"Sassanelli translates to 'little rocks' in Italian but they are anything but! Popular in Apulia, these little cookies are made with chocolate, almonds, and lemon zest flavor and are eaten around Christmas and the winter holidays. Another special ingredient is vincotto, a traditional sweet paste made from unfermented grape must which is hard to find here, but you can use port wine. They are especially delicious with an espresso."
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread out almonds evenly on the baking sheet.
Bake almonds in the preheated oven until toasted, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes.
Place almonds in the bowl of a food processor; pulse until finely chopped.
Increase heat to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place flour in a large bowl and pour in 1/2 the sweet dessert wine, a little at a time. Stir and mix into a wet, sticky dough. Fold in almonds, olive oil, sugar, 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, lemon zest, vanilla extract, baking powder, and baking soda.
Pour remaining port wine into a saucepan and heat until warmed. Stir in cinnamon and cloves and add mixture to the dough. Knead dough for a few minutes until it holds together well but is still sticky. Shape dough into walnut-sized oval balls that resemble little rocks. Place cookies 2 inches apart onto the baking sheet.
Bake in the preheated oven until browned, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
Traditionally, vincotto is used for this recipe. Vincotto is a thick, sweet paste made from unfermented grape must which is hard to find here, but any sweet dessert wine like Marsala or Port wine can be substituted.
In the olden days, people used baker's ammonia as a leavening agent before baking powder and baking soda were available and it is still used in many traditional recipes. If you'd like to try it with baker's ammonia, use 4 1/2 teaspoons instead of baking powder and baking soda.