This easy recipe for traditional Italian soft almond cookies with cherries makes the perfect cookies in less than 30 minutes. You don’t need a mixer, just a spatula, one bowl, a single cookie sheet and a handful of ingredients.
I could say that I love all cookies equally, but I definitely love some recipes more than others. This recipe for chewy almond cookies is a favorite because it’s foolproof. The cookies are light and flavorful, easy to make with a process that doesn’t involve any chilling or strenuous mixing. And they’re really pretty and festive.
About the recipe
These delicate, chewy cookies taste like marzipan in the best possible way. They are bite-sized, sweet, but not sickly sweet, and incredibly aromatic with the most incredible almond flavor.
The outer shell is coated in powdered sugar and lightly crunchy. Hiding on the inside is a soft, chewy, almond center. And nested in the middle of that is a jewel-like candied cherry. Also known as a glacé cherries, they are sticky and sweet, perfect for cookies and other desserts.
I love to make these chewy Italian almond cookies with cherry not just for Christmas but for any celebration. Or just when I want a lighter cookie, as these are made without butter or oil. Instead, one of the main components is almond flour. It not only makes these cookies flavorful and tender, but also naturally gluten free.
Next to sugar, the only other really important ingredient is egg whites. Recipes for this type of cookie often call for beaten, fluffy egg whites which take some time to prepare. But you don’t need to worry about that with my recipe.
My easy almond cookies are made with egg whites that you just whisk in with a fork in a matter of seconds. The dough also doesn’t need to be chilled, so when you need a quick cookie recipe, this is the one.
In Italy, and specifically Sicily, these cookies are known as Pasticcini di Mandorla or Pasta di Mandorle.
The name Pasta di Mandorla means almond paste so people also refer to these as Italian almond paste cookies. That is essentially what you create as you make the dough.
It’s a mix of almond flour, sugar, egg whites and lemon zest. As you mix those together, you get a thick, sticky dough with a grainy texture and a strong almond aroma. It looks like almond paste and not like your ordinary dough.
Traditionally, Sicilian almond cookies are made with whole almonds that you grind yourself. I am taking a shortcut by using store-bought almond flour. It’s not as moist as freshly ground almonds, but I find that the cookies still taste really great.
It’s important that you use either blanched almonds (these are almonds without skin on them) or almond flour as opposed to almond meal, which is made with raw unpeeled almonds and has a darker color.
These soft chewy cookies come in a few versions. They are often baked plain, just rolled in sugar. But they are just as often made with an almond in the center, or a pistachio, candied orange or a cherry like I’m sharing here.
Also don’t confuse these with amaretti, although I sometimes see people refer to them as soft amaretti cookies. Probably because amaretti are another type of an Italian almond cookie. But traditional amaretti are dry and crunchy, great for dunking in coffee or crushed on some cream. Visually and texturally they are a complete opposite of these cherry chewy almond cookies.
How to make
First you need to mix almond flour with sugar and lemon zest.
To that you add egg whites and almond extract. Whisk both into the almonds with a fork and keep stirring until all parts of almond flour are moistened. At this point, it’s helpful if you give the whole dough a good knead or squeeze with your hand, just to give it a feel and see if it’s just right. It should be moist and slightly sticky.
Tear of small bits, I counted 22, and roll them into balls, then roll those in powdered sugar.
Lastly, add cherries in the center by lightly pressing them in and bake cookies for 10 minutes. Once they’re baked, they’ll look almost the same. Let them cool completely before enjoying. This allows the outer shell to set and become crisp, while the center is still soft and chewy.
A special note on cherries: Make sure you get glacé or candied cherries. They are a better choice for this recipe than Maraschino cherries. The latter are also preserved sweet cherries but they normally come in a jar, stored in liquid, and that would be too moist for this recipe. Glacé cherries are so much better for baking. And Maraschino cherries are great for drinks.
If however you can only find Maraschino cherries and not candied cherries, use those instead. Just lay them out on paper towels before using, so that the towels can soak up excess liquid. Use the rest of the cherries in drinks or just snack on them, they’re so good.
More cookie recipes to explore
- Peanut butter blossoms with dark chocolate (A classic peanut butter and chocolate cookie that everyone loves.)
- Italian crunchy almond cookies (Another traditional recipe with cocoa, orange and coffee. And egg-free!)
- Pistachio shortbread cookies with rose water (Buttery cookies packed with pistachios and rose water for a lighter flavor.)
- Italian peach cookies with ricotta (The most popular cookie ever, they look like little peaches and are incredibly delicious.)
- Soft oatmeal cookies with apples (So chewy and packed with apples. A great breakfast cookie.)
- Rose water lemon crinkle cookies (Pink crinkle cookies that look super fun on a cookie plate. Tender texture and amazing lemon flavor.)
Italian soft almond cookies with cherries
- 2 1/2 cups (240 g) almond flour
- 3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
- 1 lemon, zested
- 2 egg whites, from large eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 cup (110 g) powdered sugar
- 22 candied cherries, 100 g or 3.5 ounces
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
- In a bowl combine almond flour with sugar and lemon zest. Add the egg whites and almond extract and stir everything with a fork or a spatula until the mixture has no dry spots left.
- Give the dough a light knead to make sure it’s all sticking together. It should be soft, sticky and a bit grainy because of the almonds.
- Tear off 22 bits and roll them into balls. Then roll each one in powdered sugar and place it on a cookie sheet. Place a candied cherry in the center of each one, lightly pressing it in so it’s nested in the cookie.
- Bake cookies for 10 minutes. They shouldn’t be browned anywhere and will look almost as they did prior to baking as you take them out of the oven. Allow them to cool completely on the baking sheet. This lets the outer shell to set, while the center remains soft.
- Store cookies in an airtight container for up to 7 days.