Ricciarelli, Italian Almond Cookies are exquisite little morsels with a soft and chewy bite. They’re a traditional Sienese cookie, gluten free and a joy to make!
As I reflect on which cookies to add on a cookie platter, a balance of different textures and flavours is what I look for.
Some have to include a type of nut while some are without, and always keeping in mind different tastes and preferences.
I would need at least one colourful treat to brighten up the mound of cookies piled up high on my cookie platter. Such as these Italian Rainbow Cookies.
And then we mustn’t forget family members with dietary restrictions. Such as those who are gluten intolerant! They too need a perfectly satisfying sweet nibble! This is where these Italian gluten free almond cookies make an appearance!
What are Ricciarelli?
Ricciarelli which are pronounced ric-cia-rel-li, are Italian almond cookies with a soft and chewy bite.
These Italian paste-like cookies are lemon scented and also wonderfully perfumed with the seeds of a vanilla bean. They also pack an intense almond taste that we so love in our almond flavoured desserts.
They’re like delicate little Italian pastries. Light and airy in taste, much like a French macaron but slightly denser to the bite.
What I love about these cookies is that you really don’t need any serious baking skills.
It’s simply a few very good quality ingredients consisting mostly of finely ground almonds and some powdered sugar.
What are the ingredients for Italian almond cookies?
- blanched almonds (see notes below to blanch your own)
- powdered sugar (also known as icing sugar)
- pure almond extract
- lemon zest
- vanilla bean
- egg whites
How to Make Ricciarelli, Italian Almond Cookies from scratch
In a food processor, pulse together the blanched almonds with 3/4 cup of the powdered sugar until you achieve a fine texture.
Then add in the remaining sugar with the lemon zest, almond extract, vanilla seeds and pulse together until very fine.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with a fork just until foamy and stir into the almond mixture a little at a time.
The egg whites is what binds the ingredients together to bring you a deliciously soft and chewy cookie with its distinctive crackled appearance.
You’ll have a stiff paste-like dough when done.
When you’re ready to roll the dough, dust both your hands and work surface with a little powdered sugar.
Divide the dough into 2 equal portions and roll out into logs of about 1 1/2 inch in diameter.
Wrap the logs individually with cling wrap and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight. This makes for one great make ahead cookie dough.
When ready to bake, slice the the cookie dough into 24 equal portions and roll each into a ball.
Slightly flatten each cookie ball with the palm of your hand while forming them into an oval shape.
Place the cookies onto the prepared cookie sheets while spacing them 2 inches apart. The cookies don’t spread out while baking but will puff up somewhat.
Dust the top of the cookies generously with powdered sugar and bake in a pre-heated oven for about 12 to 15 minutes.
They should be pale in colour when done. They’ll also be fragile when fresh out of the oven. So allow to cool with the cookies still on the cookie sheet while placed on a cooling rack.
The key to soft and chewy almond cookies, is to not over bake them. With my oven 12 minutes is sufficient.
Plan ahead steps
- Day 1…you can blanch your own almonds if you’re so inclined. This is a process I really enjoy doing and extremely easy to do. See my notes below on how to blanch your own almonds.
- Day 2…you can prepare the cookie dough and refrigerate over night.
- Day 3…slice, shape and bake! It’s pretty simple right? Told you so!
The Legend of Ricciarelli Cookies
Aside from being a Sienese Christmas treat, these cookies are customarily shaped into an oval or diamond form.
Some would say that the oval shape was meant to represent the eyes of the Madonna by Renaissance painters.
However, according to one legend it is said that a noble knight, Ricciardetto Della Gherardesca introduced the diamond shaped form of this cookie. Its oval shape with the pointed tips greatly reminded him of the Sultan’s slippers from his crusades of the far East. Hence the name Ricciarelli!
Whatever shape or form you decide on, I’m sure you’ll agree these cookies reign supreme in elegance and simplicity.
Serve alongside your favourite sweet wine or Vin Santo.
Happy baking dear friends!
How to blanch almonds
Blanching your own almonds is easy to do! And so worth the effort for optimal flavour too.
Place the almonds in a pot of boiling water and allow to simmer for about 60 to 70 seconds.
The almonds will start to rise and bob on the surface. The skins will look shrivelled up.
Drain the almonds and run them under cold water. Then pat dry with a clean dish towel.
One at a time, gently press on the almond between your thumb and index finger to release the nut from its skin.
Let the blanched almonds dry at room temperature on a clean dish towel before proceeding with the recipe. This can also be done overnight.
If you’re pressed for time you can dry the almonds in a low heated oven for about 5 minutes or so.
This post was originally published in December of 2018. And, updated and republished with new content and photos in July of 2020.
Ricciarelli: Italian Almond Cookies
- 2 1/2 cups blanched almonds see notes below for blanching your own
- 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
- lemon zest from half a lemon
- 1 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
- seeds from 1 vanilla bean
- egg whites from 2 large eggs
- powdered sugar for dusting approximately 1 cup
Preparing The Cookie Dough
- In a food processor, pulse together the blanched almonds with 3/4 cups of the powdered sugar until fine in texture.
- Add in the remaining sugar, lemon zest, almond extract, the vanilla bean seeds and pulse together until very fine. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, beat the egg whites with a fork just until foamy.
- Add the beaten egg whites to the almond mixture, 1 teaspoon at a time while stirring just until you've achieved a stiff dough.
- Transfer the dough onto your work surface and divide it into 2 equal portions.
- Dust your hands and a flat work surface with a little powdered sugar and roll out the cookie dough into a log about one inch and a half in diameter. (work with one portion at a time)
- Wrap with cling wrap and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.
When Ready To Bake
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
- Slice each cookie log into 12 equal portions and roll each into a ball. ( you should have 24 dough balls)
- One at a time, slightly flatten each ball between the palms of your hands while forming into an oval shape.
- Place the shaped cookies onto the prepared baking sheets while spacing them 2 inches apart.
- Dust generously with powdered sugar.
- Bake one sheet at a time in the preheated oven for about 12 to 15 minutes or until the sides are pale golden in colour.
- Take care not to over bake them. They should look dry and not overly dark.
- Allow to cool completely before removing from the baking sheet as these cookies are very soft and fragile when removed from the oven.
- Enjoy with your favourite sweet wine or Vin Santo.
- They keep well for up to a week at room temperature sealed in an air tight container.