Pasticcini di mandorle

When I was travelling, or rather, roaming around Sicily on my slightly demented and not very grand tour, I became quite besotted with, amongst other edible things, the little, soft, almond biscuits, the pasticcini di mandorle you find in almost every bakery (forno) or pasticceria. For about a month, everyday at about 5 o’clock, as the shops began to roll back their shutters and unlock their doors after the long lunch break and the hottest hours of the day, I would seek out and then purchase my daily dose of almond. Clutching my small paper bag, I’d go and buy myself an almond granita before finding the nearest wall, ledge, bench to perch on, and inhale my double almond merenda. I then discovered cannoli and my affections shifted, but that’s another post.

The shape and texture of the Pasticcini di mandorle varied from place to place, oven to oven. Some were smaller and sticky, a marzipan sweet really, others more of a biscuit. But most pasticcini di mandorle I ate, were slightly crisp and cracked on the outside, then inside soft and dense giving way to a sticky and almost chewy heart.

The basic recipe for most Pasticcini di mandorle is simple, it’s really an almond marzipan; ground almonds and fine sugar bound with egg. This soft dough is then moulded or piped into balls, or shapes and then baked. Then around this basic recipe are lots of variations. Every so often I would try, and fail to read something written in Italian pinned to the shop wall behind the counter. I think it’s safe to assume it was boasting a long family tradition, the best pasticcini in the village and probably hinted at the closely guarded, secret ingredient. Or maybe it was just a notice about health and safety.

I became a part-time Pasticcini di mandorle detective, sitting on walls then pounding the streets trying to distract myself from my very odd situation – you may remember I’d fled – by analysing that days purchase. There was often a hint of lemon or orange zest, sometimes the scent of orange flower water or vanilla. Some certainly contained a dash of something alcoholic, maybe limoncello or almond wine, or tiny bits of very finely chopped candied fruit. I tasted some, near Taormina I think, where the dough was mixed with powdered chocolate, an odd colour it must be said, but really quite nice even if they weren’t my kind of thing. Many pasticcini I saw were studded with a rather unnaturally red glace cherry or whole almond, others sprinkled with chopped nuts. Some were dipped in chocolate.

After much consideration, pounding and perching on various walls, I decided my favourite were the very simplest.

I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to get around to making Pasticcini di mandorle. I may no longer be an almond junkie who needs a fix everyday at 5 o’clock, but I’m extremely partial to one or two every now and then. With a cup of coffee, at this time of year iced coffee, or maybe best of all, with a very bitter Amaro after dinner.

It may be a simple recipe, but this being Italy, and what with all the mamma’s and nonna’s and all the secret and not so secret recipes, there are endless variations and opinion about the quantities for Pasticcini di mandorle. The fiercest debate seems to be about the egg. Should you use just the yolk, just the white or the whole egg ? The second most passionately argued point the proportions of almond flour to sugar. At one point I had 11 pages open on the computer and seven books all telling me different things and a throbbing headache.

We ended up making three small batches of Pasticcini di mandorle, one with egg yolks, one with egg whites and one using whole eggs. We then ate a lot of pasticcini, on different days I hasten to add, and voted with our stomachs. All three batches were modest successes. I probably liked the ones made with egg white least, they were just too sticky even though I’d overcooked them. The ones made with just egg yolk seemed too rich and we missed the crisp lightness of the crust. Pasticcini di mandorle made with the whole egg however, were just right, crisp, cracked and toasted on the outside and inside, very soft, dense and just a bit chewy. What’s more the whole egg dough/paste was by far the easiest to work with.

Our favourites were made following a recipe from Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot. I didn’t visit Puglia during my demented not very grand tour, but we have visited many times in the last few years and eaten almond pasticcini very bit as delicious as those I had in Sicily.  My parents did a terrific cooking and wine course near Lecce back in May and this was the recipe they learned there. It includes a zest of a whole unwaxed lemon which we both appreciated. Next time I am going to try adding a few drops of orange flower water. I fear I’ve picked up the 5 o’clock habit once again.

The key to making balls from the sticky mixture is dusting your hands and the ball with lots and lots of icing sugar.

