Perfectly crisp on the outside like meringue and soft and chewy on the inside like a macaron, these delicious authentic Ricciarelli cookies will transport your taste buds right to the charming streets of Siena (check the history at the end of the article)! Expertly crafted with just a handful of simple ingredients like whipped egg whites, almond flour, sugar, and the aromatic zest of oranges, these classic Italian cookies are the perfect balance of delicate almond and refined citrus flavor.
What are ricciarelli?
Often served around the holidays, ricciarelli are a type of traditional Italian almond cookie with a very distinct taste and macaron-like texture. Almost like marzipan, the base of the dough is made with a combination of egg whites, almond flour, and powdered sugar, which produces wonderful cookies with a slightly crisp exterior and a dense chewy texture in the middle.
While fragrant orange zest and fresh lemon juice are incorporated to give the almond cookies a lovely burst of bright citrus flavor. Then to finish they are coated with a generous dusting of white icing sugar for one last touch of subtle sweetness that beautifully complements both the nutty almond and citrus flavors.
However, while these traditional Italian almond cookies may be associated with Christmas festivities, they can be enjoyed throughout the year! Whether served as a sweet indulgence alongside a cup of coffee or shared with loved ones during family gatherings, these delicious cookies never fail to leave a lasting impression.
What do you need to make this recipe?
Digital Scale: Needed to accurately measure the dry ingredients.
Large Bowl: Used to make the dough.
Whisk: An electric whisk or hand whisk is the best tool to whip the egg white mixture to a frothy consistency. You can also use a stand mixer or an electric hand mixer.
Baking Sheet: You’ll need a good-quality cookie sheet for baking.
Spatula: Needed to carefully transfer the baked cookies to a wire rack to cool.
Cooling Rack: Used to help the cookies cool evenly and maintain their crisp exterior.
What ingredients do you need to make this recipe?
2 Egg Whites: Room temperature egg whites provide structure and help to create the perfect chewy consistency. You can use the leftover egg yolks to make my zabaglione recipe.
1 tsp Lemon Juice: Adds a subtle hint of citrus flavor. It also helps to stabilize the egg whites.
1 tsp Vanilla Extract: Gives the cookies a bit of aromatic flavor and enhances the overall taste. You can replace the vanilla extract with vanilla bean paste.
1 tsp Almond Extract: Intensifies the almond taste. If you prefer a milder almond flavor or don’t have almond extract, you can omit it and increase the amount of vanilla extract to 2 teaspoons.
Zest of 1 Orange: Brings a hint of citrus aroma and taste to the cookies that pairs well with the almond flavoring. You can substitute the orange zest with lemon zest if you like or omit it altogether.
200 grams Almond Flour: Gluten-free almond flour, which is made from blanched ground almonds gives the cookies their distinct flavor and delicate crumbly texture. It’s important to note that almond flour and almond meal are not the same.
200 grams Powdered Sugar: Also called icing sugar, it adds sweetness to the dough and helps to create a soft and tender texture. Granulated sugar can not be used as a substitute.
How to make Italian almond cookies step by step
Whip the egg whites
To begin, add the room-temperature egg whites, lemon juice, vanilla extract, almond extract, and orange zest to a large mixing bowl (photo 1). Then use an electric whisk or hand whisk to whip the mixture until it’s foamy (photo 2). The egg whites should still be soft and not become stiff peaks like when making meringue.
Make the cookie dough
Once your egg whites are nice and frothy, sift the powdered sugar and almond flour into the large bowl (photo 3). Then use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to mix everything together into a soft paste (photo 4).
Now, shape the almond mixture into a ball (photo 5) and wrap it with plastic wrap (photo 6). Then put the ball of ricciarelli dough into the refrigerator to chill for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days. Keep in mind, the longer it rests the more flavorful the cookies will be.
Preheat the oven
When you are ready, preheat your oven to 300°F (150°C). The oven must be fully preheated before your cookies go in or they will not bake properly. Then line a baking tray with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat to prevent the cookies from sticking.
Form the cookies
First, sprinkle some powdered sugar onto a clean work surface and then place the chilled ball of dough on top (photo 7). Next, roll the dough into a long rope that is approximately 1 inch (3 cm) wide. Then cut the rope into 25 equal pieces, each weighing around 20 grams (photo 8).
