Ricciarelli are dense, chewy Italian almond cookies originating in Siena. They are a distant, and much less fussy, Italian cousin to the French macaron — perfect with tea or coffee!
It’s about time I shared a recipe with you that was inspired from our trip to Italy last fall!
We had so much good food while we were there that I wish I could relive or recreate: Bistecca alla Fiorentina, or Florentine steak. Tiramisu. Homemade cavatelli pasta with arrabiata sauce from our cooking class in Rome. Allllllll those interesting flavors of gelato. Of course, pizza. More than anything, I wish I could import the amazing cured meats we had or have just one more sandwich from Lo SchiacciaVino.
While we were in Florence, we had the rare treat of meeting up with my European blogger friend Emily of Inside the Rustic Kitchen (an amazing go-to recipe blog for all things Italian!).
We both happened to bring each other identical gifts – cookies local to the cities we lived in. I brought her benne wafers (small, crunchy sesame cookies) from Charleston, and she brought me a box of ricciarelli – chewy almond cookies native to Siena, Italy.
I had never had them before but my husband and I were in love with them from the first bite! It was really difficult trying to save any of the cookies for more than a couple days!
What are ricciarelli?
Ricciarelli are cookies from Siena, Italy, that have a kick-you-in-the-face almond flavor, a lovely dense chewiness, and a beautiful cracked surface. One of these cookies is just perfect alongside a hot cup of Earl Grey or, if you want to live in true Italian style, a cappuccino.
Think of ricciarelli cookies as a cousin to macarons. Technically, I believe, it is actually a type of macaroon – with two o’s – but they made me think of macarons – with one o – as I was making them.
The recipes and techniques of ricciarelli and macarons are actually very similar: In both types of cookie, you fold almond flour and sugar into whipped egg whites, and you leave the shaped cookies on the baking sheet for a while to dry out before baking in order to form a little crust on the outside.
But — and this is good news — ricciarelli dough is much less fussy to make than macaron batter.
In ricciarelli, the ratio of almond flour to egg whites is much higher than in macarons, so you get a dense, chewy almond cookie rather than a light, airy one. Because there’s so much almond flour to fold in, it’s impossible to keep much of that fluffy meringue texture. Instead of lava-like macaron batter, you end up with a sticky dough you can roll into balls with your hands.
However, that hint of a crispy meringue-like exterior is still there before you hit the chewy inside. Letting the cookies rest long enough on the counter before baking is key to getting this texture!
Getting perfectly crackled ricciarelli cookies
That dried-out shell on the cookie dough is also vital to getting the beautifully craggy, crackled effect on the outside as well. With ricciarelli, you roll each ball of dough in powdered sugar before baking. When it cooks, the dough on the inside expands and breaks through the dried exterior, allowing golden cracks to show through the white outside.
However, sometimes the cookies need a little help in getting the crackled effect. The first time I made these, the dough was practically drying out by the time I got them on the cookie sheet and cracked very easily on their own. The second time I made them, even though I left them on the counter for two hours instead of one, the cookies needed some assistance to get the cracked texture.
You can see the difference here – the cookies on the right didn’t have any help, while the ones on the left were pre-cracked before baking.
I lightly squeezed each cookie from opposite corners until I was satisfied with the cracks I could see forming in the tops of the unbaked cookies. Then, instead of relying on the expanding dough to create the cracks, they just have to enhance the ones you already made.
I’ve demonstrated below on the baked cookies how I squeezed the unbaked dough balls to crackle the shells. Feel free to lightly press down on the tops or whatever you need to do to get those cracks started!
It’s basically like when you slice the top of your bread dough before baking. If you don’t, the dough will still expand and crack, but it might not be where you want it to. (In the case of the cookies, I found without pre-cracking the dough, it will mostly crack on the bottoms of the cookies rather than the tops, which isn’t nearly as pretty)
Getting the ideal flavor and texture
I did several rounds of recipe testing to get these just right for you! The first batch was delicious but tasted too much of orange and was too sweet. (The orangey flavor was lovely, just not as close to the original super-almondy ones we had.)
The second batch was much closer to the original cookies we had, but lost that hint of a meringue-like shell. Granted, I don’t remember that being present in the original cookies we had in Italy, but was a really nice attribute of the first batch of cookies I made!
I wasn’t sure why less sugar and orange zest would affect the texture, but I theorized that it was related to the humidity on the day I made the second batch.
What else could I do but test the same recipe with a third batch? This time I had our new dehumidifier on. Voila! Nice slightly crispy thin meringue-like shell, with the dense, moist, chewy interior. Perfecto!
Granted, they were still AMAZING in the second batch – just know that the humidity of your climate may affect the exact texture of your cookies. You can always leave them out longer before baking to help them out if you are in an especially humid environment!
Anyway, the best thing you can do to make sure these cookies come out well is to TRY THEM. They’re very easy to make — and even with subtle variations on exactly how the surface or flavor of each batch turned out, the consensus for each and every cookie was that they were awesome.
Hands down: holy amazingness. These have become one of my favorite cookies now!
Ricciarelli: Chewy Italian Almond Cookies
- 2 egg whites
- 1 dash lemon juice
- 2 1/4 cups almond flour
- 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
- 1 pinch salt
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp orange zest about half a large orange
- 1 tbsp almond extract
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar for coating cookies
- Whip egg whites and lemon juice together with a stand mixer or hand mixer until stiff peaks form.
- Using a fine mesh sieve, sift in almond flour, 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar, salt, and baking powder and fold into egg whites. I don't do it all at once but maybe in 2-3 batches. Try to keep some air in the egg whites, but at this point it will form a pretty sticky dough rather than a fluffy meringue.
- Add orange zest, vanilla extract, and almond extract and fold in until combined.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using clean hands, roll dough into balls about 1" in diameter, then roll in powdered sugar until well coated. Shape into an oval, then arrange on baking sheet with some space between them for spreading, and flatten slightly.
- Leave at room temperature for about an hour or until the tops have dried out and formed almost a little shell. (This may take longer in humid areas.) Pre-crack the shell by squeezing the cookies slightly from opposite corners. (Not doing this won't affect the taste, but pre-cracking them makes them much prettier if you want that beautiful white-gold contrast!)
- While cookies are drying, preheat oven to 300 degrees. When the cookies are ready, bake for about 20 minutes. Cool and store in an airtight container. These are even better the next day and are great with coffee or tea!