Pasticcini di mandorle (little, soft, almond biscuits)

makes about 15 – 20

  • 300g ground almonds
  • 200g icing sugar (plus extra for dusting)
  • the zest of a large unwaxed lemon
  • 2 medium-sized eggs gently beaten with a fork

Mix the ground almonds, icing sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl. Add the beaten egg and then using a fork or your fingers, bring the mixture together into a soft sticky dough.

Dust your hands with icing sugar and then scoop out walnut sized lump of dough, gently shape and then roll it between your palms into a ball. Dust the ball with more icing sugar and then put it on a baking tray lined with 2 layer of greaseproof paper. Continue making the rest of the balls. The balls should be well spaced as they swell as they cook.

Make an indentation into the center of each ball so they cook evenly.

Bake at 180° for about 20 minutes or when they are golden brown underneath and cracked, crisp and very pale gold on top.

Allow to cool. They will keep in an airtight tin for up to a month. At this time of year I like one with unsweetened iced coffee or after dinner with a glass of bitter amaro.

52 Comments

Filed under almonds, biscuits and biscotti, cakes and baking, food, recipes

52 responses to “Pasticcini di mandorle

  1. Yum! I need to make these. Having cravings for all things almondy at the moment.

  2. bonjourkitty

    Great post – I love your life!
    Hope I’m going to see you in London, lots of GREAT new places cant wait to take you to xx K

  3. Tamsin

    I can totally relate to the need for a daily almond fix. I keep a slab of marzipan handy just in case but since I have all the ingredients on hand I think my next hit will be in the form of pasticcini. Now, if I could just get my hands on a bottle of Amaro Montenegro all would be well with the world.

  4. caroline

    I love the simplicity of these. I’ll bet the gluten-free folks will appreciate them too.

  5. I love almond cookies. Yours look fantastic and so easy to make. Great as an accompaniment to my morning coffee!
    Magda

    • rachel

      They are easy to make – which is always a good thing in our kitchen. And yes, almonds and coffee are a good pair.

  6. m

    Yes, I want your life with iced coffee please.

  7. humblecook

    Yes that iced coffee does look spectacular…

    Surely a million people have already told you—you should make a cookbook. I can’t be the only one who would love looking at your wonderful photographs and reading about these dishes from real pages! Is there one in the works?

    • rachel

      I will take that as a very nice compliment, thank you. No proper plans as yet (even though, I am forever plotting)…

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  9. rachel, i am sure these are utterly gorgeous- esp if the recipe is from a cooking school in Lecce (how amazing, i shall note the link you have posted) but how do you end up making these when you live in a city where these are so readily available? it only goes to show how creative you are- i admire you so much for that. i was so lazy about cooking these sorts of things bec i knew i could find them so easily in the shops. speaking of shops- the best baked goods i have ever had are from Mizzica on the via catanzaro (near Pza Bologna)- they have a pistacchio pasticcini which is to die for- not as good as your almonds ones, i am most sure of that. x shayma

    • rachel

      I havn’t really bought Pasticcini here in Rome, but I know you can find wonderful ones, distacted by other things I suppose. I will make a trip to Mizzica though. Making them was a just bit of fun really, remembering Sicily, writing about them and seeing if I could make ones my Sicilian friends approved of.

  10. I like almond and these are such lovely little gems. I might have a new 5 o’clock habit.

  11. Tamsin

    I whipped up a batch last night – such a simple, quick recipe. They taste wonderful and the texture is perfect, chewy and crisp. The office are enjoying them with morning coffee, fortunately there are only four of us so there are plenty to go around!

  12. Hi Rach–I am so glad that you tested these and decided that the whole egg version is best—sometimes I resist a recipe that leaves me with excess yolks or whites, because, no matter how good my intentions, they manage to get lost in the back of the fridge.

    splendid, with iced coffee! iced coffee days are here..almost 100 degrees F today in Nashville. stay cool…

    • rachel

      100°F yikes, I hope you are bathing in iced coffee at this point. Yes, quite right, it’s another good reason for the whole egg – I too have a bad track record with the whites I tuck in the fridge with good intentions, only to chuck them away eventually.

