Ricciarelli are the perfect gluten-free Italian almond cookies.
In kitchens across the world, holiday revelers are digging out worn cookbooks and faded recipe cards, clipping recipes from the newspaper, and scouring the Internet for tips. Ovens are being preheated, and houses are filling with the warm scent of caramelizing sugar and browning butter.
Everyone, get ready! It’s time! It’s cookie season, and it’s time for Ricciarelli, these lovely little gluten free Italian almond cookies from Sienna, a town in the Tuscan countryside of Italy.
When I was little, I swore that I could gauge how many days were left till Christmas by how intensely my neighborhood smelled of baking cookies, or by how many hours my grandmother spent in the kitchen mixing, rolling, and frosting.
For many folks, my family included, making Christmas cookies was (and still is) the best part of the holiday season. We enlist loved ones young and old to cut and decorate. We grin like madmen at the mess of sugar and clatter of cookie cutters.
We’re positively giddy at the prospect of packing colorful, tissue-paper-lined gift boxes with the results of our labors, to be delivered on Christmas Eve or shipped across the country to aunts and uncles who flew the Christmas coop.
Italian almond cookies are EASY
Then I grew up and realized some cookies were so much easier than others. Ricciarelli are probably as simple and delicious as they come.
Not everyone can enjoy traditional floury cookies. If you’re gluten-free, the Christmas-cookie season can be a challenge – but it’s certainly not impossible. And Ricciarelli are perfect little Italian almond cookies that come naturally gluten-free.
A little gluten-free Christmas cookie help from a pro
For help, I called upon learned cookie maven Nancy Baggett, the author of the recently released Simply Sensational Cookies (aff link).
“Very often, the baking expertise I would normally use yields poor results with gluten-free baking, or just no longer applies at all,” Baggett told me.
“For example, like all professionally trained bakers, I know that over-mixing wheat-based doughs will yield tough cookies; the excess manipulation develops too much gluten. But in rice-flour doughs, which lack gluten, I’ve found that vigorous stirring has an entirely opposite, very positive effect. It actually helps cookies hold together, and they come out less crumbly.”
– These Italian almond cookies are gently sweet and beyond tender. <3 ricciarelli. –
It’s true, gluten-free cookies tend to be more crumbly than their wheat-y counterparts.
This is due to the fact that gluten is the primary component that makes baked goods tender and chewy, and the loss of this important protein in a recipe needs to be compensated for by adding other gum-like ingredients that perform a similar job.
Of course there will still be textural differences, as nothing really matches the stretch of good, old-fashioned gluten — but since non-wheat flours contain no gluten, there’s almost no risk of over-mixing. (A big plus if you’re the OCD-type who loves to make sure there’s nary a speck of flour left in your dough.)
In fact, the extra mixing of a gluten-free cookie doughs can help the binding ingredients — such as xanthan gum and egg proteins — stick even more, allowing them to soak into flour particles and creating a glue-like stretch effect.
You’ll notice that some gluten-free cookie recipes recommend setting the dough aside in the refrigerator before baking, which helps firm up the dough for easier handling with the added bonus of allowing the wet ingredients to integrate more fully into the dry.
Also, since non-wheat flours lack the stretch of their wheaty cousins, gluten-free cookie doughs are often more sticky than traditional dough.
Because of this, you’ll need to be more careful when it comes to transporting formed, unbaked cookies — especially if they are rolled thin and cut into shapes.
Be careful when moving rolled gluten-free Christmas cookie dough!
If cookies need to be cut and formed, I recommend doing all the work on the same piece of parchment paper you plan to bake them on.
When you cut the parchment to the right size ahead of time, you can easily transfer the paper to a baking sheet and slide the whole thing into the oven with very little drama, usually after a quick set in the refrigerator.
This allows you to avoid having to move the actual cookie dough, which will stretch and tear at the slightest provocation. If you roll them out, cut them, chill them, and then bake them on the same piece of parchment, I guarantee you’ll run into far fewer problems.
When it comes to baking gluten-free cookies, the question I’m asked most often is, can you just take an old cookie recipe and replace the white flour for a wheat-free blend? “I don’t advise this,” warned Baggett.
“I suggest turning to cookbook authors and recipe developers who have already done the experimentation, worked out the innumerable kinks, and can offer reliable, tasty recipes to use. Taking advantage of what they have already learned and formulated guarantees not having to settle for less when it comes to sweet treats this season.”
As luck would have it, a recent crop of gluten-free cookbooks have popped up that specifically pertain to the holidays. Here are a few I recommend:
- Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays, by Jeanne Sauvage, for the everyday gluten-free baker. (aff link)
- Jennifer Katzinger’s Gluten-Free and Vegan Holidays contains some excellent baking recipes for those on both a gluten-free and vegan diet. (aff link)
- Gluten Free Canteen’s Book of Nosh, by Lisa Stander-Horel and Tim Horel, specifically caters to Jewish holidays. (aff link)
- And Nancy Baggett’s own cookbook, Simply Sensational Cookies, has some excellent gluten-free cookie recipes as well. (aff link)
Ricciarelli, the perfect Christmas Italian almond cookies
Ricciarelli are amazingly tender Italian almond cookies hailing from Siena, a small city in the Tuscan countryside. These cookies are so simple to make, with the added bonus that they’re naturally gluten-free, so there’s so substations to make or funny gums to by.
Basically, you just mix, bake, and enjoy. Talk about a great gluten-free cookie recipe. If you’re either gluten-free yourself or baking for someone who is, these cookies will become a standard part of your holiday baking repertoire. Enjoy!
Ricciarelli, Italian Almond Christmas Cookies (Gluten-Free)
- 3 cups fine almond flour
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar divided
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 egg whites
- 2 teaspoons almond extract
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Combine the almond flour, granulated sugar, 1 cup of the powdered sugar, the baking powder, and the salt in a bowl.
- In a separate large bowl, beat the egg whites into soft peaks. Fold in the almond extract, vanilla extract, lemon zest, and almond-flour mixture. Stir until completely combined.
- Use a tablespoon to scoop out a large ball of cookie dough. Roll the dough into a ball in your hands, then use the bottom of a glass to gently smash the cookie into a disk about ½-inch thick. Roll in the remaining powdered sugar and set on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough.
- Let sit, uncovered, on the counter for about 45 minutes, or until the surfaces dry out just a touch. Preheat the oven to 250°F (121°C).
- Place the cookies into the preheated oven and bake for 22 to 27 minutes, until they are golden brown around the edges.
- Cool completely on a cooling rack, then store in an airtight container for up to a week.
This content was originally posted on FearlessFresh.com.