Cantucci

Cantucci (Tuscan Almond Cookies)

In dessert, Toscana by Frank23 Comments

Cantucci, also known as biscotti di Prato, are perhaps the best known of Italian cookies. Made from a simple dough of flour, sugar and egg, into which whole almonds are folded, they are baked twice: once in cylindrical ‘logs’ to cook on the outside, then cut into sliced and baked again to cook on the inside and dry out. (The most common Italian word for cookie is indeed biscotto which means twice cooked.)

These cookies are rather hard and dry, but that’s the way they actually should be. Cantucci are classically served as a dessert, paired with the Tuscan dessert wine called vin santo for dunking. The cantucci readily soak up the wine, softening them. The flavor combination is wonderful.

Ingredients

Makes about 24 cantucci

  • 250g (8 oz) all purpose flour
  • 200g (7 oz) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • A small pinch of salt
  • 2 extra large eggs
  • Grated zest of an orange or lemon
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract
  • 100-125g (3 – 3-1/2 oz) almonds

Directions

Mix the first four listed dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle of the bowl, then add the eggs and scramble them with a fork, along with the zest and extract. Start incorporating the flour little by little until you’ve formed a pliable but firm dough. Add the almonds and mix them into the dough.

Divide the dough into two halves. Form each half into a long, thin ‘log’. Lay the logs out, well apart from each other, on a cookie sheet, well greased and dusted with flour or lined with nonstick parchment paper.

Bake in a 180C/350F oven for 25 minutes or so, until the logs are lightly browned on the outside. They will have risen considerably. Remove from the oven and let the logs cool for 10-15 minutes.

Transfer the logs to a cutting board and cut them on the diagonal into thick slices. Place these slices back onto the baking sheet cut sides up.  (For this step, you may want to set a rack on top of the cookie sheet so the cantucci can cook evenly top and bottom.) Return to a low (125C/275F) oven for another 10-15 minutes or so, until the insides of the cantucci are well dried out.

Let them cool completely before eating. These cookies will keep for quite a long time.

Cantucci

Notes on making cantucci

While the basic building blocks for cantucci—flour, sugar, eggs and almonds—remain pretty much the same, there are many subtle and not so subtle variations on the recipe. The amount of sugar can vary, usually between a 1:2 sugar to flour ratio by weight to as much as 1:1. As noted in the recipe, the amount of almonds can vary, too. In some recipes they are lightly toasted in the oven for 15 minutes before they are added to the dough. Other recipes call for blanched and peeled almonds. In yet others, like the one proposed by Giuliano Bugialli, you ground up a portion of the almonds before mixing with the dough.

The type of flour can also vary. Most Italian recipes I’ve seen simply call for farina without further specification, but a few specify the finely ground 00 type, the one used for making egg pasta. Some English language recipes, such as the one proposed by Pino Luongo in A Tuscan in the Kitchen, call for pastry flour. I’ve found that all purpose flour works quite well.

I like to keep my recipes as simple as possible, and this the simplest version of cantucci I know of.  But there are other, more elaborate versions. Giuliano Bugialli’s calls for a pinch of saffron, as well as a mixture of blanched and unblanched almonds, lightly toasted. You then finely ground half of this mixture and add it to the dough, then add the other half whole. He also has you knead the dough for a good 10-15 minutes. In his recipe (and a number of others) you coat the ‘logs’ with beaten egg white before baking.

In some recipes have you separate the eggs, adding the yolks to the dough first, then folding in the whipped egg whites for lift. (My guess is that this was probably part of the original original recipe, predating the invention of baking powder.) Many recipes call for adding a bit of dessert wine to the dough. This would classically be vin santo, but given the price nowadays, you might want to use Marsala or sherry instead. Or, as in the recipe above, just skip it. At least one recipe I’ve seen suggests adding a few fennel seeds to the dough along with the almonds. And finally, many recipes call for softened or melted butter in the dough, which I imagine adds a pleasant sweetness but—to me at least, seems rather un-Tuscan. (Tuscan cooks, please correct me if you disagree.)

Serving cantucci

As mentioned, cantucci are classically served as a dessert with vin santo. Vin santo, or ‘holy wine’ in English, is a kind of ‘straw wine’, aka ‘passito‘ wine, where the grapes are left to dry a bit over straw to concentrate their juice before the wine is made. (These days drying racks are also de rigueur.) The wines can range in color from light amber to quite dark. And although a dessert wine, the taste can range from sweet to rather dry.

The price of vin santo these days has gone through the roof. I found a very small bottle in my local liquor store for about $40. You may wish to think about similar passito-style wines or perhaps a not very dry sherry or a sweet wine like Tokaj as a substitute. I understand that ice wines—made from grapes that have been left on the vine until after the frost—have a similar taste profile.

