What “biscotti” are called in Italy
Yes, I know I just put up another almond biscuit recipe recently, but honestly, I bought a lot of almonds when I made the marzapani, so they have to be used up. This is a recipe for classic Tuscan biscuits called cantuccini or cantucce. Cantuccini are the grandmother of the biscotti you find in every cafe spread through the U.S.A. (no mention of trade names, but it begins and ends with an “S” and was founded in Seattle). The taste has mutated, but the form has stayed true to the original. The only addition to the basic biscuit dough in the original cantuccini are almonds: there’s no chocolate, marshmallows or cranberries to be seen anywhere!
The variety of biscuits in Italy is endless!
The name biscotti simply means “biscuits” in Italian (oh, and for the record the word “biscotti” is plural….you can have ONE biscotto or many, many biscotti!). Biscotti in Italy can have any shape or form; be soft or chewy; square or round. Of course, every region has its own special type of biscuit; the variation is endless! Local products are incorporated into many of the biscuits, for example pistachios in the South and hazelnuts in the North, making them very unique to their area. I have even eaten biscuits in Sardinia with olives in them and dusted with icing sugar. I have to admit, it was a little strange, but maybe that one is an acquired taste……
How are Cantuccini eaten in Italy?
Cantuccini are not generally dipped in coffee, but in a sweet, fabulous dessert wine called Vin Santo (Saint Wine). I guess it’s called that because it’s so very heavenly to drink! In Tuscany you find the “Cantuccini e Vin Santo” in nearly every restaurant on the dessert menu. That’s what I get every time I’m there!
The trick for making Cantuccini so crunchy
The trick that makes cantuccini so crunchy is double baking the biscuits. The first baking of the cantuccini is done in a kind of loaf form like you see in the photo below. Once the loaf is golden-brown, you take it out of the oven, wait for it to cool so you don’t burn your hands, then carefully slice it, and bake the slices in the oven again.
When we go to Tuscany we usually come back with a few bottles of Vin Santo, and until now, packets of commercially-made cantuccini. Now that I’ve discovered how easy they are to make, I won’t be buying them anymore! The only slightly tricky bit is cutting them. You have to have a very sharp serrated knife and a firm hand. Now, I just have to figure out how to make Vin Santo and I’m set with dessert for life!
By Lisa Watson
Cantuccini: the original “biscotti” from Tuscany
- 130 g Whole unpeeled almonds 1 cup
- 300 g Flour 2 1/2 cups
- 1 tsp Baking powder
- 1 pinch Salt
- 150 g Sugar 3/4 cup
- 2 Eggs
- 1 Tbsp Honey
- Lemon zest from 1 lemon
- 1 Tbsp Butter at room temperature
- Put the almonds on a cookie tray in a single layer and bake in the oven at 180ºC (350ºF) for 5 minutes.
- Leave to cool on the bench.
- Beat the eggs and sugar together with an electric mixer (or whisk) until foamy.
- Add the honey and softened butter and mix.
- Add the flour, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt. Mix in gently.
- Stir in the almonds by hand.
- Form the mixture into two long thin “loaves” no more than 6cm (2 1/2 inches) high and place them on a cookie sheet lined with baking paper.
- Bake at 200ºC (400ºF) for 20 minutes until golden-brown.
- Leave to cool for a few minutes until you can touch it.
- With a SHARP serrated knife, cut slices approximately 1cm (1/2 inch) thick and lay them on a cookie sheet.
- Bake at 200ºC (400ºF) for 7-10 minutes until slightly browned.