Precious Christmas Cookies: Ricciarelli di Siena
There is something luxurious about Ricciarelli: the softness and bitterness of the almonds, the sugary powder that covers them, the diamond shape they are moulded into, and the old, ancient traditions they represent. So unique and precious that the Ministry of Agriculture has recently succeeded to have them declared a product of "protected geographical indication" (PGI), thus preserving and protecting the original recipe.
I like biting into their powdery sweet and crusty surface and let them take me back to sumptuous banquets in castles and palaces. Legend says that a noble knight, Ricciardetto della Gherardesca, once back from the Crusades and, I guess, quite pleased to be still alive and all in one piece, decided to celebrate his return by creating something that could recall the Middle-East. Their main ingredient was almond, greatly used in all Middle-Eastern cuisine, and certainly also a very valuable ingredient; their pointed shape was given to resemble Turkish slippers.
I find eating something that is good and has so much history behind very exciting. I do hope you will try them next time you are in Siena. In the meantime, you can try this recipe. Sadly, there is a missing ingredient - bitter almonds - which I cannot find here in Cambridge. What I do to substitute them though is to use a few drops of almond essence which is equally fairly bitter.
Recipe is for 20 ricciarelli
Pre-heat the oven at C170.
Beat the egg whites until very firm. Mix the ground almonds with the sugar and baking powder. Grate the zest and add it to the almond flour.
Gently incorporate the dry ingredients to the beaten egg whites until well combined. You will have a reasonably wet mixture and don't be tempted by adding more ground almonds. It is a bit of a sticky affair but actually the good of it is that you can lick your fingers from time to time to help!
Make walnut size balls and flat them on your palm. Give them a rough shape of diamonds and cover them in icing sugar and coat them well. Place them on a tray covered with baking paper.
Cook them for 10 minutes. Once cooked, take them out of the oven and leave them to cool. They can be stored in a dry and cool box for up to a week. But in fairness they won't last more than a day! And they go down rather well either with a glass of sweet wine, Vin Santo, or even Ruby port.