Italian crunchy almond cookies (Castagnelle)

Italian crunchy almond cookies - Castagnelle, are wonderful chocolate festive cookies.

A few days ago, I mentioned how hectic December is around here and I wasn’t kidding. I’m already feeling it this week, the typical December. I have a cold and I haven’t gotten enough sleep in all week.

Oh, but the good outweighs the (not so) bad, right? I did have a great birthday and after about two weeks of rain and grayness we’ve finally gotten some sun, so that alone makes me feel a lot better.

The power that the Sun has is just amazing. While I notice the difference in my mood easily, observing it in animals is really fascinating. My cat trio gets kind of sad whenever the weather is bad. And then the minute the sun comes out, they all get crazily happy, they run around, roll on the bed and the floor and they seem to be less needy, which is great for them and me.

Italian crunchy almond cookies - Castagnelle, are wonderful chocolate festive cookies.

But apart from the weather, you know what changes the mood instantly? Cookies. The smell of fresh baked cookies that rolls out of the kitchen and fills every room in a home. And a consequential jar of cookies on the coffee table.

Cookies are just really comforting and you can find a type for every mood. I don’t actually bake them that often (mushroom cookies being my last), but it’s December and that’s a good excuse. Lately, I’ve been in the mood for cookies that go well with tea or coffee. Something chocolaty, without actually being dipped in chocolate, and with cinnamon, but not too strong. A cookie that’s bigger than one bite and is rich in taste, but is still very simple.

These Italian crunchy almond cookies (Castagnelle) are the answer to all of that.

Italian crunchy almond cookies - Castagnelle, are wonderful chocolate festive cookies.

The name Castagnelle comes from the Italian word castagna which means chestnut. But these aren’t made with chestnuts, they just kind of resemble them in their shape (or, that’s what they say). But what’s more interesting about the cookies is that they’re vegan without being obviously vegan.

They’re made without eggs, milk or butter, which are all very common cookie ingredients, but not used in this recipe. And they’re not missed either. The coffee and toasted almonds give so much power to the cookies, you’d really never guess the ingredient list is actually as simple as it is.

Italian crunchy almond cookies - Castagnelle, are wonderful chocolate festive cookies.

Italian crunchy almond cookies - Castagnelle, are wonderful chocolate festive cookies.

This simplicity shows what Puglia, the area in Italy where the cookies originate from, is all about. The recipes there were developed by simple folks who had limited supplies, yet they made creative, delicious desserts.

And this is why I love Castagnelle. They’re rustic, crunchy, chocolaty and for some reason they remind me of gingerbread cookies, even though the only spice used is cinnamon. They definitely belong on the December cookie table. And if you’re one of those people that bake all month long and do have a cookie or dessert table to show, I applaud you. It’s hard work, rewarding, but it definitely takes effort.
Italian crunchy almond cookies - Castagnelle, are wonderful chocolate festive cookies.

Italian crunchy almond cookies - Castagnelle, are wonderful chocolate festive cookies.

Italian crunchy almond cookies - Castagnelle, are wonderful chocolate festive cookies.


Italian crunchy almond cookies (Castagnelle)

italian crunchy almond cookies castagnelle

Crunchy, chocolaty cookies that you would’ve never guessed are vegan!

  • Author: Alice
  • Yield: 50-60 cookies 1x
  • Category: Cookies
  • Method: Baked
  • Cuisine: Italian


  • 250g (1 1/3 cups | 8.8 oz) almonds
  • 330g (2 cups | 11.6 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 325g (1 1/3 cups | 11.5 oz) white granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • About 240 ml (1 cup) brewed strong coffee, espresso or water
  • A few tablespoons powdered sugar, for dusting


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F), with rack placed in the middle of the oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (or silicone baking mats) and set aside. Line a smaller baking sheet with parchment paper, add almonds and toast them for about 10 minutes, until fragrant. Remove from oven (keep the oven on) and cool for a few minutes. Coarsely chop the almonds and set aside.
  2. In a big bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder and cinnamon. Lastly add almonds and lemon zest. Make a well in the center and add 1/2 coffee. Start stirring the dough and the rest of coffee. Mix until dough starts to form. Continue kneading the dough with your hands in the bowl until a stiff dough forms (you want the texture of modeling clay). Divide the dough into quarters.
  3. Slightly flour your working surface and roll a piece of dough into a 50 x 2,5 cm (20 x 1 inch) rope. Press down to slightly flatten the rope. Using a sharp knife (or bench scraper) cut it on the diagonal into 3 cm (1 1/4 inch) diamond shapes.
  4. Arrange the cookies on the prepared baking sheets, leaving at least a 1,5 cm (1/2 inch) space between them. Repeat with the remaining dough. Bake until the cookies feel set, but still somewhat soft, about 15 minutes. The tops will crack, but the cookies will not darken any further.
  5. Transfer the baking sheets to a wire rack to cool. Once the cookies are cool enough to handle, transfer them directly to the racks ad let cool completely. Generously sift powdered sugar over the cookies. Store cookies in airtight containers for up to two weeks.