 

Cantucci (Tuscan Almond Cookies)

Total Time: 2 hours

Yield: About 24 cookies

Cantucci (Tuscan Almond Cookies)

Ingredients

  • 250g (8 oz) all purpose flour
  • 200g (7 oz) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • A small pinch of salt
  • 2 extra large eggs
  • Grated zest of an orange or lemon
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract
  • 100-125g (3 - 3-1/2 oz) almonds

Instructions

  1. Mix the first four listed dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle of the bowl, then add the eggs and scramble them with a fork, along with the zest and extract. Start incorporating the flour little by little until you've formed a pliable but firm dough. Add the almonds and mix them into the dough.
  2. Divide the dough into two halves. Form each half into a long, thin 'log'. Lay the logs out, well apart from each other, on a cookie sheet, well greased and dusted with flour or lined with nonstick parchment paper.
  3. Bake in a 180C/350F oven for 25 minutes or so, until the logs are lightly browned on the outside. They will have risen considerably. Remove from the oven and let the logs cool for 10-15 minutes.
  4. Transfer the logs to a cutting board and cut them on the diagonal into thick slices. Place these slices back onto the baking sheet cut sides up. (For this step, you may want to place a rack on the cookie sheet so the cantucci can cook evenly top and bottom.) Return to a low (125C/275F) oven for another 10-15 minutes or so, until the insides of the cantucci are well dried out.
  5. Let them cool completely before eating. These cookies will keep for quite a long time.
Schema/Recipe SEO Data Markup by Yummly Rich Recipes
http://memoriediangelina.com/2017/02/10/cantucci-tuscan-almond-cookies/

Comments

  1. We were told at school that Grande Michelangelo had cantucci and vino santo for every Christmas when living with Medici of Florence. If good for him, perfect for me 🙂 Thank you !

  2. I just love cantucci (and any sort of biscotti). I make different versions for my kids and sometimes they help me back them. I really like Bugialli’s version with a pinch of saffron…that must be delicious. Your biscotti look great, Frank!

  3. If there’s one cookie I’d be asked is my favorite, it’s definitely these. They’re my go to cookie and as addictive as potato chips. You’re reminding me I have a good vin santo I bought in Tuscany that I haven’t yet opened. Time to bake and open that bottle.

  4. Frank – believe it or not, when we were in Paris, our dessert for Christmas eve and Christmas dinner was cantucci and vin santo! There was a tiny Italian grocery store for doors away from our apartment that sold a combo pack for the holidays. It was the best investment we made in Paris! I love to make these every year at the holidays – but it could be anytime of year, couldn’t it?

  5. Thank for this very informative post. Your cantucci look great. I have made biscotti before, but it has been a long time. I hope to find some vin santo to dunk my contucci in, I like that bettter than tea.

  6. buoni i cantucci, sono una presenza costante in tutti i fine pasto quando vado in Toscana, buon fine settimana Frank !

  7. Love this cookie! I’ve never made it — always something I’ve bought. Should really try this — it looks look a pretty simple procedure to make them. I’ve never had vin santo — need to try that, too. We have some friends who are dessert wine lovers, so it’d be fun to try with them. Anyway, good post — thanks.

  8. I’ve never seen so much written about what I thought were simple Italian cookies! Very interesting. Pretty cookies!

  9. Every Christmas we make dozens and dozens of biscotti to give as gifts — they do travel well. We love trying different varieties and methods of making the biscotti. I was going to ask you if vin santo isn’t available if you could substitute a good port. But on further thought, port is usually heavier than a sweet marsala. I really enjoy your posts — I’m always learning something new. Buon weekend, Frank!

  10. my master recipe is similar to this one: I just add few drops of bitter almond essence and I do grind some of the almonds (I put more almonds)

    Bugialli’s safron biscuits: I have never seen/tasted/read about this version. It sounds a little odd, I must say: such an expensive spice in such humble biscuits..? (but, I confess, I often do not “get” Bugialli, one of the very few cookery writers whose books I regret buying)

    butter: sounds un-Tuscan but then, just to confirm that Italian food is ever diversified, I have recipes that do include wbutter from the very classic Il Grande Libro della Cucina Toscana by Paolo Petroni (a small amount) and from La Cucina Toscana by Righi Parenti. I seem to remember that also Carol Field’s version does have butter and delicious they were….

    I did not know this, but apparently there are differences (unclear, in the typical Italian, campanilistica way) between cantucci (richer) and biscottini di prato (simpler/fewer ingredients)…? who knows…
    I sometimes add ammoniaca per dolci: when I want to add a light crispiness (in Italy is very easy to found in supermarket and in my opinion is it the best leavening agent for small items). Most of the times though, I do not put any leavening agent because I like hard cantucci – ideal to be dipped into vinsanto/passito/marsala)

    1. Author

      I’m intrigued by the difference between biscotti di Prato and cantucci… And then I’ve seen the term cantucci di Prato, too. Now I feel the need to get to the bottom of it. Like you say, Italian cookery is filled with such little quandaries!

      Will have to try leaving out the baking powder next time and see how I like them.

Leave a Comment