Monday, 20 June 2011

Pasticcini di Mandorle ( Almond Cakes and an April afternoon)

I went out, this afternoon. The sky was gray, above the little town perched on a mountain top. I crossed my arms tightly, as I was feelings the cold wind, but I didn't want to go home. I love coming out when the long sloping road which leads down, into the town is empty. I like that feeling of "owning" the beautiful landscape, the mountains,the green slopes, every rock, the wild plants, the birds which sit on the telephone cables, waiting for something. Don't we all?

 The slope

Through a gap on my left, I can see the town, down below. The faint sound of an engine tells me that the world must be waking up, after the afternoon rest. I must "grab" the last few minutes of peace, before the children wake up and start playing outside, on the steep slope which leads down, villas on each side, prickly pears above growing as if by miracle, out of an old stone wall, the first leaves beginning to shoot on the grapevines and the elegantly clumsy artichokes waving as I walk past. It's April... and it's still cold up here.

 The town, below...
Prickly pear cacti

I follow that cat, the beautiful fat one, some of the way down the mountain side... it leads me to a garden, not too far from the side of the road, just there, where a big clump of rosemary and the wild sage grow. A house, on my right, a pile of olive wood. The cat sits on a stone table, I look up and I see it: a tree laden with almonds. I must touch the velvety gems: a layer of sage green flesh covered in "fur" hides the wonderful secret: an almond. And, once again, I remember picking almonds with my cousin, sat on a stone wall, by a villa, when I discovered the "secret" place where pearly white fresh, juicy almonds were hidden!

The almond tree

Almonds, wild rosemary and sage

We cracked each one and ate so many, I lost count. Almonds featured quite a lot in our lives: they came on the table at the end of every Sunday dinner, they were inside confetti (sugared almonds) at weddings and when babies were born. Almonds was what my mother used, to make her delicious "Croccante" and "Pasticcini di Mandorle" usually burnt at the bottom (she blamed the oven, but... you know what? We came to love the "burnt" bits!)
When my mother made her "pasticcini" she would toast fresh almonds, then blend them until they were almost pulverized and then used them. I bought some almonds today and I decided to make my mum's pasticcini. Will I manage to burn the bottom? I know for a fact, mine won't taste as good as hers. That is for sure!

Pasticcini di mandorle
(makes twenty "balls")


200g ( 7 oz) ground almonds
200 g ( 7 oz) sugar
2 egg whites
zest of one lemon
candied fruit or nuts to decorate
one tbs limoncello, optional

Quick and easy: in a bowl, mix the ground almonds and the sugar until blended. Add the lemon zest, then gradually incorporate the egg whites, then add your limoncello, if using.

 Your mixture should be firm, so the cakes hold their shape when baked. Roll the mixture little balls, the size of  an apricot. My mother used to roll each "ball" into sugar and place each cake into a paper cases and then onto a tray. I did the same, of course

Ready for the oven!

If you wish, you can use an icing bag and a large nozzle and bake your cakes directly onto a baking tray, previously greased and floured. If you like, you can top each cake with a candied cherry, or a pistachio nut. Bake (200 C-Gas6-400 F) until they begin to look golden, then leave to stand until cold ( ideally, for a couple of hours, but I could never wait that long!)

I had mine with coffee
Limoncello would have been better, though!

There were twenty and then... THERE WERE NINETEEN! DELICIOUS!


  1. Hello Anna
    What a beautiful description of your town. Walking alone before families wake up must be a great experience. The receipe looks yummy and I love how your mother blamed the oven for the burnt bits at the bottom of the tray.


  2. Hello Helen
    I'm glad I managed to describe a little corner right by our house, in Italy. We are right at the top of the slope and we feel like we are on top of the world! Cilento is an area of outstanding natural beauty, in the Campania Region of Italy. We have our lovely holiday home there, but I was born on the opposite side of the Italian Peninsula. All my family live there. I'm a city girl, really, but I think that this is what has allowed me to appreciate the beauty of nature. So much to see, so much to learn, so much to enjoy... beautiful!