Italian crunchy almond cookies (Castagnelle)

Italian crunchy almond cookies, also known as Castagnelle or Italian Christmas cookies are crunchy diamond shaped cocoa cookies that taste like orange, cinnamon and chocolate. Made with a handful of ingredients, they’re easy to put together and hold up for weeks. Great for sending through the mail!  

cocoa cookies in a golden round cookie metal box

It’s no secret that I love Italian food. And how could I not, when I live so close to Italy. I think these peach cookies are my number one obsession, as they are as Italian as they are Slovenian. But there are plenty of other things I love, namely pasta (such a cliché I now) and anything sweet. 

What I have here for you are Italian crunchy almond cookies. They are like a well kept secret, pretty old school and insanely delicious. In Italy they call them Castagnelle. That is because their shape is supposed to resemble chestnuts (castagna in Italian). But they make them without chestnuts!

Italian crunchy almond cookies - Castagnelle

What are Castagnelle

Also known as Italian Christmas cookies (or Italian crunchy almond cookies as I call them), they originate from Puglia, a region in southern Italy (the heel of the boot, if you can picture it). 

People traditionally make these around Christmas, to be enjoyed as a sweet treat. Although their name might make you think they’re made with chestnuts, they’re mainly made from almonds. You could easily call these almond delights, as they are truly delightful. But what’s more interesting about the cookies is that they’re vegan without being obviously vegan. 

close view of rectangular cocoa cookies dusted with sugar on a plate

Next to using toasted almonds, you also make these brown little diamonds with with cinnamon, orange zest and cocoa. Despite their rustic-looking hard exterior, they are soft in the middle and insanely crunchy. 

cocoa cookies dusted with sugar on a white plate with cup of hot cocoa on the side

How to make Italian Christmas cookies 

These are so easy to make, you’ll never want to try another cookie again. With less than 10 ingredients and less than an hour of time, you can make about 3 dozen cookies which is a great payoff if you ask me.

You make Castagnelle without butter or eggs. (If using non-dairy milk, they can be completely vegan.) Both seem to be really important ingredients in cookie-making, but they’re entirely irrelevant for this recipe. You won’t miss them at all. 

flour and baking spices in a glass bowl
close view of toasted chopped almonds
dry ingredients for almond cookies in a bowl

Step by step instructions

  1. The first thing you need for these crunchy almond cookies is a dry base of flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and cocoa powder. 

2. To this you add toasted and chopped almonds and the zest of one orange. 

3. And then you add the coffee and a splash of milk (dairy or non dairy). I know not everyone is a fan of coffee, but you can’t taste it in the final product. It’s here to intensify the flavor of cocoa powder. 

4. You then knead this dough into a ball. Bear in mind this is a stiff, grainy (because of the almonds) dough. It will seem like you can’t possibly do it, but just keep kneading until you get a lump of dough without any dry spots. 

ball of raw cocoa almond cookie dough in a bowl

If you find that there are flour patches that just won’t go away and your dough is crumbly, add coffee (or milk) tablespoon by tablespoon and knead before each addition. You don’t want dry patches and you don’t want sticky dough. 

5. Divide this lump of dough into 4 equal parts. Dust your fingers with flour. Roll each part into a thin long log, about 10 x 1 inch (25 x 2,5 cm) long. I like to roll them out on a piece of parchment. It helps if you make a mark of where the 10 inch (25cm) line is, so you can roll them out perfectly. 

two logs of cocoa cookie dough on parchment paper
raw sliced castagnelle cookies

Once you have that log, tap it down so that it’s flat and rectangular. Imagine you’re making a really long candy bar. 

And then you cut the log diagonally, into about 1 to 1 1/4 inch pieces. You’ll be left with 4 trimmings that you can pinch together in another odd-shaped cookie. The rest of the cookies should have sharp sides. 

cocoa cookies tossed on a baking sheet and sprinkled with powdered sugar

6. Bake cookies 1/2 inch (1-cm) apart for 12-15 minutes. They should be set on the outside, dry to the touch but soft in the middle. If you press down a cookie, it should indent. 

7. Allow cookies to cool on a baking sheet or cookie rack and dust them with sugar before serving. That’s it. 

brown cookies dusted with sugar in a cookie tin

A few extra notes

You can toast and chop almonds ahead of time. Store them in an airtight container. And if you don’t like almonds, you could try making the cookies with other nuts. But almonds are the traditional choice.

For coffee, you can use instant unsweetened coffee.

The milk is optional, you can just add more coffee or hot cocoa. Hot cocoa is also what I would add instead of coffee, if you are 100% sure you don’t want it. Traditionally, water is an option to use instead of coffee, but I prefer a bit more flavor. 

Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. They could possibly last longer, since the ingredient list is very safe, but we always eat them super quickly.

Italian crunchy almond cookies - Castagnelle

Castagnelle or Italian crunchy almond cookies are a real treat, rustic and beautiful and quick to make. Made with modest ingredients, they are a perfect union of flavor and texture. Their sugar dusted shell hides a crunchy and soft interior – a fragrant mix of toasted almonds, cocoa, orange zest and cinnamon. They are the perfect holiday cookie, to be enjoyed with coffee or hot cocoa. 

