While I was in Palermo during my trip to Sicily I learned… well, I learned a number of things, but two of my favorite experiences were seeing ricotta cheese being made from scratch, and visiting a pastry shop where traditional Sicilian flourless almond cookies and other local specialties are crafted.
Here’s a recollection of the latter adventure. A reader of this blog, Francesca, invited me for coffee, and I accepted with pleasure. Upon my arrival, however, a surprise awaited me, one of the many beautiful surprises of my Sicilian trip: Francesca did not invite me to her house or a coffee shop, but to the confectionery workshop where she works, I Peccatucci di Mamma Andrea. Mamma Andrea makes all sorts of typical Sicilian almond-based treats, as well as candies, jams, and liqueurs according to ancient traditional wisdom, and she shared with me one of her priceless, well-treasured recipes, that of Sicilian flourless almond cookies.
Allow me to introduce you to Andrea, a truly extraordinary woman, through 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 – I decided 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.”
The result of Andrea’s work to preserve Sicilian pastries is simply amazing. I do not love almond paste, because it’s usually just too sugary, but the peccatucci (little sinful treats in Italian) that Andrea’s staff produces would convert anyone to traditional Sicilian pastries. Sicilian almonds are an outstanding natural product of southern Italy, and Mamma Andrea makes the most of them, turning them into small works of art. It is stunning to see the variety of almond sweets, nougat, almond brittle, citrus cookies, chocolate bars, and jams, produced in the workshop, all wrapped in wonderful boxes reflecting Andrea’s elegance and the care that she pours into 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 factory with a great desire to go back to my kitchen and prepare some almond treats, so that I could bring some of the flavors of Sicily back with me to Milan. Therefore, I asked Andrea if she wanted to share one of her recipes with my readers, and – hurray! – my wish was fulfilled: I flew back home with all the secrets to making delicious Sicilian flourless almond cookies.
Sicilian flourless almond cookies
- 400 g peeled almonds plus some extra almonds for decorating
- 400 g powdered sugar
- 3 whole eggs
- peel of 2 grated lemons or a tsp of lemon extract
- 5 g baking powder
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- Line a baking tray with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 265°F.
- Finely grind the almonds, setting aside a few whole almonds for decorating the cookies; meanwhile, whip the eggs well in a large bowl.400 g peeled almonds, 3 whole eggs
- Pour the powdered sugar and baking powder over the egg, and continue to whisk.400 g powdered sugar, 5 g baking powder
- With a wooden spoon or a silicon spatula, fold in the ground almonds, lemon peel, and vanilla extract.peel of 2 grated lemons or a tsp of lemon extract, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- The resulting cookie "dough" will not be very dense: it will be very similar to that of macaroons, for those who are familiar with that recipe.
- Take small amounts of dough with your hands (make sure that they are small, because they expand while baking), roll them into balls, and place them on the baking pan leaving plenty of space in between. If you prefer, you can make thick discs with a pastry bag fitted with a wide round nozzle.
- Decorate each ball with an almond and bake for about 30 minutes.
- Turn the oven off and allow your flourless almond cookies to cool in the baking pan with the oven door open.
- Lift the cookies off the pan gently with 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 because they are particularly good fresh out of the oven.