In Sicily, even before the making of pastries and confections became a source of income for the convents, the tasty treats as gifts were an acceptable currency by which the cloistered nuns could purchase the attention of the outside world. A tray of petite pistachio cakes or almond cookies was a fair exchange for a visit and a bit of gossip.
Whole fresh oranges are used to make this confection and are a thoughtful foodie gift during the Christmas season. The ever-frugal nuns, however, would save the peels from Marmellata di Arance, and coat them heavily with sugar to keep them from spoiling. Quite often they would use the sugared orange peels instead of whole oranges to make these palline all arancia (little orange balls). I think they are better (and easier to make) when made with the fresh orange.
- 1 1/3 cup blanched almonds
- 1 1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus more for coating
- 1/2 small fresh orange, unpeeled
- 1 Tablespoon orange-flavored liqueur, such as Grand Marnier
- 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder (for coating)
- Using a food processor, combine the almonds, sugar and orange (yes, peel and all)! Process until the almonds are ground medium-fine.
- Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the orange liqueur.
- Using your hands, work the moist mixture until it holds together. Form into 1 1/2-inch balls (makes 22-24).
- Roll the balls in sugar to coat. Then roll in the cocoa powder. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet to dry for 3 hours. *If the balls are too moist to roll in the cocoa powder, let rest for an hour or so, until they are dry enough not to absorb the cocoa powder.
- Place the balls in paper cases in an airtight container. Let them rest 3-4 days for the flavors to flourish. They will keep for weeks!
A wonderful alternative (to cookies) gift for your foodie friends and family!
Especially nice with a bottle of Italian Orange Liqueur!