  13. Oh, wow. It’s amazing how evocative a biscuit can be of a time and a place. I have the exact same love of lingua di gatto (sp?) which never fail to remind me of the Umbrian hills.

    • rachel

      They are usually plural so Lingue di gatto but lingua is single so all good – you would be forgiven any mistakes anyway because you are famous and write one of the best blogs I know !

  14. Val

    These are the exact, delicious treat I’ve been looking for. I can’t wait to give them a try.

    I love your beautiful photographs too. They are so Baroque-esque. The dramatic lighting is certainly convincing me of the superiority of these biscuits in the biscuit world.

    • rachel

      Delicious and simple too. Thanks for the photo reassurance, Vincenzo said the pics were gloomy – I am off to tell him the soft light was intentional and that they are baroque – esque ! This has made my day !

  15. Oh these are just gorgeous. I feel like I should visit my Sicilian mother living in Florida and make her some in exchange for her iced espresso. (I tend to undersweeten mine).

    Rachel, I both love and dislike your site. I mean it’s gorgeous, and the recipes! But man does it make me nostalgic for Italy. ;)

    • rachel

      I feel you should visit your Sicilian mother in Florida and bake here these too – if only I could come. I am feeling nostalgic for
      London having had a horrid morning battling with Roman public transport and Italian ludicrous bureaucracy. Having finished all the biscuits icecream is the only solution.

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  17. These are treasure. Last Christmas, friends of Roberto’s family gifted his parents a nice plateful. I took one bite and knew instantly that it was the best cookie I had ever eaten. It was light, delicate, perfect. The texture, the flavor. I don’t think I’d ever be able to replicate it. It haunts me really. I always think about that cookie. Perhaps I should charge myself with making your recipe.

    • rachel

      Tracy, no promises (that plateful sounds special) but hope this recipe might at least come close to the cookie
      that haunts you. They are lovely and simple too.

  18. Cutest cookies ever! Totally wiping away the drool. Love the aerial action shots – what in the world were you standing on? A ladder?

    • rachel

      A chair, I do quite alot of that for pictures, the neightbours look confused – but I am tall anyway so aerial is my thing !

  19. Are they anything like macaroons, or am I barking up the wrong tree?

  20. Lavi

    i’m one of the few prvileged ones who actually had the fortune to eat them and ,even tough i don’t know which of the three i had, they were absolutely amazing! loved them! also now i wanna be knee deep in icing sugar!!

    • rachel

      We love lavi – you had the egg white ones, the first batch I made and the ones which came in second best in our pasticcini competition.

  21. rebekkaseale

    They’re just, like…so…cute!!!

  22. SRM

    just made a half batch of these and added a little rosewater to the dough. i’ve eaten three already. they’re so good. thank you for the wonderful recipe!!

  23. I made these tonight and they are absolute dynamite. I put a while almond in the holes in the centre and they look so damn cute. Thanks for this.

  24. Ana

    Hey Rachel,
    Absolutly adore this biscuits,for many years been buying them at casa del doce in Perth
    But today I decided to make them!!
    I’ll let you know,Love Ana

  25. Nadia

    Speaking as a fellow almond freak, I made these today and knew even as I was rolling the dough in my hands that they would be delicious. I have a hulking wreck of a gas oven which leaks all over the place so 20 mins was definitely not enough and 30 mins is probably closer to my ideal baking time. Question, though: is the dough supposed to be quite so wet?

  26. i am from sicily ma i live in usa e mi piacciono tanto i biscotti di mandorla

  27. A.C.

    It has been over 5 years since I’ve had these… I remember a little bakery in Motta that sold them & I’d buy a bunch of them in little wrappers. They were the simple ones (no almond sticking out of it or cherry on top) with a little green hue. I’ve been dreaming of them since we left Sicily in 2005. For some reason I could not remember the name but I knew they had almonds & possibly pistachios in them so I had to ask a friend that lived there and she finally remembered the name. Then I found your site… thank you for this simple recipe- I might just try making it soon!

  28. Shari

    Might be a silly question, but can you tell me what the converted measurements would be in U.S. measurements? I tried making them, but they are flat, the conversion chart I used must be wrong. :(

  29. Nice answers in return of this query with genuine arguments and describing
    all concerning that.

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