Sicilian almonds are extraordinarily flavorful and oily, unlike almonds from California and other places. Adding some almond extract, which we do not use, to the cookie dough helps make up the difference. We would also include a few bitter almonds, which are prohibited in the United States, in a recipe like this. Because they were lacking, Michele Scicolone, who baked these cookies with me at Regaleali, reduced the amount of sugar in the ones she made when she got back home.
2 1/4 cups (10 oz) blanched almonds
2/3 cup sugar
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
30 whole an blanched almonds, pine nuts, or candied cherries
Food processor, baking sheet.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a large baking sheet.
Working in batches, combine the blanched nuts with some of the sugar in a food processor. Process until finely ground. Transfer to a large bowl, add the rest of the sugar and the lemon zest, and combine well.
Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt and the almond and vanilla extracts until stiff but not dry. Add the egg white mixture to the almond mixture and stir lightly, not to flatten the egg whites. Pinch off enough dough to form a 1-inch (2.5-cm) ball. Flatten the balls very slightly, and place them 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart on the baking sheet. Insert a whole almond or pine nut, pointed end up, or a candied cherry in the center of each cookie.
Bake until the cookies are lightly browned and have small cracks on the surface, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool briefly on the pan, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container
VARIATION. For flatter cookies, add 4 egg white. Spoon onto baking sheets about 1 1/2 inches (3 cm) apart. Bake at 300 degrees F (150 degrees C.) until lightlv browned, about 20 minutes.