One of my favorite guilty pleasures is sitting down in front of the TV in the evening with a cup of cafe blanc and a jar of Santa Maria Novella Pasta di Mandorle. I sip my orange blossom scented drink and slowly rub the speckled brown cream into my hands, knowing that in the morning I will wake up to lily soft hands and shiny nails.
It’s a guilty pleasure, because at $50 for 1.6 oz, Pasta di Mandorle is the most expensive cream I own. When I look at the ingredient list–sweet almond oil, grape seed oil, egg yolk, virgin beeswax, and glycerin, I think that my grandmother’s home made version might just be as good. For the price of a couple of jars of Pasta di Mandorle, I can pay for a trip to Ukraine from Belgium so I finally decided to make my own cream.
It takes only a few ingredients–almonds, almond oil, and honey. Almond oil is one of my favorite skincare oils, because it absorbs easily, doesn’t have a heavy scent and leaves skin silky and soft. Honey, especially raw, unheated honey, has antibacterial properties, and it’s also a humecant–it draws and binds water from the air into your skin. (The glycerin in Santa Maria Novella’s Pasta di Mandorle serves the same function). Since I believe in gilding the lily, I added a splash of rosewater. It’s excellent for the skin, and I can’t resist the fragrant combination of almonds, honey and rose.
I ground up almonds finely in a food processor, mixed the powder with the rest of the ingredients into a thick paste and stretched out on the pillows in front of the TV (a year in the new apartment and we still don’t have a sofa). The texture of my pasta di mandorle is much rougher and more granular than that of Santa Maria Novella, but it was a pleasure to rub it into the skin and nails. I was watching a BBC documentary about Madame de Pompadour and by the time it was over my skin was soft and perfumed with honey. I bet King Louis XV’s mistress would have been envious.
Since the paste won’t absorb into the skin the way the commercial version does, it’s messier to use. If you wear cotton gloves, you can skip having to sweep up crumbs from the floor and you’ll end up with even more glowing skin. I’ve experimented by adding different oils and using egg yolk for an extra emollient version. I’ve loved all the variations so much that while my Santa Maria Novella jar has been empty for a few months now, I haven’t been tempted to repurchase it. I also prefer the natural honey and almond scent of my pasta di mandorle, which I’ve accented with floral waters or sometimes with a drop of vanilla extract. It then becomes temptingly edible.
Another reason I love doing some of these simple skincare recipes at home is that the very process feels wholesome and special. It may not be much, but it’s a wonderful treat that doesn’t require too much effort. The sensory pleasure of experiencing different textures and scents adds to the enjoyment. Plus, taking a break from everything, if only for a few minutes, is sometimes the greatest luxury of all.
Your homemade pasta di mandorle will last in the fridge for about 2 weeks before it starts to dry out. Since all of the ingredients are edible, I suggest labeling it “hand cream.” Otherwise, the next time you decide to enjoy a home spa treatment and start searching for your potion, someone will look up from his reading and say, “Oh, that brown marzipan? It was very tasty.”
Pasta di Mandorle (Almond Paste)
The quantities below are mere suggestions. You simply want a paste that’s fine enough to be exfoliating, rather than scratchy, and wet enough to spread easily over skin. Instead of almond oil, you can use olive, jojoba, sesame or any other favorite vegetable oil.
I recommend washing the storage jar with baking soda and then either rinsing it with boiling water or (if it’s heatproof) baking it in a 250F/120C oven for 30 min. Cool jars slightly before adding the almond paste.
1/2 cup almonds
2 Tablespoon honey
enough almond oil to make a thick, spreadable paste
1 Tablespoon rosewater or orange blossom water (optional)
Grind almonds to fine powder. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well into a homogeneous paste that spreads easily over skin. Transfer into a clean jar and store in the fridge.
Extra-emollient Variation: take two spoonfuls of prepared pasta di mandorle and mix in 1 egg yolk. Rub into your hands and leave for at least 30 minutes. If you wish, you can put on cotton gloves and leave the mixture overnight (spouses might object to this though, and admittedly it’s not terribly sexy). Wash off the paste with warm water and you will have hands as soft as kitten paws.
Photography by Bois de Jasmin