It wouldn’t be Christmas in Italy without Ricciarelli biscuits. In Tuscany and all around Italy typical Chrismas treats fill the shelves of pasticcerie and supermarkets, from panettone to buttery pandoro to chocolate covered torrone. But though Ricciarelli end up on tables all over Italy, they are very much a Tuscan delicacy.
These soft almond paste biscuits have a long history, and are one of the old, and most cherished traditions of the town of Siena, in Tuscany.
Ricciarelli biscuits – the sweet face taste of Siena, Tuscany, Italy
In Siena you can buy ricciarelli, as well as other Christmas favourites like panforte and cavallucci, all year around. They are as much a part of the identity of the city, as the Medieval horse race Il Palio and the historical contrade. Eating one of these sweets is a bit like taking a bite of local history.
But what’s so special about them? They are delicate, and so soft that they melt in your mouth. They have the bitter-sweet taste typical of almonds, and are covered in powdered sugar. No flour is used, and the paste is made with almonds that were traditionally ground with the macina (millstone) and left for at least two days before cooking. To protect the traditional recipe they have recieved the marchio IGP in 2010, no less.
Try them with a sip of Vinsanto, the Tuscan sweet wine.
When and where can you buy Ricciarelli biscuits?
Ricciarelli are sold everywhere in Italy during the Christmas period, but there’s nothing like trying the ones made from a traditional Sienese pasticceria. There’s a very special place in Siena dedicated to traditional sweets, the Pasticceria Nannini. They have been around for a century and definitely know their stuff. They take pride in keeping alive the tradition of sweet-making and taking their piece of history to the world.
Other favourite spots are: La Nuova pasticceria, via Duprè, very close to Piazza del Campo, Forno Il Magnifico (via del Pellegrino) close to the Cathedral, or Pasticceria Sinatti (via della Sapienza) .
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A long history of the Ricciarelli
The Sienese have been making these “marzapanetti” since the 15 century, with almond paste, sugar and egg white. The recipe for ricciarelli took inspiration from marzipan, that had oriental origins. Legend has it that a knight travelling back to Siena from the Crusades brought this idea with him. The name might in fact originate from the world “arricciato” (curly), a term that refers to the shape of oriental footwear.
These tender and refined sweets became very popular, and from Siena they were sold throughout Italy and Europe. They became the sweets of nobility, and were found on the menus of some important banquets of aristocratic families like the Sforza and the Estensi.