The riccio (alternatively confetto riccio, mandorla riccia or riccio dell’amore) is a traditional dessert from the town of Francavilla Fontana, in the province of Brindisi.
The main ingredient of this dessert are almonds and the ones called decorizzo are specifically used: it is a locally grown variety whose peculiarities are its round shape and coarse peel, which is perfect for the icing to stick to. The tool used to make the riccio consists of a big copper pan (the so called ) that, thanks to two ropes, hangs from a bar that is fixed to the ceiling. The previously roasted, and still hot, almonds are poured into the conca that stands over a brazier full of holm oak charcoal, this type of wood releases the proper amount of heat during the whole process. While the pastry maker sways the conca, the icing, made of hot water, sugar and flavourings such as lemon or citron, is gradually poured on the almonds. The preparation is very slow and may take over two hours, then the icing solidifies and the almonds, rubbing against each other, becomes rugged, white and soft.
This dessert is mainly consumed in two occasions: Francavilla’s Patronal Feast (Madonna della Fontana – Holy Virgin of the Fountain) and during Carnival time when, according to tradition, the ricci play a lead role in a special ritual. On the two Thursdays before Shrove Tuesday, men and women usually exchange these sugared almonds as a sign of affection and love. On the first day, the so called scìutìa ti li fimmini (women’s Thursday) Francavilla’s women give the almonds to the men. Men return the favour on scìutìa ti li masculi (men’s Thursday) on Shrove Thursday.
The riccio di Francavilla was awarded a golden medal during the Fair of Flavours of Paris back in 1912. Despite this recognition, this dessert is only popular locally. In the last few years, pastry makers from Francavilla who still make it, are trying to relaunch its production with the aim to promote this traditional dish.