Sicilian almond cookies are traditional Sicilian sweets, a particular biscuits that are soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside prepared with a special ingredient: the typical Sicilian almond. They are also known as almond pastries (Paste di mandorla); in Messina they are small and white, in Catania they are in the shape of an S, in Bronte there is the variant with pistachio, in the Nebrodi Mounts and Etna area that with hazelnuts.
Their external part can be simple or enriched with candied cherries and orange peel or dried fruit, such as pine nuts.
The interior is the same for all types of Sicilian almond cookies, consisting of chopped Sicilian almond (almonds from Syracuse and Ragusa), granulated sugar and egg whites. Lemon zest can be added to make the citrusy flavor.
Sicilian almond cookies: curiosity and ancient tradition
Sicilian almond cookies are Sicilian desserts cooked for any occasion, one of the symbols of Sicilian pastry, prepared and sold at any time of the year. They can be used as everyday snack, for holidays and any other type of gathering. Theirorigin is uncertain, but certainly it’s ancient.
The most accredited and known source is the story that tells that the prodigious dough of Sicilian almond cookies dates back to 1100 and it was created in the Martorana Convent in Palermo, annexed to the church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, which owes its name to Giorgio d’Antiochia, admiral of King Roger II.
In this period nuns inside convents worked the products of the Earth, transforming them in ingredients and semi-finished products for consumption. Among these, in Sicily, for example, the cedar, that’s an important ingredient for the famous “cassata” and the dried fruit, such as pistachios and, indeed, the Sicilian almond.
They would have prepared the first almond paste products, made of water, sugar and almonds, in fact one of the best known Sicilian desserts, based on the “royal” paste, is the “frutta martorana”.
This dough was so good that it was then used to prepare many of Sicilian desserts that characterize the cuisine of southern Italy, in particular the Sicilian, Calabrian, Apulian, Salento and Sardinian ones.
In the various dialects it is called in different ways (pàsta riàli in Sicilian, pasta de ammìänduli in the Calabrian dialect, pasta te mennule or pasta ti mennuli in Apulian and Salento). It is also known as “pasta reale” (royal paste), translated from the Sicilian dialect, indicating a dessert “worthy of a king”, both for its goodness and for its aesthetic representation.
Another birth theory of Sicilian almond cookies dates back to the 3rd century BC., when, with the intensification of maritime trade, sugar began to be brought to Rome by Indian and Persian merchants; later in the sixth century, Arabs began to work it for the production of sweets, also thanks to the simultaneous spread of sugar cane plantations.
They brought the cult of almond paste to Sicily, together with rich and spicy dishes. Everything would have been born from a mixture between sugar and ground almonds.
In Sicily, almond paste has found an important history, in fact this product has received the official recognition as typical agri-food product.
Sicilian almond: a basic ingredient of Sicilian cuisine
Sicilian almond cookies are prepared with a base of Sicilian almond, which is a common ingredient of many recipes.
The almond-based desserts are typical of the Catania and Agrigento area; among the almonds we can distinguish, basically, three types: the sweet, the bitter and the little armelline.
The largest cultivation concerns the sweet ones. Sicily is one of the world’s major almond producers. The almond trees produce their fragrant flowers in February and the Almond Blossom Festival is celebrated for the occasion in the southern seaside town of Agrigento. Candied almonds symbolize love and fidelity, even outside the island, and they are gifted as wedding favors.
Join us on our Sicily day tours and you will have the opportunity to taste the Sicilian almond cookies we offer to those who choose to travel with us!