Called Riciarelli or Brutti ma Buoni (“Ugly but good” in Italian!), these Italian Almond Cookies are chewy on the inside, filled with wonderful almond flavour, and studded with dried cherries. They keep for 10 days, and because they’re gluten free, everybody can enjoy them!
Italian Almond Cookies
If there’s one word that captures these cookies, it’s rustic. And in my world, what that means is don’t get hung up about making them look perfect. These nubbly little balls will be a bit wonky. Some will be larger than others. There will be almond bits sticking out here and there, you might end up with some bald patches. Some bits might have a double layer of almonds. Some will have more than their fair share of dried cherries in them. Others will miss out.
And that’s ok! These are cookies that are meant to be perfectly imperfect – to look at. But they’re perfectly perfect – to eat!!!
What goes in Italian Almond Cookies
Here’s what you need to make these Almond Cookies:
Just a note on a few of the ingredients:
Almond meal (aka Ground Almonds) – This is what we use instead of flour for these gluten free cookies. It is literally raw almonds that are blitzed into a fine powder. It’s easily found nowadays, sold in the bakery, dried fruit & nut section and/or health food section of grocery stores. You can also make your own by blitzing 250g/ 9oz raw, unpeeled, unsalted almonds in a powerful blender (I use a Vitamix) until it becomes a fine powder.
Almond flour is different, it is made with blanched, peeled almonds, blitzed until it becomes powder form. It is lighter in colour (because the brown skin is removed) and it has a finer texture the almond flavour is slightly less. While I have not made these particular cookies with almond flour, I am confident they will work based on other recipes where I’ve interchanged the two, such as this Orange Cake;
Almond extract – Made from the oil of almonds, this adds a rich almond flavour to anything you add it to. Easily found these days in the baking aisle of grocery stores;
Flaked almonds (optional) – These are used to coat the cookies which gives it a terrific textural crust and extra almond flavour. Without the almonds, the outside of the cookies are quite soft and need to be handled rather gently to ensure you don’t crush them.
Also, from an eating perspective, when it’s soft on the outside and inside, my mind thinks “CAKE!!!!” and gets all confused that it’s actually a cookie. So the crispy toasted almond crust makes these biscuits more like what my narrow mind thinks of as cookies – crispy outside, softer inside.
Pretty sure it’s not strictly traditional. Italian readers, perhaps you can shed some light on this? But it’s how an Italian bakery in Sydney makes these cookies. I loved it, so I stole the idea!
Dried cherries (optional) – You won’t see dried cherries in traditional Italian Almond cookie recipe. But this particular recipe is one loosely based on a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe which includes the cherries. I liked it so I kept it in, because it brings an extra something-something to these cookies. But you can skip it, or substitute with any dried fruit really – cranberries, raisins, even chopped apricot!
Sugar – I’m using superfine / caster sugar here which are finer grains than regular sugar which is my standard sugar that I use for baking as it incorporates more easily into batters. But for this particular recipe, regular sugar (granulated sugar) will work just fine too;
Eggs – use what’s sold labelled as “large eggs”, which are 55 – 60g / 2oz each. These are industry-standard sizes in Australia and the US. If your eggs are significantly larger or smaller in size, just weigh different eggs and use 110-120g / 4 oz in total (including shell) or 100 – 108g / 3.6 oz in total excluding shell (this is useful if you need to use a partial egg to make up the total required weight. Crack eggs, beat whites and yolks together, THEN pour into a bowl to measure out what you need).
Use at room temperature – Eggs need to be at room temperature and not fridge-cold, because they aerate better when beaten. A quick way to warm up fridge-cold eggs: Place eggs in a large bowl, cover with warm tap water (just warm, not hot) and leave for 5 minutes. Wipe dry (to avoid residual water dripping into bowl), then use per recipe.
How to make Italian Almond Cookies
The nice thing about this cookie dough is that it’s really forgiving. No need to worry about overworking the gluten like you do with flour based cookies. It can sit around for ages (like it for hours when I made the recipe video!) and it still works 100% perfectly.
Whisk Dry ingredients – Use a whisk to combine the almond meal, sugar, salt, lemon and almond extract. You could also rub it with your fingers, but a whisk makes short work of this step (literally 5 seconds);
Beat egg whites until fluffy – Beat the egg whites with the honey until soft peaks form. “Soft peaks” is the stage before “stiff peaks” which is what you want when making things such as Pavlova because you need the stiffness for the meringue to hold its shape when baked.
