Pasticcini di Mandorla
These tender, two-bite almond cookies go by different names, depending on the region. In Piemonte, they are known as amaretti di Gavi, named for the town near the Ligurian border where they are said to have originated.
However, they are also popular in Sicily, where they are called pasticcini di mandorla. Indeed, they are found all over the island and elsewhere in southern Italy, piped into stars or rolled into small balls and coated in confectioners’ sugar or finely chopped nuts.
Traditional recipes for these soft pasticcini call for a mix of sweet almonds and bitter almonds. Some people are wary about the latter because in their raw state bitter almonds can be toxic. (In the U.S., the sale of unrefined bitter almonds is prohibited.) However, once cooked they lose their toxicity and are fine to bake with in small quantities.
To allay any concern, and because bitter almonds can be hard to come by, I use only regular (sweet) almonds in this recipe, and boost the flavor with a dash of almond extract. Roll the shaped cookies in confectioners’ sugar, as directed in the recipe, or coat them in nuts—your choice.
Heat the oven to 350° F (180° C). Line two baking sheets with parchment.
Measure the almond flour, sugar, and orange zest into a bowl and whisk well to combine. Pour in the egg whites, honey, and almond extract and mix thoroughly. The dough will be soft and somewhat sticky but should hold its shape. Use your hands to knead it briefly in the bowl. Cover and let rest 5 minutes.
Pour about 1 cup confectioners’ sugar into a shallow bowl. Pinch off walnut-sized pieces of dough (1 scant tablespoon) and roll them into balls. Coat them well with confectioners’ sugar and place them on the baking sheets. With your thumb and two fingers, pinch each little ball of dough to give it a rounded triangular shape, sort of like a tri-corner hat.
Bake, one sheet at a time, for 10 to 12 minutes, until the cookies have puffed and are softly set and barely golden in color. Transfer the baking sheets to cooling racks and let the cookies cool completely on the sheets. Store in an airtight container.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies.