Want to try something new this Christmas? If yes, I’ve got a fun thing for you. Here’s a 120-year-old Italian almond cookie recipe, straight from the most fascinating cookbook I’ve ever read. These delicious cookies burst with sweet, authentic flavors. They’re a journey back in time echoing the wholesomeness and warmth of homemade traditions.
I like to find things to enjoy every time of the year. As Christmas time approaches, this often translates into baking lots of cookies and learning how to make new dishes to bring to my family gatherings.
I love the cozy, warm vibes of the Holidays, and as I was looking for a new recipe that echoed them, I got an idea: why not look into Artusi’s cookbook?
What’s So Special About This Book?
The book I’m talking about is La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene. First published by Pellegrino Artusi in 1891, it includes over 790 folk recipes from every region of Italy, collected by the author during his countless travels.
Before then, all the cookbooks circulating in Italy were written by French chefs, who used language that was too technical for most readers and focused mostly on French cuisine. Pellegrino, on the other hand, was not a chef and simply wanted to write a practical manual that would allow even those who only knew how to “hold a ladle in their hand” to get something good.
As a result, all the recipes are written in a simple and friendly way. The book is full of the author’s reflections, and it is not uncommon to find comments such as “cooking is a little rascal, it will often lead to despair” or “Damned minestrone! You will never fool me again.“
But aside from being a fun read, this book has another merit for food nerds like me. It is an unfiltered snapshot of 19th-century Italian cuisine. And not just rich dishes that were served to the nobility and the bourgeoisie, but also recipes that were made every day by ordinary people, as well as popular traditional dishes!
Back to today, I was looking for an old-fashioned recipe that would evoke the warm spirit of the holidays. And I thought, what better way than to look to this book? So, I browsed Pellegrino’s recipes until I found a recipe for almond cookies full of candied fruit and raisins that seemed perfect for the occasion.
I made a couple of attempts and the result was delicious. I actually think I found my new favorite cookies!
And now, let me show you how you can make them too.
EMBED INSTAGRAM POST
Artusi’s Recipe And How To Adapt It
This is Artusi’s original recipe, as translated in the English edition of La Scienza in Cucina.
“400 grams of flour, 200 grams of sugar, 80 grams of butter, 40 grams of almonds, 30 grams of sultanas, 20 grams of pine nuts, 20 grams of candied citron or candied pumpkin, a pinch of aniseeds, 2 tablespoons of reduced wine, a scant teaspoon of baking soda, 1 whole egg and 3 egg yolks.
These cookies are more refined than the ones in the preceding recipe; and I think they leave nothing to be desired. Shell the almonds and pine nuts, remove the skins and leave whole. Cut the candied fruit into tiny pieces. Make a hole in the mound of flour and place the eggs, sugar, butter, wine, and baking soda in it. Blend the mixture without working it too much; then open it up and spread it out so you can add the other ingredients. Form a rather compact narrow cylinder, about 1 meter long (3 feet), which you will divide into four or five parts so that it fits in the baking pan. Gild with egg yolk and bake. When it is cooked, slice into cookies a little more than 1 centimeter (about half an inch) thick, and toast lightly on each side.“
As you can see, Artusi’s style is very simple. However, our friend tends to take some things for granted. For example, when he lists the ingredients, he does not mention that you should also have one or two more egg yolks on hand to brown the dough before baking it. The part about how to bake the cookies would be worth a little more discussion as well.
On top of that, he uses some archaic or overly general terms, which can lead to uncertainties about the translation. For example, based on his other recipes, I believe he used spirito di vino (which means ethanol and was improperly translated as “reduced wine”) to mean a generic liquor.
For these reasons, I tested the recipe a couple of times and wrote a more detailed version. Here it is!
ors. They’re a journey back in time echoing the wholesomeness and warmth of homemade traditions.
Ingredients For Traditional Italian Christmas Almond Cookies
You’ve already read the ingredients for this almond cookie recipe above, but let’s spend a few words about each of them and see some possible variants.
Flour & baking soda: you should use a weak flour, possibly a ’00. If you want, you can also use self-rising flour, just don’t add the baking soda afterward.
