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In Puglia almonds are a common choice of nuts to include in pastries and cookies. Pasta di mandorle (almond paste) is often used in cookies here such as amaretti. Mixed and crushed with mascarpone, ricotta or fruit and in torte, they are a versatile nut. They are grown in the south of Italy and used in sweet and savory dishes.
Almond oil is extracted from both bitter and sweet almonds and the seed of the bitter almonds are used to make almond oil and almond flavorings used in confections. Pure almond extract can be purchased at any market, but almond oil is much harder to find. Some Internet sites such as King Arthur Flour and Italian specialty stores carry it. The intense flavor of almond oil makes a very big difference in baked goods especially this cookie. When using oil vs. extracts, you use just a few drops; a little goes a long way.
It is natural to consider that Ricotta and almonds would be married together into a delicious soft biscotti flavored with almond oil. Almond ricotta biscotti are delicate cookies but with an intense aroma. We always include it on a “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze” because they are so perfect for a biscotti wedding cake.
I decorate them with a thin slice of almond on white confectionary sugar frosting flavored with almond oil. I love the way the caramel exterior outlines the white interior of the almond. Adding Ricotta does reduce the amount of time these biscotti can be frozen. The most I would keep them in the freezer is about 2-3 weeks. They are best eaten fresh and last a week or so in a container that doesn’t hold in moisture. Freeze them before frosting and let them completly defrost before frosting them.
Ricotta Mandorle Biscotti
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes @ 350º F
Yield: 4 Dozen
4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks butter
1 lb. Ricotta
2 teaspoons almond extract
BASIC Confectionary Sugar Frosting
1 cup confectionary sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons milk
2 drops of lemon juice
2 drops extract or 1 drop almond oil (if using oil taste before adding another drop)
48 almond slices
Sprinkles or jimmies (optional)
Food coloring (optional)
Cream the butter then add the sugar and eggs. Beat the mixture for 1 minute and add the dry ingredients. When all the ingredients are well blended, mix in the almond extract and ricotta and thoroughly blend. Form the dough into a ball and cover it with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
Flour your hands, which you may have to do from time to time to keep the dough from sticking. Form balls about the size of small golf balls and place them on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
Bake them for 15-20 minutes at 350º F or until the bottoms are brown. Allow them to cool completely before you frost them.
Add lemon juice and extract to the confectionary sugar. Slowly add in the milk until all confectionary sugar is mixed in and frosting is smooth. It should not be too thin or it will drip off the cookies and dry transparent. The frosting should be thick enough so that it sits on the top of the cookie.
There are many articles written about the health benefits of almonds. Low in saturated fat and containing calcium and magnesium, vitamin E and compounds called phytochemicals, which may help protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer. Jordan almonds are considered the best and are sweet almonds coming from Malaga. Bitter almonds are grown in the south of France, Sicily and North Africa. See the web sites at the end of this article for more information on the benefits of almonds and their origins.
Almond oil is extracted from both bitter and sweet almonds but the seed of the bitter almonds are used to make almond oil and almond flavoring are used in confections. Pure almond extract can be purchased at any market, but the intense flavor of almond oil makes a very big difference in baked goods. When using oil vs. extracts, you use just a few drops. Most Italian markets sell these oils and a little goes a long way.
In Italy desserts are often flavored with honey, chestnuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts and almonds. The biscotti originated in the Tuscany and it is thought that they were flavored with almonds from Prato. The cookies are known as “cantucci” and they can be found in every pasticceria in the Tuscany. Cantucci are mostly eaten with a glass of “Vin Santo” a sweet wine. Many restaurants serve small almond biscotti with coffee and some will have a bowl of them on the table at all times. It is probably the most well-known and popular biscotti. Almonds are used in many different varieties of biscotti and also mixed with fruits and chocolate.
Other desserts made with almonds in Italy are a rich bread or flat cake known as “panforte”. A cookie called “Cartellate” is made in Apuglia. It is fried dough in the shape of a cartwheel (cartellate means cartwheel in Italian) and filled with toasted almonds, honey, chocolate and spices. Amaretto is a liqueur with an almond flavor. The base of the liqueur is primarily made from apricot pits. Apricot and peach pits have similar oils and taste like almonds. The original version of Amaretto was made in Saronno, Italy and is also used to flavor many Italian desserts and coffee. Marzipan, which is a mixture of sugar and almonds is used in confections. One of my favorites is a candy called “Brocante con mandorle”, (Italian almond brittle). It is very hard and you must to be careful of your teeth when you eat it. Unlike most brittle, this is thick and hard made with toasted almonds, sugar, honey, corn syrup and almond oil or almond flavoring. Colorful sugar candied almonds known as “confetti” are arranged in exquisite decorations for wedding cakes and mixed with trays of biscotti.
Cantucci are use in all of our biscotti trays, they are one of our most asked for biscotti. Cantucci are hard so they make a good base for our “Torta Festiva” or “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze”.
Make a full recipe and stored in a metal container, they will last a few weeks. They can be frozen up to two months – they defrost very quickly. You will always have biscotti to serve with coffee when friends drop by.
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes @ 350ºF
Yield: 2 1/2 Dozen
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 cups roasted almonds, cut in half
1/4 cup warm water
1/3 cup oil
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons water
ROASTING THE NUTS
Place the almonds on a cookie sheet and place in a 400ºF oven for 15 minutes. Shake the pan several times to turn the nuts so they cook evenly. Let the almonds cool. Cut the almonds in half.
In large mixing bowl, place the dry ingredients and toasted almonds. Make a well in the center and combine the remaining wet ingredients (water, oil and eggs). Oil your hands to mix the dough. Place the dough onto a floured board and work until completely combined. The dough will be sticky to work with. Refrigerate for one hour.
Make loaves about 14” long and 2” wide, and place them on a lightly greased or parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush the loaves with the egg wash and place them in a 350ºF oven for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool and slice on a diagonal 1” apart.
To freeze, do not slice but wrap the whole logs tightly in plastic wrap. Slice the logs when you are ready to serve them. They can be frozen for up to 2 months.
Note: Cantucci can be double backed a few minutes on each side for a drier harder result.