Tag Archives: meringue

Ricciarelli – Siennese almond biscuits

When I had my short-lived biscuit stall on a market a few years ago, ricciarelli were my most popular item. Ricciarelli are in the macaron family, kinds of meringue made with beaten egg whites and sugar, and in this case ground almonds. As such, they fit in with the inclinations of those with an aversion to wheat and gluten, of which there are many round here. I also gave this recipe to The Hearth pizzeria in Lewes, and they sold well there for a few years too before it closed down.

Ricciarelli are originally from Siena. Despite me spending two years living in Italy, and indeed doing an art history degree many years ago, Sienna is not a city I know. It’s a place I’d love to visit on a food pilgrimage due to its association with such wonderful baked goodies. Ditto its rhyming cousin Vienna, home to another of my favourite ground almond and egg white concoctions: the Sachertorte. One of these years…

Ricciarelli for Christmas
In Siena, ricciarelli are traditionally made for Christmas. My friend Karin likes me to make her bags every year to give away to her family as presents. I must admit I couldn’t muster the energy to do that this year. December is intense enough with our modern early Christmas hype, never mind the effects of all the pressure on our children. So anyway, I’m sharing this recipe for you Karin! She’s from a Czech family and this Christmas just gone I was lucky enough to experience her lovely plate of traditional cookies. We’re talking about doing a Christmas cookies masterclass next year, so watch this space.

Ricciarelli are distinguished from other almond paste treats by their soft centres, crisp outside and lozenge shape. I’m sure professional bakers in Siena churn them out swiftly but I like to take my time over the shaping, cutting the paste into sausages, lopping this into chunks, weighing these, then using two plastic dough scrapers to form the lozenge. If you do a big batch, this can take a little while, but I find it quite meditative and like the results.

I developed this recipe based on various others I researched. Some call for resting the paste for a day or even longer, but I think it’s fine to rest for a minimum of four hours in the fridge, or overnight.

Some notes
1. You can use whole blanched almonds and grind them, but frankly I think the results are great with ground almonds.
2. This recipe can easily be scaled up and down as it’s a basic ratio of 1 egg white to 100g almonds, 100g icing sugar.
2. Egg whites keep well in the fridge, but it’s best to make the ricciarelli with them at room temperature. So remember to get them out the day you’re baking.

Makes 24

2 egg whites, about 66g
5g lemon juice
200g icing sugar, sieved
200g ground almonds
4g almond essence
2g vanilla essence
Zest of 1 orange (or lemon if you ain’t got orange. Or indeed both is you like the citrus.)

Extra icing sugar for shaping and dusting

1. Line some baking sheets with parchment or silicone sheets.
2. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.
3. Add the essences to the egg whites at the end and combine. (Use more or less essences, to taste.)
4. Combine the almonds and sugar (sieved).
5. Add dry ingredients and zest to the egg white, combining to form a sticky paste.
6. Cover or bag and rest in the fridge for at least four hours, or overnight.
7. On a work surface well dusted with more icing sugar, form a rope the cut off pieces, each weighing about 20g.
8. Shape each into a into a lozenge or diamond shape. Using a pastry scraper – or indeed two – is ideal. The ricciarelli should be about 10mm thick.

9. Dust with even more icing sugar, to coat well. Really, don’t skimp.

10. Heat oven to 160C.

11. Place the ricciarelli on baking sheets lined with parchment or silicon.
12. Bake for about 15 minutes until only just starting to crisp up and but not colour too much. You want them soft inside, with a slight crunch to the crust.
13. Cool on a wire rack.

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January 16, 2020 · 12:27 pm

Brutti ma buoni, mark II

On plate 3

Considering brutti ma buoni – Italian “ugly but good” – cookies are basically just made of nuts, egg white and sugar, methods of making them are surprisingly varied. How much albumen? How much sugar? Grind the nuts? All of them? How fine? Leave some whole? Whisk the egg whites? Cook the mixture in a pan? Include some cocoa? Never mind the question of using almonds.

The first recipe I tried was from the American Academy in Rome’s Biscotti book. They were good, but I wasn’t entirely satisfied. It’s taken me this long to get round to trying a different recipe. I thought I’d better try an actual Italian one, direct from an Italian source.

One of the biggest, perhaps the biggest, Italian recipe site is Giallo Zafferano (“Yellow Saffron”). When googling Italian recipes you may well get prompted to visit there first. Although I’m gathering other recipes, I thought why not start here? So here’s a tweaked, reduced translation of their recipe. The original makes “about 70” cookies, which seems excessive for domestic consumption – unless you’ve got a very big family that loves hazelnut meringuey things.

Even if you don’t speak Italian, it’s worth checking out the site for the pics of the procedure.

Makes about a dozen.

