Ricciarelli for Mothers’ Day
I’m often asked what my ‘signature bake’ is and I always struggle to come up with an answer. I love variety when I cook and rarely make the same thing more than once without some hefty fiddling. If I was really pressed to choose though, my answer would probably be, ricciarelli. I’ve made these Siennese almond biscuits countless times, as they make the perfect gift when going to someone’s house for dinner (remember those days?!). Luckily, in these less sociable times, they also travel rather well by post.
I first came across these fragrant chewy cookies on holiday in Tuscany in 2009. They’re attributed to Sienna, but the best we tasted were from a little bakery in the impossibly picturesque hilltop town of Montalcino. While our budget at the time didn’t stretch to any of the town’s famous Brunello wine, we did manage to fill our suitcase with biscuits!
As a self-confessed recipe-fiddler, I’ve made various versions of these biscuits over the years. They’re particularly good made with ground hazelnuts in place of the almonds, leaving out the lemon zest in favour of more orange zest. This basic recipe is the one I always come back to though.
I made this batch with my daughter to send to my Mum for Mothers’ Day. Her six-year-old fingers found it difficult to form the classic diamond shape, so she opted for hearts instead, which just makes me love them even more. She also decoupaged a box for them to travel in.
Traditionally, you’d include a few ground apricot kernals (aka ‘bitter almonds’), but a few drops of almond extract makes an acceptable substitute. We happened to have a big punnet of cherries on the go, so we cracked the stones and extracted the tiny kernals within. They have a similar marzipan flavour, though it’s a rather time consuming task! Handy if you have a small child to keep busy, but probably easier to buy mahlab online or just use a few drops of extract!
Makes approx. 32
- 2 large egg whites
- a pinch of cream of tartar
- 225 g caster sugar
- 300 g ground almonds
- 1 lemon, zest finely grated
- 1 orange, zest finely grated
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp apricot kernels, cherry kernels or mahlab, ground to a powder (optional)
- ½ tsp almond extract
- 100 g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
- Whisk the egg whites with the cream of tartar and a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Gradually whisk in the sugar until stiff and shiny.
- Add the ground almonds, citrus zests, vanilla and almond extracts and the ground kernels if using. Mix to a paste.
- Put the icing sugar in a bowl, then use two teaspoons to quenelle a few walnut-sized balls of almond paste into the bowl. Toss them around to coat, then form each one into a diamond or heart-shape about 1.5 cm thick and spread out on a couple of lined baking trays.
- Repeat until all the mixture has been used, then leave them, uncovered, to dry out overnight.
- Heat the oven to 150°C (130 fan) | 300°F | gas 2. Press down lightly on the biscuits with a fork until they’re about half their original height and the surface cracks.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the outside of each biscuit is just starting to colour, but the middle is still soft – they’ll continue to firm up as they cool. Leave to cool completely on the baking trays, then dust with a little more icing sugar. Store in an airtight tin.