Sassanelli (Italian Christmas Cookies)

Sassanelli (Italian Christmas Cookies)

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Sassanelli translates to 'little rocks' in Italian, but these cookies are anything but! Chocolate, almonds and lemon zest flavour these little cookies, enjoyed round Christmas and the winter holidays. Another special ingredient is vincotto, a traditional sweet wine, but you can use port if vincotto is unavailable.


Makes: 4 to 5 dozen

  • 200g almonds
  • 1kg plain flour
  • 300ml vincotto, or a sweet wine as port
  • 2 lemons, zested
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 200g olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 20g baker's ammonia
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preparation:40min  ›  Cook:10min  ›  Ready in:50min 

  1. Toast the Almonds: Preheat the oven 150 degrees C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Place the almonds on the tray, spreading evenly.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven about 15 minutes or until toasted. Remove from the oven, cool and chop finely with a mixer.
  4. Make the Cookies: Set oven to 200 degrees C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
  5. Place the flour in a large bowl and pour in half of the vincotto, a bit at the time. Stir and mix to make a wet and sticky dough. Fold in the almonds, lemon zest, cocoa, sugar, oil and vanilla.
  6. Warm up the remaining vincotto and add the baker's ammonia to dissolve. Add to the mix with cinnamon and cloves. Knead for few minutes (it will still be a sticky dough), then shape into oval balls that resemble little rocks. Transfer to the tray, set 4 to 5cm apart from one another.
  7. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool. Serve as small treat with espresso.


Used as a leavening agent before baking powder and bicarbonate of soda was available, ammonia is still used in some traditional recipes around the world. If you can't get your hands on it, for this recipe use 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder OR 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda.

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