random musings

November 13, 2010

Let the holiday baking commence!

Alternative title: what cookies?
Alternative title 2: So these are pasticcini...

This is from Rachel Eats who found the recipe during travels (and significant research) in Italy. When it came across my Reader subscription back in June, I marked it for holiday baking. We have a tradition in my family  My mom and I have a tradition of making Italian cookies for the holidays. Over the years I've refined my "favorites" list to two kinds of biscotti, X- cookies (with figs! yummy). The list is short because we're all about quality, people. As a sidebar, let me state for the record that while I have Italian heritage and a tendency to the esoteric - turning this tradition into to one about "getting in touch with my roots" and blah blah blah - Mom votes strictly by taste buds.

Ever heard of Amaretti? Literally translated, they mean "little bitter almond things". Unfortunately *real* amaretti use bitter almonds, which are not sold in the US because they need to be first process to remove cyanide. Eek! Just buy the imported ones from Lazzaroni.

"Pisticcini di mandolre" translates to "almond cakes" (per Google translate), and makes use of good 'ol sweet almonds. Rachel writes from London, so instructions at her site all make use of metric units. I've taken the liberty of listing the conversion below. If you have time, please visit the original post here; the photography is beautiful, writing both elegant and conversational. There are a tremendous store of wonderful recipes - the archives make for both an engaging read and cooking inspiration.

These are almond cookies for the almond paste snob, where the predominant flavor is almond (not sugar), with an aftertaste of fresh citrus. And immediately after the flavors subside, your tastebuds will scream for more. Whole eggs add richness without sacrificing any of the delicate crumb - I really can't imagine a more perfect balance of flavors. As a bonus, oh-so-easy-and-quick to make.

The cast of characters: sugar, almond flour, eggs and lemon.

I never seem to capture a true before shot. Here you can see that the poor lemon has been denuded, and that bag of almond flour was full before this recipe!

The dough significantly reduces in volume from initial combination (above) to shaping (below).

Rachael mentions the need to both generously coat hands with powdered sugar; I would say that if you use a spoon (not cookie scoop) only periodic and light dusting is necessary. I did roll the cookie rounds in a small ramekin of powdered sugar before placing on the baking sheet, using about 1/2 cup for the whole batch.

Baking times will vary, depending on your oven and color of the baking sheet. (Above) 18 minutes, with a turn halfway (Below) same timing, on a lighter baking sheet.

Rachel's notes indicate a yield of < 2 dozen. I suspect my idea of a walnut is slightly smaller than hers, as I was able to get 45. It also might explain why mine aren't chewy - instead they are delicately crisp and crumbly and not too sweet. If you like amaretti, the 18 min baking time is ideal; for a chewier crumb, use a shorter baking time of 12 to 15 min (or size 'em 3x larger). Any way they are perfect as an accompaniment to tea, coffee or hot chocolate.

And of course, the measure of how simple any recipe is:

Pisticcini di mandorle from rachel eats (converted for US audiences)
10.5 oz ground almonds*
7.0 oz powdered sugar
2 large eggs
zest from 1 lemon
additional powdered sugar, for dusting


  1. Heat oven to 350F
  2. in a small bowl, randomly disturb eggs with a fork
  3. in a medium bowl mix almonds, sugar and zest
  4. add eggs to almond mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined. The volume should decrease significantly and become a soft, sticky dough
  5. Portion the dough into balls approximately 1 inch in diameter. Dust liberally with powdered sugar
  6. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Using two fingers or your thumb, flatten slightly. The cookie should be about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. While the cookies do swell during baking, they don't really spread, so 1 inch spacing is adequate.
  7. Bake 15 - 20 minutes until top is browned
  8. Allow to cool on parchment paper before transferring.
*Note: the recipe calls for ground almonds, which can easily be obtained by tossing whole almonds into the food processor [not too long, it'll turn to almond butter]. I don't have a food processor in this kitchen, so I purchased mine pre-ground, but if you are planning to make large quantities keep in mind that the 3 lb bag of whole almonds at Costco is <$10 while a 1lb bag of the almond flour is ~$11, which may justify the $40 price tag of a sturdy 3-c food processor. Store excess nuts in the freezer to prevent 'em from turning rancid.

1 comment:

  1. I've never had Italian cookies! But these look incredible. I think I'm going to have to try out this recipe!

    Thanks for giving me a special treat to have with hot tea one day!