Makes about 3 dozen
In Messina, these cookies are enjoyed during the Feast of Messina's patron saint, the Madonna della Lettera, on June 3. Their slightly squared shape mimics the letter that the Madonna was said to have written to the people of Messina in 43 A.D., which she hand-carried from Jerusalem. Unfortunately, the letter was destroyed in a fire in 1253, and its contents unknown, but the cookies live on. In Messina, pasticcieria owner Domenico Vinci, his vivacious wife, Brigitta, and their nephew Giuseppe work round the clock starting on the first of June to produce enough n'zuddi to feed the faithful during the festival.
2 cups blanched whole almonds, divided
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks)
unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
7 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and toast for 15 minutes, or until deep golden brown. Let cool.
Set aside 36 almonds. Grind the remaining almonds to a coarse powder in a food processor or in small batches in a coffee grinder. Transfer to a medium mixing bowl and sift in the flour, baking soda, and baking powder.
In a large mixing bowl, with a wooden spoon, beat the butter and sugar until blended. Beat the egg, then beat in the orange zest, juice, vanilla, and salt. Stir in the flour-almond mixture.
Pinch off a tablespoonful of dough at a time, roll into a ball between the palms of your hands, and place 3 inches apart on greased baking sheets. Flatten the balls to 1/2 inch thick under your palms, then gently coax the edges inward to create a loose square shape. Press a whole almond into the center of each cookie.
Bake the cookies for 30 to 35 minutes, or until deep golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes before removing from the pans, then cool on a rack. The cookies will become very crunchy as they cool.
The Story of an Island and Her Pastries
By Victoria Granof
ReganBooks/HarperCollinsPublishers; August 2001
Color photographs throughout, 224 pages
Recipe reprinted by permission.
This page created November 2001
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