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While I was in Palermo during my trip to Sicily, a reader of this blog and a friend on Twitter, Francesca, invited me for coffee, which I accepted with pleasure. Upon my arrival, however, a surprise awaited me, one of the many beautiful surprises of my Sicilian experience: Francesca did not invite me to her house, or to a cafe, but to I Peccatucci di Mamma Andrea, the confectionery workshop where she works.
Mamma Andrea’s I Peccatucci is basically an artisan workshop, where typical Sicilian sweets, biscuits, jams, and liqueurs are produced according to ancient traditional recipes. Today I would like to tell you about this magical place and the people who live there, sharing with you one of their priceless guarded recipes, that of Andrea’s flourless almond cookies.
Allow me to introduce you to Andrea, a truly extraordinary woman, by her own words:
My name is Andrea De Cesare, and I became a mother at only 16 years old; for this reason, I feel as if I have been “Mamma Andrea” for a lifetime. In the past I worked as a costume designer, set designer, and puppeteer, until the crisis in experimental theater led me to change my profession. Because of my sweet-tooth, and since I had been a mother for a long time with the necessary familiarity at the stove, the choice was easy. There is nothing better than combining weaknesses and strengths, to open a confectionery workshop in the middle of Palermo. In that small space I got to know many people, who joyfully gave me old recipes inherited from mothers and grandmothers so that their taste and memory would not be forgotten. Thus, using that cultural heritage, I experimented with new things, made with the highest quality raw materials that this land of Sicily is still able to produce.
The result of Andrea’s “experiments” is simply amazing. For example, I do not love almond paste, but the peccatucci (little sinful treats) that Andrea’s staff produces in the workshop would really convert anyone to traditional Sicilian pastries. It is absolutely stunning to see the variety of almond sweets, nougat, almond brittle, citrus nibbles, chocolate bars, jams, produced in the workshop, all wrapped in wonderful boxes reflecting Andrea’s elegance and the care that she gives to every detail of her work.
I visited Francesca and Andrea during the Easter period, when the workshop produces the typical almond paste Easter lambs, true masterpieces of craftsmanship, and a myriad of Easter eggs of every color and shape; but I must confess that I would go back gladly, at any time of year, to discover the wonders produced from season to season.
I left the peccatucci factory with a great desire to go back to my kitchen and prepare some almond sweets, to allow me to bring some of the flavors of Sicily back with me to Milan; thus, I asked Andrea if she wanted to share one of her recipes with us, and – hurray! – my wish was fulfilled: I got all the secrets to making delicious flourless almond cookies.
- 400 g peeled almonds, plus some extra almonds for decorating
- 400 g vanilla flavoured confectioner's sugar (I used 350 g)
- 3 whole eggs
- peel of 2 grated lemons (I used some lemon extract)
- ½ sachet baking powder
- Prepare a baking pan covered with baking paper and preheat the oven to 130°.
- Finely chop the almonds, setting aside a few whole almonds for decorating the cookies; meanwhile, beat the eggs well in a large bowl. Gradually add the confectioner's sugar to the baking powder, working with a wooden spatula, then complete the dough with the addition of the ground almonds and lemon peel.
- The dough will not be very heavy in texture, it will be very similar to that of the macaroons, for those who have made them.
- Take small amounts with your hands (make sure that they are small, because they expand while baking), form balls, and place them on the baking pan leaving enough space between them. If you prefer, you can make thick discs with a pastry bag, with a wide round nozzle.
- Decorate each ball with an almond and bake in a 130° for about 30 minutes.
- Turn off the oven and allow your flourless almond cookies to cool in their baking pan with the oven door open.
- Mamma Andrea's flourless almond cookies are very delicate cookies, so treat them accordingly: if they easily pull off the baking pan, that's fine, otherwise use a spatula.
- Your flourless almond cookies can be stored in a tin box for a while, but I think you'll eat them right away, also because they are particularly good when fresh out of the oven.
Preparata e annotata da Benedetta Jasmine Guetta