Judy Francini’s Ricciarelli

Judy Francini's Ricciarelli

Judy Francini’s Ricciarelli

Ricciarelli are a Sienese Christmas treat, soft chewy almond macaroons with a dusting of powdered sugar, and, depending upon the pastry chef, either delicate bitter almond accents or bitter almonds accents with hints of orange. In either case they’re rather like cherries, in that once you have eaten one you’ll find yourself reaching for the next without even thinking about it.

The traditional recipe is rather involved, and takes several hours. Judy Francini, who was a pastry chef before she moved to Italy and began teaching about food — she holds cooking classes and gives market tours, among other things — has developed a considerably easier, quicker recipe.

One important thing before we begin: Judy recommends weighing the ingredients with a kitchen scale, because proportions are important here, and the weight of a cup of either powdered sugar or ground almonds will vary with packing density.

You will need:

200 grams (7 1/8 ounces, round up to a half pound) peeled almonds, ideally untoasted
200 grams (7 1/8 ounces, round up to a half pound) powdered sugar
The whites from two large eggs
2 tablespoons flour (optional, see observation anon)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder (optional, see observation anon)
1 teaspoon bitter almond extract
1/2 teaspoon orange extract (optional, see observation anon)
More powdered sugar
Baking parchment

Begin by separating the eggs and putting the whites in a bowl. Judy’s is copper and round-bottomed; she notes that copper reacts with the egg whites, helping them to firm up when beaten.

Next, the almonds. While some cooks use ground almonds, Judy prefers to grind her own because freshly ground almonds have a richness that commercially ground and packaged almonds loose in transit. She also prefers to use untoasted almonds, though she says toasted will work.

She prefers a hand grinder with a drum (bought in San Francisco) that rather resembles a cheese grater. It took her less than 5 minutes to grind the almonds.

There are times one can use a blender, but this isn’t one of them, because in chopping the almonds this finely the whirling blades of the blender will release the oils the almonds contain, producing an almond paste or butter rather than ground almonds.

To get around this problem some recipes say to blend the almonds with granular sugar, but the texture of the mixture one obtains from doing this is not quite right. Once you have ground the almonds, put them in a bowl and add the powdered sugar and the flour, which confers a slight firmness to the ricciarelli. It is traditionally added, but is not strictly necessary, and therefore you can safely omit it if you are gluten intolerant.

The baking soda is instead a more modern addition to the recipe that allows the ricciarelli to puff slightly in the oven as they bake. As is the case with the flour it’s not strictly necessary, and if you are preparing Ricciarelli for Passover you can safely omit it and the flour.

The next step is to whip the whites to soft peaks. Judy prefers to use a whisk, and it took her about 3 minutes.

Add the whites to the sugar mixture and mix. No need for delicacy here; mix until you have a firm dough.

The next step is to add about a teaspoon of bitter almond extract and knead it into the dough.

If you have access to bitter almonds or peach or almond nutmeats, both of which are bitter, you could use them instead — 4 or 5, grinding them with the sweet almonds.

The other flavoring often used in ricciarelli is orange — Sienese pastry chefs will grind about an ounce (30 g) of candied sweet orange peel and work it into the dough. If you have candied orange peel and want to add it, do so. Or you could add a half teaspoon of orange extract.

Or you can simply go with the bitter almonds.

In any case, at this point you will have a decidedly sticky dough, and it’s time to work it.

Begin by heating your oven to 350 F (175 C).

Dust your work surface well with powdered sugar, and also your hands, and shape the dough into balls about an inch (2.5 cm) in diameter, rolling them in the sugar to coat all sides.

To shape a ricciarello, take a marzipan ball, flatten it to about a half inch, and shape it into a diamond shape.

It is best to test the dough before continuing, so put one on a sheet of oven parchment and bake it for 10 minutes; it should puff slightly and become very slightly golden. If it instead collapses you will need to work a little more flour into your dough, and reshape the balls.

Assuming the test is successful (ours was), shape the rest of the ricciarelli and put them on a sheet of oven parchment on a baking sheet. Bake them for 10 minutes.

Your ricciarelli will emerge very slightly puffed up and with a color that is more hints of the sun on white than golden. Let them cool, and enjoy!

An illustrated version of this recipe

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Categories: Biscotti and other Sweet Treats, Holiday dishes, Tuscan Cakes, Biscotti and Sweets

Author:Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Italy boasts an astonishing number of varietals, denominations, and wines, and tremendous changes are sweeping the land. New wines are being created, new DOCs are being introduced, and the existing denominations are overhauling their regulations both to reflect the practices adopted by their member wineries and to favor improvements in quality. Even the most staid and stolid region can flower seemingly overnight, emerging with exciting new wines and wineries that require rewriting the enological maps and rethinking one's positions. And, of course, recipes too, because cuisine and wine are closely intertwined and it's difficult to imagine one without the other.

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