I bet that many of you have eaten Tuscan cantucci, the hard and crunchy, twice-baked cookies, at least once. They are often served as an after-dinner dessert to dunk in Vin Santo, a fortified sweet wine made with Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes. Cantucci are also called Prato cookies and are a masterpiece of traditional Tuscan confectionery. Cookies are made by cutting a roll of freshly baked dough diagonally, which is then put back in the oven for a few minutes to brown. The dough is simple and requires eggs, sugar, flour and almonds. My recipe also includes the addition of a tiny amount of butter and baking powder; these ingredients make the dough softer, so your cookies will be less dry and more crumbly. In my opinion the lack of fat in the traditional recipe makes the cookies too hard. The name cantucci derives from canto in Italian (corner) or cantellus, a Latin word meaning a slice of bread that the Roman soldiers consumed as part of their meal. But the real sweet cookies first appeared in the second half of the sixteenth century at the Medici court in Florence, though the recipe did not contain almonds. Some centuries later almonds were added, and then at the beginning of the 1900s production started on a large scale. Nowadays cantucci are enjoyed all over the world and are the emblem of Italian cuisine. They have only one defect: they are too good – one leads to another, and when you start it is hard to stop! They are a real temptation, resistance will be futile!
Preparation time: 30 minutes Baking time: 20 minutes Yield: 36 cookies
220 g (about 1 1/2 cups) blanched almonds
200 g (1 cup) sugar
50 g (about 2 oz) unsalted butter, melted
300 g (2 cups + 1 tablespoon) all-purpose flour
3 g (about ½ teaspoon) baking powder
pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 180 °C (350 °F)
1. Roast almonds for a few minutes in a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Cool, divide in half and set aside
2. In a large bowl mix dry ingredients such as flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside
3. In a large bowl whisk together the sugar and eggs, then add butter. Stir in the dry ingredients and mix well. The dough should be homogeneous. Add almonds. Knead the dough on a floured work surface until you get a ball
4. Divide the dough into 4 equal parts and shape each one into a 18 cm (7 inch) roll about 6 cm (2.5 inch) wide and 3 cm (1.5 inch) high. Transfer each roll, using a spatula, onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Leave enough space to spread while cooking. Bake for 15 minutes
5. At this time, remove from the oven and cut diagonally into about 1-1.5 cm (½ inch) wide cookies. Bake again for about 5 min. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack . Eat when they are completely cold.
Note: Almonds can be replaced with equal amount of hazelnuts, pistachios, dried fruit such as figs (cut in small pieces) or chocolate chunks. You can replace butter with about 50 ml (1 scarce cup) extra virgin olive oi, if you want a lactose free version! Cantucci store well for several days in a cookie container. – Paola