To make Italian almond cookies, either ricciarelli or amaretti, ingredients needed include blanched whole almonds or almond paste, sugar, large egg whites, salt, baking powder, almond extract, and vanilla extract. Garnishes include whole almonds, candied cherries and grated orange zest. Equipment needed includes a food processor or a blender.
Use a food processor to reduce almonds to a fine powder. For ricciarelli, place almond powder in a bowl, and stir in almond paste. For amaretti, reserve whole almonds for garnish.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit for ricciarelli, with the rack in the center, or 350 degrees Fahrenheit for amaretti, with racks on the top and bottom shelves.
To finish the dough for the ricciarelli, fold the egg white into the almond paste mixture, and mix slowly. Add 1/2 teaspoon baking powder and 1 teaspoon almond extract, and mix thoroughly. Mix in 2 tablespoons orange zest, or save it to finish in the oven.
To finish the amaretti dough, beat 2 large egg whites, 2/3 cups sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in the almond mixture, and add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon each of almond and vanilla extract.
Roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Place on cookie sheets, and flatten slightly. Top with whole almonds, cherries or orange zest. The dough yields about 2 dozen cookies.
Bake ricciarelli 20 to 30 minutes at the center of the oven until very light tan. Sprinkle with sugar if desired. Be careful not to crisp the cookies. Amaretti bake for about 50 minutes at the top and bottom of the oven. After about 25 minutes, reverse the positions of the cookie sheets, and finish baking.