As mentioned above, you can use water instead of coffee in this recipe. However, coffee gives the cookies that nice brown color and it also intensifies the flavor of cocoa. This recipe is only slightly adapted from the wonderful cookbook Southern Italian Desserts written by Rosetta Costantino and Jennie Schacht.

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  1. Ginger wrote:

    Hi, I made these cookies tonight and they are really flavorful. The lemon zest really adds a lot. Thank you so much for the recipe!

    Posted 1.9.15 Reply
    • Alice wrote:

      Hi Ginger! I’m so happy you like them and thank you for stopping by and letting me know.
      I’m sorry I’m replying to your comment so late, I’ve been sick and away from the computer for a while now, but coming back to this comment really made my day. Thanks again!

      Posted 1.15.15 Reply
  2. Rose wrote:

    My grandmother taught me to make Castgnelle when I was a child, the recipe is pretty much the same except she used orange zest, also, after rolling and cutting them she had me roll them into a ball and slightly flatten them as I put them onto the cookie sheets. And, yes , they do look like chestnuts. they are one of my favorite cookies. My children and grandchildren love them too.

    Posted 5.1.15 Reply
    • Alice wrote:

      Thanks for your input, Rose! It’s really great that the recipe is being passed on. I think I’ll roll them in a ball too the next time I make these. 🙂

      Posted 5.1.15 Reply
  3. PJ wrote:

    Hello! These look great! Would it work with maple syrup or dates instead of sugar? c:

    Posted 9.16.15 Reply
    • Alice wrote:

      Hi PJ! I haven’t tried substituting sugar in this recipe yet, but my general advice would be that you can try making the cookies with maple syrup, but don’t add it to the dry ingredients. Melt one cup in the coffee and add it like that. Then add more flour, if needed, until you get a compact dough.

      I don’t think dates would work well in this recipe as you’d need a lot to reach the necessary level of sweetness and their texture is very different. But you can always chop some up and mix with the almonds, to get some of their flavor.

      Hope this helps!

      Posted 9.18.15 Reply
  4. Sherry wrote:

    I was so looking forward to making these. The result unfortunately wasn’t what I expected. I followed the recipe but what was supposed to be a firm dough turned into a mushy sticky consistency. I ended up cookies. The colour was light and the cookie a soft cake like chewiness.
    I can’t imagine what went wrong. Any ideas?

    Posted 9.9.18 Reply
    • Alice wrote:

      Hi Sherry!
      If the dough was sticky, then my guess would be that it didn’t have enough flour! Flour is very sensitive to moisture, which can change with temperature/seasons, so the best thing would’ve been to keep adding flour until the dough is firm and not sticky anymore.

      Hope this helps.

      Posted 9.10.18 Reply
  5. Kelly wrote:

    I made these
    ((BARS)) over 35yrs ago 5-6 times with a 85 year old Italian lady of course has passed and I lost the recipe. I have been searching ALL these years for them NEVER thought I’d find them again. Of course I couldn’t remember all the ingredients but I tried these and they are identical in flavor. My all-time favorite so I can’t thank you enough for bringing back so many memories and for giving the recipe. let me add I have found some recipes close to these when you have you’re mine set nothing can replace these amazing Xmas bars. again thank you and happy holidays

    Posted 12.13.18 Reply
    • Alice wrote:

      Wow, Kelly, that is amazing! Thank you for sharing this with me, I’m so happy you found your way to my blog and that you can now enjoy these again!! Happy holidays too you too, hope you have a wonderful time! 🙂

      Posted 12.13.18 Reply
  6. Rose Bertucci wrote:

    I made these cookies this morning and I had to add more flour. They were too mushy.

    Posted 7.1.19 Reply
    • Alice wrote:

      Hi Rose, that can happen sometimes! Slightly different flour, different humidity, etc… so many factors, definitely nothing wrong with adding more flour, if you see it’s needed. 🙂

      Posted 7.2.19 Reply
  7. Franca wrote:

    I am originally from Puglia, still make them at Christmas but we call this cookie “ Castagnette”

    Posted 1.23.20 Reply
    • Alice wrote:

      Oh, I had no idea. Thank you for sharing, Franca! 🙂

      Posted 1.23.20 Reply
  8. jane wrote:

    we used to get these in DeLillo on Arthur Ave in the Bronx. But they were round not rectangle.

    Posted 1.27.20 Reply
    • Alice wrote:

      thanks for sharing, Jane!
      Given how stiff the dough is I think you can shape these any way 🙂

      Posted 1.27.20 Reply
  9. Marisa wrote:

    I had to add about 2/3 cup more flour to get the right consistency, as others have already commented. But after baking, the cookies were very gummy. I think I made them too big – smaller would have crunched up better. I cooled the cookies completely and then put them back in the oven for another 15 min. I figured biscotti are twice-baked so I could do the same with these.

    Posted 3.27.20 Reply