Now, dip each piece of dough into icing sugar and then flatten it with your hands as you shape it to look like a grain of rice (photo 9). Then place the ricciarelli onto the prepared baking sheet making sure to leave about 2 inches of space between each cookie (photo 10).
Dust with sugar
After all the almond cookies are formed, moisten your fingers with water and then lightly wet the surface of each cookie. Then generously sprinkle powdered sugar over all the cookies to create a beautiful finish and sweet cookie crust (photo 11).
Bake the cookies
To bake, transfer the cookie sheet to the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake the cookies for 5 minutes at 300°F (150°C). Then increase the temperature to 340°F (170°C) and continue to bake the cookies for another 5 to 6 minutes until they have a cracked surface. Finally, reduce the temperature to 320°F (160°C) and let them bake for another 5 to 6 minutes.
Cool the cookies
When the almond ricciarelli are finished baking, allow the cookies to rest on the baking sheet for about a minute to set. Then very carefully transfer the fragile cookies to a cooling rack using a spatula (photo 12). Now, let them cool completely before serving.
Your egg whites must be at room temperature. Cold whites do not aerate as well.
Make sure that you are using almond flour and not almond meal, which tends to be coarser. Using almond meal can give the cookies a grainy texture.
There is not a typo in the recipe. You do not need to add any baking powder.
Be careful not to overwhip the egg white mixture. You should stop whisking when it reaches a foamy consistency.
Sift the icing sugar to remove any lumps before adding it to the dough. This helps to prevent clumps of sugar and creates a consistent texture.
Aim for uniformity when cutting the dough into individual pieces and forming the cookies. This ensures that the cookies bake evenly.
Be generous when coating the cookies with icing sugar before popping them into the oven. Yet, be careful not to wet the surface of the cookies too much when applying the sugar.
Use a timer for the best results. Ricciarelli cookies rely on precise timing and temperature adjustments to achieve their desired texture.
To store ricciarelli, allow them to cool completely and then transfer the cookies to an airtight container. The cookies will then keep at room temperature for about a week or in the freezer for about 1 month.
These famous Tuscan almond cookies are very easy to customize allowing you to tailor them to your own personal taste and experiment with different flavor combinations. Here are a few ideas to inspire your sweet tooth!
Chocolate: Add an extra indulgent touch by dipping them in melted chocolate. Once the ricciarelli have cooled, dip one end of each cookie into chocolate. Then place them on a baking tray lined with parchment paper for the chocolate to set.
Citrus: Experiment with different citrus flavors by incorporating lemon zest or lime zest along with the orange zest. You can also replace the almond extract and vanilla extract with lemon or lime juice.
Dried Fruit: Fold chopped dried fruit such as cranberries, cherries, raisins, or apricots into the dough similar to making biscotti.
Spices: Infuse the cookies with warm spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom by incorporating them into the dough.
Nut Variations: While they are traditionally made with almond flour, you can experiment with other nut flours such as hazelnut, pistachio, or cashew.
Where did almond cookies originate?
While the exact origin is uncertain, almond cookies are believed to have originated in the Middle East or Mediterranean, where almonds have been cultivated for centuries. In Europe, almond cookies became particularly popular in Italy and Spain, where almonds are also abundantly grown and incorporated into recipes.
Are ricciarelli gluten-free?
Yes! These Italian almond cookies are naturally gluten-free and dairy-free.
Can I substitute all-purpose flour for the almond flour?
Almond flour is a key ingredient in ricciarelli, which is used to create its unique texture and flavor. Substituting it with plain flour will significantly alter the results.
Authentic Ricciarelli Recipe
What is the history of ricciarelli cookies?
Ricciarelli has a rich history that traces back to the Renaissance period in Siena, Italy. These almond cookies, initially known as marzapanetti, were created by skilled pastry chefs and were most associated with noble families. Yet over time, the recipe was passed down through generations and cookies became a beloved treat enjoyed by people throughout Siena.
Today, Ricciarelli di Siena are an integral part of Sienese culinary heritage and cherished for their historical significance as well as their delicious flavor all over Italy.
What is the difference between amaretti and ricciarelli?
Amaretti and ricciarelli are both chewy Italian almond cookies, but they do have differences in their taste and texture. Amaretti cookies have a crisp exterior and a soft chewy interior with a more pronounced almond taste. Whereas, ricciarelli cookies are softer and chewier with a delicate balance of almond and citrus flavors.