Sugar: Either white or powdered sugar will do. Brown sugar is fine too, but I think it adds an unnecessary flavor.
Unsalted butter: in order to blend well with the other ingredients, the butter should be at room temperature. For best results, take it out of the fridge at least 2 hours before starting.
Peeled whole almonds and pine nuts: avoid using almond extract. These two ingredients do not provide only flavor, they are also important for the texture of your cookies. The same applies to other variants such as almond meal or ground almonds.
Rhum or an anise-flavored liquor: as I was saying, I think that Artusi actually meant a generic liqueur when mentioning “spirito di vino”. Rhum or anisettes are the most common spirits used when making homemade cookies in Italy, so feel free to pick whatever you like among them. I used a bit of Varnelli liqueur.
Sultanas or raisins: they’re both types of dried grapes, but sultanas are usually smaller, sweeter, and lighter in color. In Italy, their names are often used interchangeably, so feel free to go with what you find at your favorite grocery store.
Candied citron/pumpkin and a pinch of aniseed: they give the cookies such a sweet, festive taste!
Large eggs: this recipe calls for one whole egg and 3 egg yolks, plus 1 or 2 extra yolks to gild the cookie dough. To avoid wasting all the egg whites, mix them in a bowl with fine salt, oregano, sage, and some chili pepper flakes, and cook them in a pan to make a spicy white frittata.
These are the ingredients you need to make these delectable almond cookies the way Pellegrino meant.
Being a homestyle recipe, there are many possible variations. For instance, it’s very common to add ingredients like orange zest, vanilla extract, or lemon zest for extra flavor. Some people also like to switch the liquor with anise extract or a tablespoon of mulled wine. However, since my quest was to see how cookies might have tasted like in rural Italy 120 years ago, I stuck to the recipe.
Nowadays, you can easily buy peeled almond and pine nuts, as well as finely cut candied fruit. So, for the first step in Artusi’s recipe, all you have to do is put them together in a small bowl along with the sultanas and anise seeds and set aside.
Next, sift the flour onto a clean work surface or, if you don’t have much room, inside a large bowl. Arrange it in a well and dig a hole in the center. It should look like a volcano. Then, place the eggs, sugar, butter, wine, and baking soda in it. Make sure to set aside 1 or 2 egg yolks for gilding later.
With a fork, start blending the mixture. When it begins to thicken, continue with your hands. To avoid getting too messy, rub some flour on your hands.
Meanwhile, start preheating the oven to 356°F.
When the mixture is well blended, spread it out so it can incorporate the other ingredients. Add the mix of pine nuts, almonds, candied fruit, anise seeds, and sultanas, and resume kneading the cookie dough.
Now, Artusi’s recipe says to create form a rather compact narrow cylinder 3 feet long, and then divide it into 4 or 5 loaves so that they can fit into the oven. For most modern ovens, 2 or 3 loaves will suffice.
Arrange them on a greased baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Use a paintbrush to coat them with the extra egg yolks you set aside, and bake for about 45 minutes. While baking, the loaves will rise and spread on their sides. Also, the egg yolks will give them a nice brown color.
Pro tip: When baking, place an iron-cast pot with a trickle of water in the bottom of the oven. It will create steam that will keep the cookie crust from hardening too soon.
When the 45 minutes have passed, remove the baking dish from the oven and let the loaves cool for a few minutes. Meanwhile, close the oven and keep it on, without lowering the temperature.
Cut the loaves into 1/3-inch thick slices. For best results, use a sharp knife with a smooth blade. In this phase, the loaves are still a bit soft on the inside, and using a serrated blade could make them crumble.
Rearrange the cookies on a single layer on the baking dish, and put them back in the oven. Toast them for about 12-15 minutes, flipping them halfway through the process.
Finally, take them out of the oven, let them cool a little, and serve them on your favorite cookie sheet with some mulled wine, or store them for up to a week in an airtight container or cookie jar.
One thing I love about this recipe is that you can make it even if you’ve never baked anything in your life and have zero equipment. No electric mixer, cookie scoop, food processor, or cookie cutter is required. Just your hands and a little patience!
Despite the many ingredients, it’s a very simple recipe. And those cookies are so delicious! I bet they will become a family favorite in no time.Print