Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani (Sicilian almond cookies)

Our infatuation with all things Sicilian lingers on, this weekend, it’s the delectable and fragrant almond cookie.

Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani

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.

Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani

Plan ahead

  • 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.

Ingredients
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
Maraschino cherries

Directions
Rinse and drain the cherries, and set aside.

Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani 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.

Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani 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.

Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani

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.

Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani 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.

 

 

Tozzetti

It’s December, and weekends are dedicated to holiday baking.  We keep things simple – just the 3 or 4 special Italian holiday treats from Stefano’s childhood that now have become part of our family traditions.  There are precisely the right number of weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas to get everything in: salame di cioccolatopanpepato, mostaccioli, and tozzetti.  This year, before Luigi returns to Italy for good, we may try to add panettone to our repertoire.

Tozzetti

This weekend it’s tozzetti, which are sometimes called cantucci in Italy, and are incorrectly called biscotti here in the States.  As recipients of the Cannolo Award for Authentic Italian Food, we have the responsibility to educate our audience and correct misconceptions, so let’s take a moment to talk about biscotti.

This discussion is very similar to a previous post about bruschette and crostini.  The word biscotto (singular) can be broken into two parts: bis, the Latin suffix indicating two; and cotto, which means cooked.  Biscotto, therefore, means “twice cooked.”  This is actually an accurate description of tozzetti, which we are writing about today, because they are baked twice.  However, in Italian biscotto is a broad term, corresponding to “cookie” in American English or “biscuit” in British English.  There are lots of different types of biscotti (plural), just like there are many types of cookies.

The biscotti sold in coffee shops in America would not be called biscotti in Italy.  They’d be called tozzetti or cantucci.  However, in Italy they are smaller and more delicately flavored.  Like so many things in America, our biscotti have become over-sized and over-elaborated.  There is no-such thing as “chocolate-dipped biscotti” or “caramel macchiato biscotti” in Italy; those are Starbucks inventions.  And, that “o” in the second syllable is pronounced “oh” not “ah,” like this.The difference between tozzetti and cantucci is a bit more elusive, and like so many Italian recipes it is mostly a regional difference.  Cantucci, also called cantuccini or biscotti del Prato, are typical of Tuscany.  They are usually made with almonds, and are often paired with Vin Santo, an amber-colored Tuscan dessert wine.  Tozzetti are more common to the Umbria and Lazio regions of central Italy.  They are sometimes made with almonds, but more commonly contain hazelnuts, pine nuts or bits of chocolate.

Tozzetti

Stefano’s mom, Maria, makes tozzetti with hazelnuts in very traditional fashion.  Over the years, we’ve experimented with different flavors and ingredients, but we eventually returned to a recipe much like Maria’s, typical of the Castelli Romani, the hilltowns outside of Rome.  We call them tozzetti. Another may call them differently. Regardless of what they are called, they are delicious.

Ingredients
for 4-5 dozen tozzetti

3 eggs
225 grams (1 cup) sugar
500 grams (4 cups) flour
50 grams (3 & 1/2 Tbsp) butter
300 grams (approx. 3 cups) crushed hazelnuts or sliced almonds
1 pouch of lievito Pane degli Angeli
1 shot glass of amaretto or brandy

Directions
Spread the nuts onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper.  Toast them in an oven preheated to 350°F (180°C) for around 10 minutes or until they have taken a golden brown color and a nutty smell, and set them aside.

Cream the butter and sugar.  Beat in the eggs and the liqueur.  Add the flour and lievito Pane degli Angeli, and mix gently until the dry ingredients are absorbed.  Mix in the nuts.

Using your hands, divide the dough in quarters.  Work work each section of dough into a long, uniform log and place two logs onto a baking sheet.  Bake for 30 minutes at 350°F (180°C).  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes.  Leave the oven on.

Tozzetti

Tozzetti

Carefully transfer the baked logs to a cutting board.  Using a sharp serrated knife, cut 1/2 inch wide tozzetti.  They will be crumbly, so take care to not break them.  Return the tozzetti to the baking sheet, lay them on their sides, and place them back into the oven for 10 more minutes without turning them.  Let them cool completely (if you can resist).

Tozzetti

Tozzetti

Enjoy your tozzetti with coffee, milk or tea at breakfast, or with a dessert wine such as Vin Santo or Passito after dinner.

Readers, did you grow up eating tozzetti or cantucci during the Christmas holidays?  What is your understanding of the difference between the two?