Our infatuation with all things Sicilian lingers on, this weekend, it’s the delectable and fragrant almond cookie.
Native to the Middle East and Asia, the almond arrived in Sicily sometime around 1000 BC, and now the Italian island is one of the world’s major almond producers. Almond trees produce their fragrant, white and pale pink flowers in February, which is heralded in the southern seaside town of Agrigento by the Almond Blossom Festival. The tree nuts are harvested in the hot summer months of July and August. Across Italy, candied almonds, symbolizing love and fidelity, are given as wedding favors. In Sicily, almonds are often featured in baked goods and desserts.
Instead of calling for almond paste, these delicate cookies are made with finely ground blanched almonds, sugar, and egg whites, with a dash of vanilla flavor. The recipe was adapted from the Italian website Misya.info, where we’ve found a number of good recipes.
- The cookies need to be refrigerated for at least two hours before baking.
- Superfine baker’s sugar will make a more delicate cookie.
- A cookie press is helpful, or a pastry bag will work, as well.
200g (approx. 1 and 1/4 cup) blanched almonds, plus a few extra for decoration
200 g (approx. 1 cup less 1 Tbsp.) sugar, ideally superfine.
50g egg white (from 2 small eggs, or 1 and 1/2 large eggs)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Rinse and drain the cherries, and set aside.
Place almonds and sugar into a food processor. Pulse until you attain a fine blend of almond meal and sugar. Add the egg white and vanilla. Process until the mixture comes together in a smooth, shiny dough.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Transfer the dough into a cookie press with no tip or cookie plate, or into a pastry bag with the tip cut off about 2 cm (3/4 inch) from the bottom. Press dallops of dough about 4 cm (1 and 1/2 inch) onto the parchment paper-lined baking tray, leaving a few centimeters of space in between each. Press a cherry or a blanched almond into the center of each cookie.
Refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 12 hours before baking. Bake at 180° C, 350 °F for approximately 15 minutes, or until the cookies show just a hint of golden coloring. Let cool completely before enjoying.
For an elegant touch, serve your pasticcini alla mandorle with Passito di Pantelleria, a Sicilian dessert wine made from the Muscat of Alexandria grape. Pantelleria is a volcanic island located south of Sicily, just 70 km from Tunisia. Passito is an ancient sweet wine likely made for thousands of years. At summer’s end, the grapes are hand-picked and left to dry in the sun for 30-40 days, before soft pressing and fermentation. Passito di Pantelleria has fragrant apricot, ripe fig and raisin aromas and a long, sweet finish.