Could you tell me what the measurement is, in cups, after you have ground your 6 oz. of almonds? I am guessing it would be almost 2 cups ground.

    Thanks very much!

  48. [...] never had a cookie they loved. Until now, that is. They are smitten with a recipe for nutty, crispy Ricciarelli (Tuscan Almond Cookies with Orange and Fennel), which would convert any [...]

  49. [...] never had a cookie they loved. Until now, that is. They are smitten with a recipe for nutty, crispy Ricciarelli (Tuscan Almond Cookies with Orange and Fennel), which would convert any [...]

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