These Italian almond cookies with crispy shells, called Ricciarelli, are made with almond meal, flavoured with orange zest, and are a delicious gluten free Christmas biscuit.
These Italian orange almond biscuits are native to Tuscany and typically eaten at Christmas time. Whilst related to amaretti – which are also made with egg whites and almonds – they tend to be softer and have a lovely slight chewiness.
And because they are just made with almond meal (ground almonds) they are naturally gluten free biscuits! If you are a regular reader – thankyou for coming back! – you will know that I am currently loving Italian baking with almond flour, as in this flourless chocolate cake.
The best way to get the distinctive Ricciarelli crackled shell: is to make the biscuits, roll them in a ball in icing sugar and then place on lined baking trays to dry out slightly. Leave for 1-3 hours, depending on humidity (see Tip 1 below). Then pinch the ends to form into oval shapes and flatten slightly – this will give your almond cookies a lovely crackled appearance:
I actually found this out by mistake, I have to admit. On autopilot as I rolled them into balls, I completely forgot to form them into their traditional oval shape. I only came to realise this when I came to put them in the oven, so shaped them just before baking, and they came out wonderfully cracked. The next time I tested the recipe, I was confident and shaped them before leaving them to rest. They hardly crackled at all, so since then I have always shaped them after they have rested.
FAQ and Tips
What are Ricciarelli?
Ricciarelli are soft Italian almond biscuits, with a dense and slightly chewy interior and a crispy crackled shell. Originating in Siena, Tuscany, they are traditionally eaten at Christmas time.
What are the ingredients for Ricciarelli, Italian almond cookies?
- Egg Whites – which makes this a great recipe for using up leftover egg whites (as are these German Zimtsterne (Cinnamon Stars)). You can use the egg yolks to make custard, an egg wash for pastry, or freeze them for later.
- Almond meal – also known as ground almonds if you are in the UK.
- Icing sugar – known as confectioners sugar or powdered sugar.
- Orange zest – you only need the zest of half an orange in this recipe. To use up the other ½, you can make this Spanish French toast and either drink the juice, make it into a orange salad dressing or use in this no sugar berry compote
- Almond Extract
Tip 1: To get the crispy crackled shell:
These almond flour biscuits / cookies need to sit to develop their distinctive crispy shell. For how long depends on the humidity. If it’s a hot and humid day it can take hours, where as in the cooler, drier day it can take as little as an hour. To test, pinch one end gently and the surface should break a little.
Tip 2: To make sure the Ricciarelli are soft:
Don’t overcook the biscuits. They are soft when they come out of the oven but will harden as they cool. You want them to be a very very light golden, no darker.
How long can I store these almond meal cookies?
In an airtight container up to five days, but they are best eaten in 3 days – they begin to dry out sightly after this time.
Ricciarelli (Italian almond biscuits)
- 2 egg whites
- pinch salt
- 200 g almond meal (ground almonds)
- 180 g icing sugar (confectioners sugar)
- ½ orange, zest
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- Line two baking trays with baking paper.
- Whisk the egg whites with pinch salt until stiff peaks.
- Stir in the almond meal, icing sugar, orange zest, and almond extract.
- Spoon 2 tablespoons of icing sugar onto a plate.
- Take a teaspoon of mixture, roll into balls, roll into icing sugar and place on tray.
- Repeat with the rest of the mixture.
- Leave at room temperature for 1-3 hours, depending on humidity – see note below.
- Preheat the oven to 160 ˚C / 320˚F
- Gently pinch opposite ends on the Ricciarella to form an oval shape and flatten slightly, so they are 1cm / .39 inches thick.
- Place in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges are very very light golden.
- They will be soft, but will harden up as they cool.
- Leave to cool on tray for 5 minutes then cool completely on wire rack.
- Store in an airtight container.