Sicilian Almond Cookies, called Paste di Mandorla in Italy, are almond treats that are typical of the Sicilian tradition, but widespread throughout Southern Italy.
These almond cookies are very scenic and colorful, and contrary to what you might think, they are really easy to make at home!
You can make them in just a few minutes by simply mixing the ingredients by hand. Almond flour, sugar and egg whites. These are the main ingredients, plus of course some flavors and decorations.
Sicilian almond cookies are deliciously soft, tasty and easy to make.
They are one of the most famous typical Sicilian pastries, so much so that they are included in the list of agri-food products of this wonderful region.
Throughout Sicily there are numerous variations of almond flour biscuits. In each area there are small differences in shapes, colors, decorations and flavors. But the dough, made of almond flour, sugar and egg white, is always the same.
In the Paste di Mandorla recipe, I will explain how to make different types of almond cookies: from pizzicotti (that is, cookies crushed between the fingers, also called snowflakes) to those decorated with candied cherries or almonds or pistachios.
Because of their appearance and goodness, we are used to giving homemade almond cookies as gifts to friends and relatives, especially at Christmas time. In Sicily, however, they are used as gifts throughout the year, for weddings and baptisms.
In fact, the almond tree is the tree of love and fertility, so these Sicilian almond cookies are an auspicious symbol of love!
So let’s see how to make these delicious traditional Sicilian treats in just a few steps!
- Prep Time: 20 Min
- Cook Time: 12 Min
- Servings: About 20 Almond Cookies
For the Almond Cookies
- 250 g (2 1/2 cups) of almond flour
- 180 g (1 cup) of granulated sugar
- 70 g (2 1/2 oz) of egg whites (the whites of 2-3 eggs, depending on the size)
- 3 drops of almond extract flavoring (better if bitter)
- 1 tablespoon of acacia honey
- 1/2 organic lemon zest
Sicilian Almond Cookies Recipe: Instructions
The Basic Dough (Pasta di Mandorle)
Step 1) – In a bowl, combine 250 g (2 1/2 cups) of almond flour, 180 g (1 cup) of granulated sugar, and 3 drops of almond extract flavoring. Mix together with a spatula or spoon.
Step 2) – Add 1/2 organic lemon zest. Then add 70 g (2 1/2 oz) egg whites (the whites of 2-3 eggs, depending on size) to the rest of the ingredients.
Step 3) – Mix a little and then add 1 tablespoon of acacia honey. At this point it’s best to briefly knead by hand until the ingredients are well combined. The dough should be soft but firm and a little sticky. This will take a few minutes. The dough for Sicilian almond cookies is ready! In Italy is called Pasta di Mandorle (almond paste).
Shape and Decoration
As for the shape and decoration of the Sicilian almond cookies, I must say that you can really let your imagination run wild. In fact, once you have made the almond paste dough in the right way, for the rest you can make the shapes and decorations you prefer.
I will give some examples among the most common in the Sicilian tradition. Let’s start with the classic one.
CLASSIC ALMOND COOKIES: Take some of the dough and form balls of about 25-30 grams (~1 ounce) each. You should get 20-22 balls with the given amounts. Place icing sugar on a tray and roll the balls so they are all covered in sugar. Here’s an alternative: roll the ball in chopped pistachios and then in icing sugar.
“PIZZICOTTI” ALMOND COOKIES: This is a very popular and traditional shape. “Pizzicotto” means “pinch”. You have to pinch the almond cookie with 3 fingers (thumb, index and middle finger) to get a slightly irregular shape with three indentations on the sides.
ALMOND COOKIES WITH CANDIED FRUIT: Another classic shape, round almond cookies with a cherry (or candied orange peel) on top. Apply light pressure to the ball with your thumb to form the cherry hole. You’ll see the characteristic cracks around the cookie.
ALMOND COOKIES WITH WHOLE ALMONDS: Take a piece of dough, roll it into a ball and dust it with icing sugar. Decorate with a whole almond, pressing lightly. Some put the almond lying down, others straight up, as if it were stuck in the dough.
ALMOND HORSESHOE COOKIES: You can also make small cylinders and roll them into a horseshoe shape or curve them into an “S”. Dust them in icing sugar.
Place the almond cookies well apart on a baking sheet lined with baking paper.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (356°F). When the temperature is reached, place the almond paste cookies in the oven and bake for 12 minutes.
IMPORTANT: When the cookies are done baking, you will find them almost identical to before. They should remain clear and not brown – this is the secret to soft almond cookies.
Immediately remove the pan from the oven and let them cool completely so that they take on texture. When they come out of the oven, it’s normal for them to be very soft. You will see that they will be perfect when cooled. Crispy on the outside and with a nice soft heart!
YOU MUST ALSO TRY:
You can store your almond pastries at room temperature for about 7 days covered with a clean tea towel or food wrap.