For this recipe, we’re not relying on the egg whites to make the cookies rise as such. It’s more to give the cookie a bit of aeration so they aren’t super dense. So we only need soft peaks – which looks like this:
Make dough – Combine the whipped whites with the Dry Ingredients. You will feel like you’re crushing all the air out of the whites as you mix them, but you aren’t. Not completely!
Unlike recipes like the Black Forest Cake I shared last week where the sponge layers rely on the whipped egg whites to make them rise, we don’t need to be so careful folding the egg whites through the batter because for these Almond Cookies, we’re just using egg whites to lighten the mixture, as opposed to making the cookies rise;
Form balls using two spoons – Scoop up about 1 tablespoon of the mixture and shape into a rough ball (3cm/1.2″ ball). I do this using 2 eating spoons – we don’t need perfect balls here. These cookies are supposed to be rustic!
Coat in egg whites – Drop the ball into a bowl of whisked egg whites and roll with two forks to coat. This is used to make the almond flakes stick to the cookies;
Coat in almond flakes – Then use the forks to transfer the cookies into a bowl with the almond flakes. Use your fingers to sprinkle almonds on top, then pick the whole thing up (with plenty of excess almond flakes!), press almonds around the ball and shake off excess.
Again, just a reminder, we’re going for rustic here! Don’t worry about bits of almonds sticking out, some naked patches, some double up patches! Whatever sticks is good, whatever does, doesn’t!
Place on tray – Place on two prepared trays 2.5cm / 1″ apart. Bake for 13-15 minutes in a 180°C/350°F oven until golden brown. Start checking at 12 minutes to be sure the nuts aren’t burning;
Cool – Transfer to rack to cool completely before serving. They cookies will be soft straight out of the oven, but the exterior will crisp up as they cool.
Dusting with icing sugar / powdered sugar is optional, but they do add a lovely little finish to them, don’t you think?
These cookies are terrific for taking to gatherings because it seems inevitable these days that there will be at least one person who is gluten free.
But dietary requirements aside, these cookies keep really well for up to 10 days in a super airtight container which is another reason they are so great. Especially if you opt to do the (not really optional!) coating of almond flakes because it keeps the outside nice and crisp. Whereas without, the crust tends to get softer with time.
Either way though, with or without the almond crust, they are delicious! – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
Italian Almond Cookies (Ricciarelli)
- 2 cups almond meal or blanched ground almonds (Note 1)
- 1/2 cup caster / superfine sugar (Note 2)
- 2 tsp lemon zest (1 lemon)
- 3 drops natural almond extract
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup dried cherries , chopped (Note 3)
- 2 egg whites , at room temperature (from 2 large eggs, Note 4)
- 2 tsp honey
Almond Coating (optional, Note 5):
- 1 Extra egg white
- 1 1/2 cups flaked almonds
- Preheat oven to 190°C/375°F (170°C fan). Line 2 trays with baking/parchment paper.
- Combine Dry Ingredients: Place the almond meal, sugar, zest, almond extract and salt in a bowl. Whisk together until zest and almond extract is evenly distributed. Add the cherries and set aside
- Beat eggs whites: Using an electric mixer or a whisk, beat the egg whites and honey to soft peaks (Note 5). About 2 minutes on Speed 8 of a handheld beater, or 1 1/2 minutes on Speed 6 of a stand mixer.
- Fold the beaten egg whites gently into the almond mixture. You will seemingly knock most of the air out of the meringue, that's ok! (You actually haven't ).
Forming & Coating Cookies:
- Place Extra egg white in a small bowl and whisk with a fork until foamy. Place flaked almonds in another bowl.
- Form 3cm/1.2" balls: Scoop up about 1 tablespoon of the mixture and shape into a rough ball (3cm/1.2" ball). I do this using 2 eating spoons – we don't need perfect balls here.
- Coat in egg whites: Drop the ball into foamy egg whites. Use 2 forks to turn to coat, then pick up and place in the flaked almonds.
- Almond coating: Coat cookies with the almonds, pressing them on to cover as completely as you can. Don't worry if you get some double layers or pieces sticking out – no need to be neat or thorough here!
- Bake 13 minutes: Place on prepared tray 2.5cm / 1" apart. Bake for 13-15 minutes until golden brown. Start checking at 12 minutes to be sure the nuts aren’t burning
- Cool: Transfer to rack to cool completely before serving.
- Store: Store in an airtight container. They last up to 10 days in a storage container or can be frozen
Life of Dozer
Working on a new recipe, comparing various versions. Dozer’s keen to get involved.