I’ve always called them “king’s biscuits”, and now I’ll tell you why.
My grandmother, a bona fide Sicilian, has made almond paste biscuits her whole life, for everyone. She would always make them the traditional way, with glacé cherry or almond, and my favourites were the ones with cherry. I thought each biscuit resembled a crown set with a large precious stone and for this reason dubbed them “king’s biscuits”.
As it happens, pasta di mandorle, or almond paste, is also known in Italian as pasta reale, “royal paste”, since its extreme goodness is “fit for a king”.
The process always started with whole almonds. Today almost everyone buys almond flour but my grandmother wouldn’t hear of it. She bought the best almonds and made the flour herself (while I started eating them of course!). What followed seemed like magic to me: In her hands, everything happened in small, seemingly simple gestures!
The flour was mixed with the egg whites and sugar, and then I could finally join in to help my grandmother roll the balls. She let them rest in the refrigerator for what felt like an infinite period of time. It was a joy whenever my grandmother would tell me that, since I had “been good”, I was also allowed to decorate them with the cherries or almonds! “Only press a little”, she would say!