Or if sealed in an airtight tin cake box you can store them for up to a month.
This is why we often use almond cookies as gifts for friends and relatives at Christmas time: because they last long time!
Freezing the cookies is not recommended. But you can freeze the dough raw, remembering to let it thaw first in the refrigerator and then at room temperature when you want to use it.
Sicilian Almond Cookies: Some Variations
“Ricci” Almond Paste Cookies
Another popular recipe are the almond cookies made with a pastry bag, also called “ricci di pasta di mandorle”, with the characteristic stripes and curls on the surface.
I will tell you right away that the main difficulty is that the dough is rather difficult to squeeze with the pastry bag, so arm yourself with a little patience.
I recommend adding 1-2 extra teaspoons of egg white to the dough to make it easier to squeeze out of the bag. Fill the pastry bag with the dough and use the star tip. Shape the cookies by squeezing the dough directly onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Decorate each almond cookie with a whole almond (or half a candied cherry or coffee bean, if you prefer).
Italian Pistachio Cookies
To make the pistachio version, replace 125 g (1 1/3 cups) of almond flour with pistachio flour and follow the same instructions.
Coffee Almod Cookies
To make the coffee almond cookies, combine 2 teaspoons instant coffee, 2 teaspoons water and 1 teaspoon sugar in a small bowl. Stir briefly until smooth, then add to the almond paste dough. You can then make the classic balls and dip them in powdered sugar as described above.
I flavored the almond paste cookies with lemon zest and 3 drops of almond flavoring. If you prefer, you can replace these flavorings with vanilla extract or orange zest. Almond flavoring is used to make the almond taste more intense. In Sicily they use bitter almond flavoring, which is really hard to find. Classic almond flavoring will still work well.
Tips for Perfect Almond Cookies
- ALMOND FLOUR OR WHOLE ALMONDS? To make the best Sicilian almond cookies, I recommend using ready-to-use almond flour. If you use whole blanched minced almonds, you may get a wetter dough than with flour, so you have to be careful with the amount of egg whites: you may need a little less. So if you have blanched almonds at home, blend them with the sugar intermittently. It’s important to blend slowly and at intervals to prevent them from overheating and releasing their oil.
- WHIPPING THE WHITE: not recommended. In the authentic Sicilian recipe, the egg whites are never beaten, but incorporated fluidly into the dough.
- HONEY: Honey is needed to make the dough even smoother. If you do not have it, you can leave it out: you will still have soft and tasty almond biscuits. I recommended using common acacia honey, but in Sicily they often use Zagara honey. “Zagara” is the Italian name for orange or lemon blossom. It’s a honey produced in Sicily, the land of citrus fruits.
- DO NOT OVERDO THE SUGAR: The amount of sugar is already measured so that the almond cookies are not too sweet. With the amounts I have suggested, they will be less sweet than commercial ones. The latter often have between 200-250 grams of sugar (1-1 1/4 cups) for the same amount of almond flour. Therefore, I recommend that you leave the quantities I have indicated.
- RESTING TIME: Many recipes say to let the dough rest for a long time (even 24 hours!) before baking. I assure you that these simple treats are quick to make and come out great even without resting. Of course, if the dough is too mushy and sticky, or if you want to give the cookies special shapes, resting in the refrigerator can help. But 1-2 hours is enough. Resting makes the dough easy to work when it’s too wet and sticky. In addition, resting not only allows the dough to dry well, but also creates a skin on the surface that helps the cookies hold their shape in the oven.
Origin of Sicilian Almond Cookies
The art of processing sugar into fine confectionery is believed to have begun in the 6th century under Arab influence. They introduced new techniques for processing and using confectionery ingredients. In particular, they are said to have mixed sugar with almonds to create a versatile and delicious preparation base.
Later, in the 11th century, monks from the Martorana Convent in Palermo, an important religious and cultural center at the time, perfected the technique and gave birth to the first authentic Sicilian almond paste pastries.
These monks were renowned for their culinary skills and for their mastery of almond processing, which was abundant on the island. It was the Martorana monks who developed the original recipes and created the shapes and decorations that still characterize Sicilian almond cookies today.
Since then, almond paste production has spread throughout Sicily and Southern Italy. Each place has its own traditional recipes and production techniques, creating a variety of flavors and presentations that make Italian almond paste sweets irresistible.
Today, the production of almond paste pastries in Sicily is still largely artisanal, with bakeries and workshops faithfully following the recipes and techniques handed down over the centuries. The almonds used are strictly Sicilian, the most famous being those of Avola.
The processing is done with care and attention to detail to ensure a high quality product with an authentic taste.
These sweets are an excellence of Sicilian confectionery, a true delight that encapsulates the history, culture and unique flavors of the island.