A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to be hired as the opening pastry chef of a new Italian restaurant. I say fortunate because I was given the freedom to introduce a dessert menu that would highlight Italian desserts, which are some of my favourites! Traditional Tiramisu, Panna Cotta, Zabaglione and biscotti cookies are always popular choices, however, I wanted to add menu items that were not as well known in Canada. That is why Ricciarelli was considered – An Italian Almond Cookie that soon became a customer favourite on the menu.
What appeals to me about Ricciarelli is that it is a rustic cookie with rugged edges and a light, crunchy texture. Another interesting aspect of why I included this cookie on the menu was that I have always adopted a no-waste approach to food preparation. Since there is always an abundance of egg whites left over in the fridge from the tiramisu and other menu items that required only egg yolks, I needed a way to incorporate the egg white surplus into my dessert repertoire; hence, the introduction of Ricciarelli, Italian Almond Macaroons, Amaretti and Twice Baked Meringue Cookie Crisps to the menu. I know that you will love this Ricciarelli recipe as much as my restaurant customers did! Ricciarelli is excellent with espresso or gelato, or just on its own.
Ricciarelli – An Italian Almond Cookie
CHEF TALK: Ricciarelli is a very easy cookie dough to make. The dough needs to be frozen for one hour or overnight before cutting and baking, so make sure to plan for that. Ricciarelli dough can be stored, cut into pieces, and frozen – ready to be baked as needed (just like I did in the restaurant). Ricciarelli has a great shelf life since it is a low fat, low moisture cookie (up to two weeks). Ricciarelli freezes well – both baked or unbaked.
For a gluten-free ricciarelli, you can replace the 2 Tablespoons of all-purpose flour with a good gluten-free flour blend (I use Bob’s Red Mill 1 – 1 Baking Flour).
PLEASE READ! The ingredient powdered icing sugar is used three times in this recipe:
1) As a cookie dough ingredient;
2) In Step 6 of the Method to sprinkle on the plastic wrap when forming the cookie prior to freezing so it not too sticky while you are handling it; and
3) To coat the raw cookie pieces before baking.
To Make the Cookie Dough:
- 2 cups sliced or slivered blanched almonds (240 g)
- 2 cups (240 g) Powdered icing sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons Orange zest
- 2 Tablespoons (30 ml) all-purpose flour
- 1/8 teaspoon Baking powder
- 2 large egg whites (60 ml or 1/4 cup)
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) almond extract
To coat the cookies:
- Preheat the oven to 325°F (190°C). Combine the sliced almonds in a food processor with some of the 2 cups of powdered sugar and process until fine.
- Combine this ground mixture with the all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour) and the baking powder. Stir to combine. Set aside for a moment.
- In a clean mixer bowl using a whisk attachment, combine the egg whites with remaining powdered sugar and salt. Whip the mixture to firm peaks.
- Add the almond extract and orange zest at this point only. CHEF TIP: Do not add the almond extract or orange zest until the meringue reaches firm peaks. The oil from the almond and orange will prevent the egg whites from whipping.
- Add the dry ingredients into the mixture all at once. Fold into the mixture using a spatula. The mixture will deflate somewhat (that is supposed to happen) and it will become heavy and firm.
- Place a large piece of plastic wrap on a baking sheet. Sprinkle a generous amount of icing sugar on the piece of plastic wrap. Pour the cookie mixture into the center of the plastic wrap and form it into a 9 x 9-inch square. Sprinkle the top with additional icing sugar. Overwrap the square with the plastic wrap. Freeze for one hour or overnight.
- To coat the cookies: place approximately 1 + 1/2 cups of icing sugar in a medium-sized bowl. Cut the frozen cookie dough into 1” squares. Toss the cut squares (a few at a time) into the powdered sugar and stir to coat well with the icing sugar. Place the coated cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spaced 2 inches apart.
- Bake at 320°F (180°C) until pale golden. Bake for 6 minutes, spin trays and bake 3 to 5 minutes longer, or until pale golden. Let the cookies cool on the baking trays. Store the cookies at room temperature for up to two weeks in an airtight container. CHEF TIP: Meringue cookies are often baked at a lower temperature than typical cookies and reach a pale golden colour more quickly. Every oven is different. Some have more powerful fans, which shorten the baking process. Use the time range as a guideline. Your oven may take a little longer to bake these cookies.
WHAT ELSE CAN I DO WITH THIS RECIPE?
- Partially dip the baked ricciarelli in melted chocolate for a different look and taste. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet until the chocolate is set and then store. These make a great edible gift.
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