Home Italy Revisited Bookshelf Plays About Mary Melfi Contact Us
Cookies with Nuts
Ricciarelli (Sienese almond cookies with butter and orange juice )
Originated from: Siena, Tuscany, Italy
Occasion: Christmas
Contributed by: Mary Melfi

Printer Friendly Version


1 1/2 cups ground almonds
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup butter
3 eggs
1 tablespoon orange juice (or 1/2 teaspoon orange extract)
Zest of 1 orange [mixed with a tablespoon of sugar]
1 cup flour [or more]*
1/2 teaspoon baking powder (optional)
Pinch of salt

Icing sugar for dusting

*The measurement for the flour is approximate.


Preheat the oven to 325 degree F.

Melt the butter on low heat. Cool.

Beat sugar and butter until creamy.

Add eggs. Mix well.

Add orange juice (or orange extract).

In a separate bowl mix ground almonds, sugar, flour, and salt together.

Gradually add the liquid mixture to the solid mixture. Work into a cookie dough. If it's too soft, add more flour, if it's too hard, add more butter.

On a lightly floured board roll out the cookie dough to 1/4 inch thick.

With an almond-shaped cookie cutter (I used an almond-shaped measuring spoon as a cookie cutter) cut the dough into "ricciarelli."

Place the "ricciarelli" on a cookie sheet that has been greased or has a silicon-based baking mat over it. *

Place the cookie sheet on the middle rack (the bottom side of these cookies burns easily).

Bake for about 12 to 15 minutes, or until they are a golden color (They shouldn't be brown, if they are they'll taste burnt!).


Before serving dust heavily with icing sugar.

*For best results use aluminum cookie sheets that are sold in "Dollar Shops" [e.g. "Titan Foil"] and then place silicon-based baking mats [e.g. Delmarle's Silpat]. Cheaper aluminum cookie sheets do not conduct heat as well as the more expensive cookie sheets available in specialty shops which surprisingly is a good thing. In aluminum cookware the bottoms of the cookies don't cook faster than the tops, resulting in more evenly-cooked cookies (No burnt cookie bottoms!).


"Ricciarelli" are traditional Christmas cookies from Siena. The almond-shaped cookies are supposed to represent the almond eyes of the Madonna by Renaissance painters, particularly those related to the Angel's Annunciation. The almond shape is also considered a symbol of fertility. In the old days the Sienese made them for Christmas, nowadays they are popular throughout Italy, and are available throughout the year. There are dozens of recipes for this cookie. All of them include almonds (in some shape or form), orange zest or extract and lots and lots of icing sugar. Some recipes coat the cookies with icing sugar before the cookies are baked, while some recipes coat the cookies after they are baked. Some recipes add a bit of baking powder, some don't. The cookies are not supposed to spread or rise. What you see is what you get. Basically "ricciarelli" are orange-flavored almond cookies, coated with icing sugar. Prior to World War II potato starch rather than flour may have been used to make this recipe. I looked for potato starch and couldn't find it anywhere. Almond flour or almond meal is supposedly better than store-bought ground almonds, but again I couldn't find almond flour anywhere. My take on the recipe is easy to do. It's a beginner's version, I guess. For the original, classic recipe as was described by the famous 19th century Italian cookbook writer, PELLEGRINO ARTUSI, see the entry titled "Ricciarelli di Siena." That recipe can be found in this entry, on this website. Pellgrino Artusi's cookbook as it was first published in the late 19th century is now in the public domain..... Photo: Mary Melfi.

Back to main list