200g whole, skin-on hazelnuts
20g water
25g caster sugar
1/2 t honey
35g egg white (ie the white of one egg, more or less)
90g icing sugar

On tray

1. Gently roast the hazelnuts, at about 150C, until they’re starting to brown. Remnove but keep the oven on.
2. Rub the hazelnuts in a tea towel (which I believe you US lot call a “dish towel”) or cloth to remove the skins. Don’t agonise if a little bit stays stuck.
3. Divide the nuts in two, and coarsely grind half of them in a food processor.
4. In a pan, warm the water and caster sugar until the latter dissolves, then stir in the honey and allow to cool slightly.
5. In a clean bowl, whisk the egg white to peaks.
6. Slowly pour in the syrup, whisking constantly.
7. Keep whisking for another few minutes or so (the original recipe says 10, but this seems excessive), then sieve in the icing sugar.
8. Keep whisking for another few minutes. You’ve basically got a meringue mix.
9. Add the ground nuts, then the remaining, whole, nuts and fold to combine.
10. Line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment, then dollop dessertspoonfuls onto it, leaving space between for the cookies to flow and expand a bit while baking.
11. Bake at 150C for about 12 minutes, until they’ve coloured slightly or as the original puts it, until they’ve achieved “un colore leggermente dorato” (“a lightly golden colour”). Which seems a bit misleading, as egg while plus hazelnut doesn’t really equal golden. It’s more a pale brown.
12. Cool. I actually left mine to cool in the oven, turned off, as you would meringues.

The result is very nice, note unlike some hazelnut meringues I remember my mother making on occasion when I was a nipper. I still don’t think this is quite the perfect brutti ma buoni recipe though, so I’ll try another soon, specifically one that uses the technique where the mixture is cooked first before baking, drying it out more. Onwards, bakers!

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Brutti ma buoni

Brutti ma buoni

The easiest way to describe Brutti ma buoni (“ugly but good”) is as nut meringue cookies. All the ones I’ve encountered in Rome have been made with hazelnuts, and many of the recipes online seem to be also. But there’s also a variant made with almonds.

Italian Wikipedia says they’re also called Bruttibuoni, made with almonds and are from Prato in Tuscany. I suspect a lot of other Italians might take issue with that though, as they do seem to be a fairly widespread. Indeed, a bit more googling, and another source claims they’re from Varese, in Lombardy, north of Milan. Yet another calls them Brut ma bon (a more French-sounding dialect name) and gets even more specific about their origin: not just Varese, but Gavirate, a town in the vicinity of Varese.

Hazelnuts reading for roasting

Whatever the history, bottom line is that they’re a meringue-type cookie (ie made with egg whites, no fat and little or no flour) that are rich in chopped nuts. Heck, even us Brits have a traditional hazelnut meringue, so I’m really not sure it’s the sort of recipe anyone can really stake a claim to.

I decided to make some as we had some egg whites left in the fridge from making custard. The recipe I used is from Biscotti: Recipes From The Kitchen Of The American Academy In Rome. It’s the third recipe I’ve tried from there following the wonderful Honey and farro cookies, and the Pinolate (pine nut cookies). I need to try the latter again before I blog it as my first batch wasn’t quite right.

Chopping nuts

Anyway. While baking these this morning, I looked around to compare recipes, and – would you Adam and Eve it – my favourite baker Dan Lepard published his recipe a few weeks ago in The Guardian. It’s an indication that despite how basic these cookies may be, there are several approaches to the method. His doesn’t require the eat whites to be beaten, uses pre-skinned hazelnuts, and involves combining all the ingredients in a saucepan. I will have to try that for comparison. One day. Not today. Not when I’ve already got 30 biscuits cooling in the kitchen. Another recipe, from a Canadian cookbook, meanwhile, also involves cooking the sugar and egg whites together, then beating them. That approach is more like a classic Italian meringue, and certainly the results in the pics look more meringue and less cookie.

Sugar, beaten egg whites etc md

So. As usual, I’m tweaking as I go along. The original recipe made a lot of mixture, but as you turn off the oven at the end of baking and let the cookies cool inside – as you do with meringues – you either need a massive oven, or should do half quantities. So I’ve halved the original recipe. I’ve also added some almond essence – simply because it’s more explicitly nutty than just using vanilla essence. Ideally I’d use hazelnut essence but I don’t have any.

250g hazelnuts (with skin)
1 egg white
125g granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1/2 teaspoon hazelnut or almond essence
5g plain flour
Zest of half a lemon

Heat the oven to 150C.

1. Put the nuts on a tray, then roast them for about 15 minutes.
2. Turn the oven up to 180C.
3. Take the nuts out of the oven and rub them with a tea towel. This removes some of the skin. Don’t agonise though. The inclusion of some skin adds a depth of flavour, IMHO. (I also prefer my peanut butter to be wholenut, skins and all.)
4. Put half the nuts in a mixer and give them a quick whizz. Just break them up. You don’t want to grind them.
5. Put the other half of the nuts on a chopping board and chop roughly. (The original recipe has you chopping them all by hand, but a) that’s labour intensive and b) I like the mixture of sizes and texture this method creates. Mades the results extra-brutti.)
6. Beat the egg whites to a soft peak.
7. Beat the sugar into the egg whites, to a firm peak, then add the essences.
8. Add the zest and flour to the nuts.
9. Gently fold the egg white mix into the nuts.
10. Put teaspoonfuls on a baking sheet lined with parchment, leaving about 4cm between (though they don’t spread much).
11. Bake for about 12 minutes, until only just starting to colour.
12. Turn off the oven, leaving the cookies inside to continue baking as it cools. Leave for about 10 minutes
13. Remove and cool on a wire rack.
14. Enjoy.

Baked and cooling

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Filed under Biscuits, cookies, Recipes