Italian Christmas cookies with hot cocoa in a mug
Print

Italian crunchy almond cookies (Castagnelle)

brown cookies dusted with sugar in a cookie tin

Soft yet crunchy cookies, a mix of almonds, cinnamon, orange and cocoa, they are delicious and perfect for cookie boxes! 

  • Author: Alice
  • Prep Time: 40 min
  • Cook Time: 15 min
  • Total Time: 55 minutes
  • Yield: 36 1x
  • Category: Dessert
  • Cuisine: Italian

Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 cup (125g) raw almonds
  • 1 cup (135g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch processed) 
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
  • zest of 1 organic orange 
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) fresh hot coffee
  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) milk (dairy or non dairy) 
  • powdered sugar, for dusting 

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) and place almonds on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Toast on the oven until fragrant, 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and finely chop. 
  2. Meanwhile, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cocoa and cinnamon in a bowl. Stir in chopped almonds and orange zest. 
  3. Make a well in the center and pour in coffee and milk, whisking slowly. Keep mixing and kneading until you get a lump of dough without any dry patches. (If you have crumbs of flour that won’t stick add 1 tbsp of coffee or milk. If it’s too sticky add more flour.) You want a stiff lump of dough that isn’t sticky or dry. 
  4. Divide dough into 4 parts. Dust your fingers with flour and roll each one into a thin log, about 10 x 1 inch (25 x 2,5 cm) long. 
  5. Cut each one on the diagonal into about 1-inch (2.5 cm) shapes. Place them on a lined baking sheet about 1/2 inch (1 cm) apart. Bake at 350°F (175°C) for 12-15 minutes, just until they are set and dry to the touch, but still soft (if you press one it has to indent). 
  6. Remove from oven, allow to cool to room temperature and dust with powdered sugar. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks (possibly more but they never last that long for us). 

Notes

The coffee isn’t noticeable in baked cookies and is used only to intensify the flavor of cocoa. You can use decaffeinated coffee or hot cocoa instead. 

You can use lemon zest instead of orange or a mix of the two. 

This recipe is adapted from the cookbook Southern Italian Desserts, by Rosetta Costantino and Jennie Schacht.

Keywords: holiday cookies, Christmas cookies, classic Italian cookies

Recipe first published in December 2014, revised and completely updated in December 2020.

Leave a Comment

Recipe rating

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

28 Comments

  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
    • Carol Vaccarelli-Kinch wrote:

      Kelly,
      This is my grandmother’s version. From Mola DiBari.
      1 lb. almonds roasted and chopped
      3 eggs
      2 cups sugar
      4 cups flour
      2 tsp. baking powder
      1 Tbl. cocoa
      1 tsp. cloves
      1 tsp. cinnamon
      1 shredded lemon peel
      1 4.5 oz. Hershey chocolate bar, chopped
      Just enough water to stick together.
      Roll into ropes, bake at 350 degrees 10 minutes. Cool, cut into diamonds, frost with confectionary sugar/ milk glaze.

      Posted 1.1.21 Reply
      • Tracy wrote:

        I can’t wait to try your grandmother’s version too! I’m making the posted recipe today..they are in the oven now….anticipation😅

        Posted 1.1.21
      • Alice wrote:

        Hope you like them, Tracy! 🙂

        Posted 1.2.21
      • Alice wrote:

        Thank you for sharing this, Carol!! 🙂

        And yes they’re perfect for dipping in coffee 🙂

        Posted 1.2.21
  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. Ben wrote:

    These are perfectly nutty and still very soft after a week, a favourite for sure!

    Posted 12.10.20 Reply
    • Alice wrote:

      So happy to hear that!! Thank you 🙂

      Posted 12.11.20 Reply
  10. Carol Vaccarelli-Kinch wrote:

    I am very excited to find this gem. My grandparents were from Mola DiBari and this cookie is a family favorite. Usually, in the Italian community, you see variations of family favorite cookies, but, I have yet to come across this one. We call them “Pitzets”, which I’m sure is a butchered English slang of whatever the original was. I made ours this year. The dry dough is a challenge, as you cannot add a lot of milk/water to get it to stick. You’ve got to squeeze and squeeze it together.

    Posted 1.1.21 Reply
    • Carol Vaccarelli-Kinch wrote:

      By the way, when my mother used to make them, they would get very hard, like rocks! Perfect for dipping in coffee.

      Posted 1.1.21 Reply
  11. Margaret Hahn wrote:

    I’m looking forward to making these cookies. Last time I had them my cousin made them for me when I left Bari in 1989. Wonderful memories!!

    Posted 3.17.21 Reply
    • Alice wrote:

      Oh wow, I hope this recipe does them justice!

      Thank you for sharing, Margaret 🙂

      Posted 3.18.21 Reply
  12. LM wrote:

    Thank you! Very good, it reminded me a little of gingerbread.

    Posted 4.20.21 Reply
    • Alice wrote:

      So happy to hear that, LM! And yes, they totally have a gingerbread vibe 🙂

      Posted 4.21.21 Reply